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Family lawyer on Oranga Tamariki uplifts: Widespread trauma and misery

The lawyer (Janet Mason of Phoenix Law) for the family in the Hawke's Bay baby-uplift case has been so inundated with traumatised Oranga Tamariki clients that she is calling it a "humanitarian disaster".

Janet Mason told the Herald she has had to start turning away clients because so many had contacted her in wake of a damning review into Oranga Tamariki's handling of a case involving a 6-day-old baby and his young mother in Hastings. "We just have not had the capacity to take them on," Mason said. "At a guess we have about 20 odd-clients who we are acting for in this category. The information I have received from clients and talking to others involved in these reviews is that the problems are widespread, and the trauma and misery caused is such that calling it a humanitarian disaster would be well warranted." Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Oranga Tamariki had failed to follow its own policies.

"That is obviously very disappointing," she told reporters this morning. "There are no excuses to be made here. What happened in this case was found to be against the policies and processes of Oranga Tamariki, "That's absolutely why we have needed that additional investment in Oranga Tamariki."

Asked how widespread the issues were, Minister for Children Tracey Martin said a paper-based review had not indicated wider problems. The review, done by the Chief Social Worker's unit at Oranga Tamariki showed there were no other cases like the Hawke's Bay case.

But Janet Mason said the paper-based review was not independent. She welcomed Oranga Tamariki's acceptance that mistakes had been made, which she said was a stark contrast to the initial response to Newsroom's story about the Hastings case in June.

"You will recall after the first documentary was released there were views expressed that those of us involved were undertaking irresponsible journalism, and irresponsible lawyering, such was the hostility and the denial from the relevant agencies and those supporting them.

"Recall the strenuous PR efforts of Oranga Tamariki and politicians saying that there was nothing wrong with Oranga Tamariki processes."The fact that they have done an about-turn with this particular case is welcomed and we are happy with that, but there is a long, long way to go."

Both Moss and Martin have mentioned how the Newsroom clip was made from about 40 hours of footage. Moss called it a "significant misrepresentation" in the days after its release. Moss did not resile from those comments when asked about them on 7 November. Martin also did not think her comments about the video warranted an apology. "I don't believe an apology is required. I personally won't ever accept that trial by social media is the way to do care and protection in this country," Moss apologised to the Hastings family yesterday and offered to make an apology in person to the mother and father.

But Janet Mason said apologies should have been offered to some of the workers involved in the case. "This includes the midwives, who raised the issues. They were locked out of the hospital and their swipe cards were disabled, and they were made to look unprofessional and aggressive.

"[Newsroom journalist] Melanie Reid was also subjected to attacks and criticisms of irresponsible journalism. Lastly, I was subjected to threats of contempt of court proceedings from the Oranga Tamariki lawyers at the time."

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