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The Courage of Hope

Carol Barron, National Coordinator —

Hana* self-referred to a Family Start service when she was five months pregnant. Hana’s two older children were in her sister’s care but were removed by Oranga Tamariki due to her sister being a victim of domestic violence. The father of the children was in prison serving a lengthy sentence.

Hana was a victim of severe violence from the father of her children and suffers from mental health issues. She used alcohol and drugs before she became pregnant but stopped when she found she was pregnant.

Hana had support from Probation, mental health services, and alcohol and drug counsellors. She wanted to keep this baby and said she would do whatever it takes to keep the new baby and get her older children back. Representatives from the seven agencies providing wrap-around support attended a Family Group Conference (FGC). They supported Hana keeping the new baby noting the significant changes she had made.

A Strengthening Families hui arranged prior to the FGC, provided a robust plan to support Hana prior to and after the birth of her pēpi. The plan included Hana living in supported accommodation for three months after the birth. Oranga Tamariki were invited to the Strengthening Families hui but did not attend.

At the FGC, the Oranga Tamariki Social Worker did not look at the plan that all the services had agreed to for keeping Hana and her child safe. Despite all services reporting on the remarkable life changes Hana had made, Oranga Tamariki indicated the timeframe of these changes was not long enough and a decision to uplift at birth was made.

This is a real story of a woman who contacted a Methodist Alliance member to get support. Hana’s story is representative of many others who hold onto the thin hope of keeping their child when they have had a previous child removed.

Currently the law allows Oranga Tamariki to uplift a child where the parents have previously had children removed from their care. This law shifted the onus of proof to parents to prove they could care for their subsequent child. It took away the hope for whānau and increased their stress and feelings of helplessness.

Removal of tamariki is traumatic for both parents and their children. Parents experience profound grief and loss. Siblings are often separated and children experience attachment issues. Birth mothers who have had children removed have themselves experienced significant and multiple adverse experiences in their childhood, and over half had spent a period in and out of home care.

Removal of a child can result in unresolved trauma which can lead to problems with substance misuse and mental health issues. The fear of having a subsequent child removed, which at present is a real possibility, compounds this grief, loss and trauma.

This law assumes that people do not have the ability to change. It removes any hope that parents have for their future and also breaches Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Currently there is a Bill before Parliament that repeals the subsequent child provision except where the parent has a conviction for murder, manslaughter or infanticide. The Methodist Alliance supports this change to the law and you can read our submission on the MCNZ website.

An alternative option

Lifewise and Wesley Community Action provide a successful alternative to taking children into care. Mana Whānau is a six-month intensive in-home parenting support programme that is specifically designed to keep tamariki who are at risk of moving into care, or have been removed by Oranga Tamariki, to live safely with their own whānau in their own communities. The programme is whānau-led and based on neuroscientific research. When toxic stressors are removed, parents are able to think beyond immediate issues and build new skills and capabilities. Whānau identify the stressors, as well as their goals, priorities and the pace of the work.

The programme supports strong and responsive relationships between tamariki and their whānau and builds natural whānau and community supports to ensure long-term resilience. A parent graduate of the programme reported,

“I felt so stressed and overwhelmed. My life felt out of control. I had no space to think. It all kept piling up. Sorting some of the stuff out calmed everything right down. I felt like I could take a step back from it all and start thinking again.”

Graduates of the programme report that the most critical components of the programme are the staff member’s faith in the whānau’s ability to parent and holding that hope, even when at times the whānau or Oranga Tamariki do not.

Rev Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” Mana Whānau staff provide this hope in the darkness for whānau. They have the courage to believe people can change. They stand firm in their hope for whānau when Oranga Tamariki does not have it, and even when the whānau have lost hope. This hope, support, care and love reflects the transforming love of God.

Carol Barron, National Coordinator 03 375 0512 | 027 561 9164 |

*Name changed to provide confidentiality.