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Uplift mother gets second child back

The young Hastings mother who resisted attempts by Oranga Tamariki to uplift her newborn baby - sparking four inquiries into the agency and an urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing - is to have her first baby returned to her as well.

Her daughter, who was uplifted from the mother a few days after being born 20 months ago, has been in the care of a couple who believed they would have her permanently.

The little girl is being ‘transitioned’ back to her 20-year-old mother, who now lives independently in Hastings.

Six months ago the mother came to the nation’s attention when she defied several attempts by Oranga Tamariki to uplift her second child, a boy, a week after he was born at Hawkes Bay Hospital's maternity unit.

The mother’s whānau and her midwife, Ripeka Ormsby, were locked out of the hospital while Oranga Tamariki social workers and police made a final, late-night attempt to uplift the baby.  

The tense standoff, with the mother physically clutching her baby and refusing to let go, ended at 2am after local iwi leader Des Ratima convinced police not to enforce the uplift order.

Video of the mother’s late-night ordeal, and earlier attempts by social workers uplift the baby, was at the centre of a documentary by Newsroom’s investigations editor Melanie Reid.

Reid’s investigation highlighted the number of Māori babies being taken into state care – three a week – and saw Māori leaders adopt the call ‘not one more Māori baby’.

This first inquiry, an internal one by Oranga Tamariki, is released today. The mother refused to participate in the inquiry, saying it was not independent and she didn’t trust the process.

The mother, who is now being supported by a new social worker, left hospital with her baby boy, and spent four months at a home for young Māori mothers. This was part of the plan originally proposed by the group of Māori midwives looking after her.

She recently moved, with her son, to a small state house in Hastings, where she also now has her daughter five days a week. She is still in a relationship with the teenage father of both children.

The couple has been doing mandatory relationship and domestic violence counselling. 

It's understood an Oranga Tamariki social worker alleged back in May there were ongoing family violence issues between the baby boy’s mother and father. She also cited drug use, lack of parenting skills, and transient home environments as reasons to uplift.

The mother’s whānau and the midwives disputed the seriousness of the claims.

The mother’s lawyer, Janet Mason, says since the documentary ran, Oranga Tamariki, which has legal custody of the children, has been supportive of the mother and her children.

“We want to do this (have both children live with their mother) with consent - the best outcome is for everyone to do it together.”

Ngāti Kahungunu elder and Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit Des Ratima, who intervened on behalf of the family on the night of the attempted uplift, says Reid’s documentary was a “lightning bolt” for Māori leaders, particularly the use of “without-notice” uplift orders.

“The issue itself was new to most of us in terms of what it looked like and felt like. People say it’s been going on forever - having children uplifted - but it was the first I knew about it. But having known about it now you can’t unknow,” Ratima says. 

“There is this massive, massive void that exists between the mother, her bubby and the state. In the middle, there is this area full of people using our people to make their income ... The way they use the rules to satisfy their decision instead of having a conversation with the affected people and then making a decision. It is a system that is really backwards. 

“What we have found out is that the mother and the bubby, the most vulnerable people, have no rights. What happens is that Oranga Tamariki bring in an uplift order and take the baby without any notification to the parents, so she is guilty without a trial. I don’t know any system that works like that.”

Ratima says he is still dealing with three to four whānau a week who are worried about losing custody of their children, but says things are changing in Hawke's Bay.

He puts it down to women now having the top leadership roles in the region.

“It’s interesting because the regional manager for Oranga Tamariki is a woman, the regional manager of WINZ is a woman, the senior boss in the police is a woman, the mayors of Hastings and Napier are women and I am of the view now that it is time for the mothers to step forward, and I have talked to them about that.”

Ratima doubts that much has changed in other areas of New Zealand, saying he has seen a “shocking video” of an uplift in Auckland. He says he frequently hears of Māori women choosing to have their babies “in the bush” rather giving birth in a hospital and risk their babies being removed.

“If the first baby has been uplifted, every subsequent pregnancy is notified, there is a red flag (in the system) and (the baby) picked up. That’s why we have had so many mothers running and hiding and wanting our midwives to go see them in the bush, outside the clutches of the Oranga Tamariki team.”

Lawyer Janet Mason says she will be filing a claim with the recently-announced Waitangi Tribunal hearing on behalf of the mother and her children.

The mother told Newsroom last week that she was pleased the inquiry was proceeding and that the trauma she endured during the attempt to take her baby remains with her.

“I thought they were going to hurt me to get him. I asked them if they were going to hurt me to get him and they were saying if it comes down to that they will. She gave me five minutes to say goodbye to him and then she said ‘Put him in the car seat’ and I said no. Then they got the police to come in and people were trying to persuade me to give him … they were intimidating me.”

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