2 Dec 2016

Minister questioned over new CYF law

6:32 am on 2 December 2016

The government is pushing ahead with its plans to introduce a bill that could remove more Māori children from their family and wider whānau.

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Photo: 123RF

The legislation is the second piece of work to overhaul Child, Youth and Family as it becomes the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.

The current Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act gives priority to placing a child with a member of their family or wider hapū and if that is not possible, then to someone who has the same tribal, racial or cultural background as the child.

The proposed legislation, being introduced in the next couple of weeks, removes that priority.

Instead a child should be placed the child in a safe, stable and loving family at the earliest opportunity, where practicable placed with siblings, and consideration given to their links to the community.

On Thursday in Parliament, Green Party MP Jan Logie asked Social Development Minister Anne Tolley whether she could clarify that new provision.

On behalf of the Minister Hekia Parata said it was about putting the safety and well-being of children above everything else.

"When making decisions about a child, decision-makers will have to consider, wherever possible, the relationship between the child, or young person and their family, whānau and usual caregivers, is respected, supported and is strengthened," Ms Parata told MPs.

But Ms Logie asked whether any consideration had been given to the whānau first principle.

"Why is she proposing to remove the principle from Section 5 of the Act that requires consideration to be given to how a decision will affect the stability of that child or young person's whānau, hapū or iwi?.

"Given that for tamariki Māori their wellbeing is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of their whānau and hapū."

Ms Parata reiterated the core purpose of the bill was to protect children.

But she said the cultural context, identity and language of the child would be an intrinsic part of it.

Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta asked the minister to clarify whether the bill provided a preference for whakapapa and whānau when making decisions about the care and protections about tamariki.

Ms Parata said she could not confirm that, but that the Māori Party was making powerful advocacy to the government.

Ms Logie said a truly child-centred approach would ensure connection to whakapapa and whānau would be of paramount importance.

She asked whether the minister was concerned the government did not have a mandate from Māori because it hadn't undertaken robust consultation on the reforms. Ms Parata said there would be significant consultation opportunities as part of the bill's select committee process.

The new Ministry for Vulnerable Children is expected to be set up by April next year, so any legislation will need to be passed before then.