Claimant wants role in agency’s change

Toni Jarvis was a lead claimant in a Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry into  Oranga 
Toni Jarvis was a lead claimant in a Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki, yet he and other claimants have been shut out of the process of reforming the agency.PHOTO: JARED MORGAN
Toni Jarvis reckons he should be part of the transformation of Oranga Tamariki. Instead he and other lead claimants in a Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry into the agency feel ignored.

The Alexandra man gave evidence before the Waitangi Tribunal in October as to why there were a disproportionate number of Maori children in state care and detailed his own experience of illegal adoption and subsequent abuse in state care and the struggles he had endured since.

From his experience the only thing changed about Oranga Tamariki was its name and the situation for Maori children had become worse, Mr Jarvis said.

"Sixty-eight percent of kids in care are Maori ... In 2017 it was 61%.

"It’s a much higher percentage than when I was in care. It has been steadily growing — the number of tamariki Maori in state care. [Oranga Tamariki] is still the same entity."

The primary recommendation of the Waitangi Tribunal as set out in a preliminary report released in April was for the Crown to engage with the Maori-led Oranga Tamariki ministerial advisory board and the lead claimants to establish a transitional authority that would lead the transformation of the care and protections system, including youth justice.

In the almost three months since the report’s release that recommendation had been largely ignored, Mr Jarvis said.

"Minister for Children Kelvin Davis has refused to engage with us as the lead claimants despite tribunal recommendations to do so."

Two claimants were invited by the Oranga Tamariki ministerial advisory board to briefly meet the minister, but no process of engagement with the lead claimants had been pursued.

The board, made up of chairman Matthew Tukaki, Dame Naida Glavish, Shannon Pakura and Sir Mark Solomon, had also stepped back from a working relationship with the lead claimants, Mr Jarvis said.

"How can they say they won’t work with us?

"Lived experience is the most important thing in facilitating change."

Making things worse was an email from the board, read by the Otago Daily Times, asking claimants to remove board members from emailing lists, he said.

Yet scandals within the agency continue to make headlines.

Oranga Tamariki acting chief executive Sir Wira Gardiner announced last week the agency would be closing Te Oranga, the agency’s Christchurch facility, and announced an investigation into the actions of staff captured on video leaked by news website Newsroom.

The footage of staff members restraining youths by tackling, headlocks and various other holds was telling, Mr Jarvis said.

"They are still caging hurt and abused children and treating them like little criminals. This has been going on for 80-odd years — isn’t 80 years enough?"

He had been lobbying against the treatment of children, particularly Maori, in state care for 44 years to no avail.

He urged the Crown to accept and implement the tribunal’s recommendations.

Mr Jarvis also took part in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions earlier this year, the findings of which are yet to be released.

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