Is taking a child into state custody the lesser of two evils?

Our child abuse statistics in New Zealand are shocking, and we all have imprinted into our brains the baby photos of so many innocent children who have been violently abused and killed by those supposed to love and cherish them.

When the state steps in and removed a baby from its family because social workers fear for the child’s safety, is that the lesser of two evils? How many times have we asked, why didn’t they do something? Why wasn’t the child removed after it was clear that they were being neglected and abused?

We cannot rage against children being left unprotected in a terrible environment and at the same time cry foul when the state steps in and removes a child from its family, can we?

A number of different views about the State care of Kiwi children have been written lately. On the Daily Blog Chris Trotter writes:

[…] Reid estimates that the “uplift” of Maori children from their biological parents by child welfare social workers – often assisted by the Police – is occurring at least three times a week. The removal of these children, who range in age from just a few days to 14 years, is authorised by Family Court orders which, astonishingly, permit the use of “reasonable force” to separate parents from their children. That this regularly involves burly police officers carrying distraught and screaming children from their family home is a fact which Oranga Tamariki is very keen to keep from the public.

[…] Acutely aware of how bad it would look to have middle-class Pakeha social workers ripping babies from the arms of their Maori birth mothers, the department has recruited Maori social workers to do the job for them.

The Daily Blog
Aaron Smale (pictured) was taken from his mother when she was 18 years old. Photo: Newsroom

At Newsroom Aaron Smale writes:

[…] I can’t watch the video my friend and colleague Melanie Reid put together, showing the state’s attempt to take a Maori child away from its teenage mother. I can’t watch it because I know it will tear me to bits, and I don’t know how long it will take to put myself back together. I know it will tear me to bits because I already know the story in a way. Because I’ve lived through my own version of it.

I’ve heard this kind of trauma before through the fragments my birth mother has told me about what she went through in 1971. She was 18 years old when I was taken from her. Even decades later you can still hear the anguish in her voice and see it in her face and body language when she talks about that catastrophic event. At a minimum I was taken from her under duress. At worst it was illegal coercion. She still lives with it.

I still live with it too. Every day, in ways small and large. And sometimes, despite my best efforts, my children have to live with it because they have to live with me.
And yet, after decades of failure that has impacted not only me but thousands of others, the state is still doing it. It can’t seem to stop taking Maori children.[…]


On Stuff Michelle Duff writes:

In Upper Hutt, the story of one baby dead, shaken by its stepfather. In Hawkes Bay, the tale of a young mother desperately trying to stop her baby being torn from her arms in its first few days of life.
The delicate balance of when the state should intervene in a child’s life can be the difference between life and death.

In Parliament on Tuesday, an at-times emotional Children’s Minister Tracey Martin and Oranga Tamariki (OT) chief executive Gráinne Moss were grilled about whether the state was getting it right – and what a $1.1b boost to services in the Wellbeing Budget would achieve.

“What Maori say … is: ‘Give us our children back.’ What the children say is: ‘We want to be with our families, but we want to be safe.’ Oranga Tamariki was created for a single purpose, and that was to keep children safe,” Martin told the social services and community select committee.
[…] More social workers and early intensive intervention are part of Oranga Tamariki’s plan. […] more Maori newborn children are being removed from their families now than at any time in the past four years, with iwi leaders talking of a “stolen generation” of children. On Monday, a Newsroom documentary outlined the attempted removal of a newborn child from its mother.

[…] Back in committee, the story of five-month-old baby Lincoln, killed by his stepfather after being shaken at home when his mother was at work, was raised by National MP Agnes Loheni to highlight the danger some babies are in.

“We’ve got a five month window really where this happened … the family of that mother failed her, the community failed that child,” Loheni said, through tears.
“So my question is, in terms of the initiatives, what is the change? What is the transformation?”

Martin said she was aware what was at stake. “My staff [have] to tell me every time something terrible happens to a child in this country, and I want them to do that because we must never lose that. That is the job”, she said, also pausing to choke back tears. In the past 15 years, 135 children have been killed in New Zealand, Martin said.