Dispatches from the Frontline

Tommy Kapai Wilson is the executive director of Te Tuinga Whanau, a social service agency committed to the needs of the community in and around Tauranga.

Tommy is a thoroughly good bloke, working hard at the ‘coal face’ and making a difference in the community. What he says has value.

When it comes to pointing the finger of blame at who has caused the sad situation we are facing with the uplifting of our babies, there are not enough fingers to do it.

Right now a Whanau Ora collective have initiated an inquiry into the policies and processes of the Ministry of Children and on Tuesday these organisations – along with concerned whanau, parents, academics, students and communities – will rally at Parliament to say #HandsOffOurTamariki.

The Hands Off Our Tamariki network continues to call for the resignation of CEO Grainne Moss and for the Minister Tracey Martin to step down.

Personally, I have marched for kaupapa Maori causes before (seabed and foreshore and Pare Hauraki) and I would march again in a heartbeat to take a stand against poverty, P or pollution.

However, when a collective of academics, students and communities rally together at the steps of Parliament next Tuesday, our organisation which has been looking after the front line of abuse for 34 years will not be there.

To understand our stance let me walk you through what a year in the life at the front line looks like for a kaupapa Maori organisation started by the Maori Women’s Welfare League and highlight who helps us help those who need it most.

We have a government contract to take care of 250 desperate whanau a year, or five interventions a week, that is five people who walk through our front door, mostly in crisis of one form or another looking for help and hope to face the turmoil they live in every day.

Currently, we hover around 40-60 interventions per week or up to 3000 per year.

So, where does the shortfall in help and resources come from to fill the gap between our contract and how do we get these resources to the front line where they are needed most?

For us it is Oranga Tamariki, MSD, HUD, Youth Justice, and the generosity and spirit from kind people, our patron and trustees – most of them non-Maori.

TECT, NZCT, Todd Foundation, the Hugh Green Foundation, Tauranga Moana Maori Trust, Carrus and community kingpins walk in almost weekly with a koha to keep our doors open, but nothing from Whanau Ora and only once in my seven-year tenure have we had our own come in with a koha.

It has always saddened me that our own don’t step up, especially those who have done well out of the land our ancestors fought and died for.

Yet, of the 3000 or so who walk through our front door every year 90 per cent are Maori.

Of these 90 per cent, 70 per cent are Maori not from our rohe of Tauranga Moana. They have come here either to get away from abusive relationships, to try and start a new life, just out of prison, with little or no connection to whanau hapu or iwi and pretty much broke and broken.

Within these cohorts of broken whanau we have had children uplifted.[…]

The decision to uplift is never made by one person acting alone, or without professional consultation.

It’s never made without genuine care and protection concerns.

Children must first come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki via a report of concern – schools, doctors or people within the community are making these reports, which social workers are tasked with investigating.

Sure they have got it wrong in the past and there are changes that need to be made in the process but Oranga Tamariki has the job no one else wants.

It’s easy to say the ministry is in the wrong, but what does that achieve? It’s easy to say it shouldn’t make decisions on the welfare of Maori children, but if it suddenly decided not to get involved, would that solve the issues?[…]

If you are lucky enough to not be faced with these issues, you are privileged and we as Maori and Pakeha have a duty to use that privilege to help those without. […]

Maori and Pakeha working together is surely where the energy should be focused – not on the steps of Parliament?

So this is a shout-out to all of the beautiful Pakeha who have held out the hand of empathy, not sympathy to us on the front line and shared what they have in little and large amounts.

To everyone who understands we have a huge problem that can only be solved by putting away the finger of blame and stepping up in our own backyards to help those who need it most.

The solution sits on all of our shoulders.

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