Ombudsman announces “wide ranging” investigation into Oranga Tamariki

Ombudsman Peter Boshier is to hold a wide ranging investigation into steps Oranga Tamariki takes when removing newborn children under a court order.

Mr Boshier told a Parliament select committee this afternoon that he notified the Children's Ministry of his intentions two weeks ago.

The inquiry will investigate the steps Oranga Tamariki takes when removing newborn children under a court order, he said.

"Cabinet announced in April that from July 1, I will have a greater degree of oversight over Oranga Tamariki which will include reviewing complaints and conducting investigations. It is important for me to start looking at this issue immediately."

There had been a great deal of public concern following an attempt by Oranga Tamariki to remove a week old baby from its mother in Hawke's Bay hospital last month, Mr Boshier said.

"No one is more vulnerable than a newborn baby. I think the public needs assurance that the right policies and processes are in place for their protection while at the same time safeguarding the rights of whānau.

"My investigation is focussed on what a good system should look like. As an Officer of Parliament, I have unique investigative powers under the Ombudsmen Act to require all relevant information from Oranga Tamariki and others to get to the heart of things and form an independent view."

On Tuesday, an internal inquiry into the attempted removal of a six-day-old baby from its mother at Hawke's Bay Hospital by Oranga Tamariki last month was announced.

Last month the hospital was put into lockdown as social workers tried to take a newborn from its 19-year-old mother, sparking wider complaints about the organisation's practises.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said she was very sorry to see those events and that everyone in the room that day was negatively impacted. There would be an inquiry into Oranga Tamariki's process with this family, she said.

Ombudsman Peter Boshier   - Photo: RNZ / Phil Smith.

Mr Boshier said he was pleased Oranga Tamariki was doing its own internal investigation into the Hawke's Bay case and noted the Children's Commissioner was also launching a thematic review focussed on Māori newborns.

"My investigation will provide a broader overview aimed at identifying best practice. It is important my investigation looks into the circumstances faced by all newborns and their whānau."

Mr Boshier said his powers also allowed him to examine Oranga Tamariki's interactions with other agencies, such as district health boards, in the removal of newborn babies.

"There is often more than one agency involved, as well as court decisions and Police protocols that Oranga Tamariki needs to take into account.

"I want to find out whether these kind of interventions by Oranga Tamariki are being carried out in an appropriate way.

"This is a key part of my job as New Zealand's Ombudsman, to make sure there is trust and confidence in the system, and to make recommendations where I see the need for improvement."

Mr Boshier said his investigation will not focus on the actions of individuals involved in the Hawke's Bay case.

"I do not want to intervene in this particular case at this time because Oranga Tamariki is conducting its own review and there are ongoing legal proceedings.

"I will be seeking regular progress reports from Oranga Tamariki. I will also be asking the Children's Commissioner for updates on his review. It is part of my job to oversee the administrative practices of these and other agencies within my jurisdiction and identify any areas where my intervention may be required."

Mr Boshier had assigned a team of investigators specialising in the review of agency practices and processes.

"My aim will be to complete my investigation by the end of the year, and I will then report back to Parliament.

"I intend publishing my findings and any recommendations I make. I want to give the public confidence that this issue will be looked at fairly and robustly."