It is wrong for at-risk Māori children not to be placed with whānau, hapū or iwi if possible, former Māori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia says.
The latest Child Youth and Family bill passed its first reading last night - the second part of a major overhaul of the agency as it becomes the Ministry for Vulnerable Children (Oranga Tamariki).
The new law removes the priority to place Māori children with a member of their whānau or wider hapū.
Dame Tariana said the legislation setting up Child Youth and Family was ground-breaking at the time it was written, and the proposed changes were a result of the law never being used properly in the first place.
"The previous legislation was probably the best legislation we've ever had - the problem was Child Youth and Family never, ever knew how to implement the legislation."
The effects of Māori children not being part of their whānau, hapū and iwi were huge, she said.
"They become dislocated. They don't understand who they are, they don't know who they belong to, they have no experience of what it is to be brought up within an extended whānau situation and [become] dislocated from the essence of who they are," Dame Tariana said.
"I just don't know how any of us can put with that - if anything, this is something our people should march for."
Dame Tariana raised two of her own grandchildren and said she believed every Māori child taken from their parents and home should be placed with whānau, who had the same whakapapa connections, before anyone else.
About 5300 children were currently in the care of Child Youth and Family.
Just over 3200 of those children were Māori, and 2300 of those Māori tamariki were placed into whānau care.
Ms Turia said that should not change.
"I have raised children who are not related to me, and the bottom line is you can not maintain those important connections for those kids," she said.
"They need that - they want and asked for it right throughout this process."
Te Whanau o Waipareira Trust chair John Tamihere said it was not the law failing Māori children.
"It doesn't matter what legislation you have; if you haven't got the capacity and the capability in the agency itself to do the business - and clearly it does not - I think they are starting from the wrong end."
All cultures, whether Māori or Pakeha, had family at their heart, he said.
"The best thing you can do for all families, if at all possible, [is] repatriate that baby to somebody that has a biological and loving connection."