Oranga Tamariki Oversight Bill: Our voices are essential to meaningful change, so why aren’t we being listened to? / Karah Mackie

I am the second generation of my whānau in foster care, I was a ward of the state for 18 years, I have siblings who are still currently in care, and I have been working in advocacy for the care experienced community for nearly two years no. And yet, members of the government still believe that their whakaaro around what’s best for my community is better informed without the involvement of voices like mine.

‘The Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission’ Bill is currently progressing through parliament, regardless of the opposition voiced by numerous political parties, organisations, and members of the care experienced community. If you are wanting to better understand this bill and what it proposes, there are already so many resources available for that, some of which I will insert links to at the end of this. If I were to dedicate this space to continuing to try and explain it and its many faults, I would feel like a broken record.

I struggle to find where to begin with this piece because there are so many areas to cover. The Bill itself is full of vague language, disappointing legislations, and empty propositions created for the sake of government officials to be able to say that they have “made change” to a sector whose actions are so openly disapproved of by the public. Working within this sector, so close to something that holds so much mamae for me, is often filled with disappointment and frustration because there are so many people within this community willing to share their whakaaro around what can be done to correct the situations they have been exposed to, but the kōrero rangatahi share is never fully acknowledged. Officials ask us for that whakaaro, only to completely disregard our kōrero and virtue signal to others by saying that they’ve taken on what we’ve had to say.

Growing up in the system itself, you’re exposed to a lot of this kind of behaviour. You meet with your social workers and caregivers, tell them what you need, what has to change, what is necessary for your oranga tonutanga, promises are made, plans created, and you’re sent off with hope, feeling as though you’ve been given the awhi you need and that those in charge of your safety have made space to acknowledge you as a person. But then moving forward, little to no change is made, and you’re often left with this feeling that all of your kōrero is empty to those who are supposed to be listening.

This cycle of broken promises will continue for as long as the government decides to keep participating in it.

Bad experiences of the system often get put down to fault on the individual social worker, but mahi within the political sphere has made me realise that the actions of the government as a whole teaches social workers how to perceive and interact with our care experienced rangatahi and tamariki. Whilst the government continues to disregard the needs of the community, so too will the social workers acting on their behalf.

There are lists of things wrong with this Bill. One of the major issues I felt upon first reading it was the clear lack of rangatahi voice and involvement in its creation. Myself and the organisation I work with highlighted this deficit when this bill was first released, we emphasised the need for rangatahi voice during the select committee process. Rangatahi who actually have experience in the system emphasised the need for youth involvement. Reassurances were given, acknowledgement of our kōrero provided, and yet still, the bill is being pushed forward. Not only with an absence of rangatahi voice, but actively in opposition to the expressed whakaaro of our care experienced community.

The thoughts and opinions of care experienced tāngata are vital to creating effective change within this sector. Only those who have lived through the system are able to fully understand the complexities of the trauma associated with it, and therefore, are fully informed of the needs created by the experience of being in care. And yet, we are continuously having decisions made on our behalf by people who do not understand our lived realities, and make no effort to bridge that gap.

Another major deficit of the Bill, which I think is worthy of addressing is the fact that in relation to the proposed commission board, it is a requirement that 50% of that board have knowledge of Te Ao Māori. In response to this requirement, it was suggested (again by numerous different agencies, organisations, and individuals) that instead, the requirement be that 50% of the board should whakapapa Māori, rather than simply having knowledge of it. The response to this was that doing so might be an act of discrimination. I personally think though, that not ensuring that the care experienced community have a group of individuals working on their behalf that accurately represent and relate to the majority of the population of tamariki in care, is in itself, an act of discrimination. Not having adequate Māori representation for a community that is so heavily over-represented by Māori tamariki and rangatahi is not good enough, and essentially leaves our tamariki at risk of further harm.

The struggle that tamariki have to endure whilst being in care is one that no tamariki should ever have to participate in. As a community, we are constantly having to fight for our basic needs to be fulfilled, we are having to fight to be acknowledged as people who deserve the bare minimum. And in this situation, the government’s direct disregard for the voices of those with lived experience clearly communicates to us as a community that this fight is something that will only continue, as the oranga of our tamariki, the actual wellbeing of our children is clearly not something that they value as much as they’d like us to believe. Ka whawhai tonu mātou: Struggle without end.

Kia Ora, kō Karah tōku ingoa. I grew up in care all over the motu, and have siblings who are still currently in care. I am currently a youth worker with people with disabilities and am a member of the Voyce Whakarongo Mai National youth council. Improving the lives of our rangatahi in the foster care system is mahi that I hold closely to my heart. I am reachable on instagram, @karah127.

To support this kaupapa and lend your voice to Karah’s sign and share the petition here!

For more information of the bill:

https://voyce.org.nz/ot-oversight-bill/

https://i.stuff.co.nz/pou-tiaki/300514964/oranga-tamariki-oversight-bill-under-fire-they-want-a-lapdog-not-a-watchdog

https://voyce.org.nz/oranga-tamariki-oversight-bill-must-go/

Though we try to keep up with all our comment’s and feedback, we do sometimes struggle to monitor all platforms. If you do want to engage in the conversation join us on facebook and find the relevant post or connect directly with A.J on his facebook page here.

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