Can CYFs save children?



With the recent release of the CYFs report there is hope that change is coming. Why do we need hope in a system change to ensure that our most vulnerable children and families receive the support they need, support that will make the positive difference to their lives? Simple really, what this review and the many before them have told us is the current model is broken, it is not working and has not for far too long.

I have contemplated the place of children in our lives for more than 30 years. How do we assist children to realise their aspirations? What models of teaching opens their minds to the infinite possibilities for their future? What are the values that we need to exhibit to ensure young people are able to build that future on a strong foundation? What is the balance of traditional and modern knowledge needed to facilitate profitable pathways? How can we make the necessary system changes to ensure all children have the tools needed to take advantage of knowledge gained or in fact gain that knowledge at all?

Five years ago while working within MOE I came across a book written by John Barrington  detailing his research into the establishment of Native Schools in NZ. Two major things struck me with such intensity when I read it that I committed passages of it to memory. First the lengths the colonial government went to to create “Brown Britons”. They actually debated in the house of parliament, a choice facing the foundling government, to either exterminate the natives or civilise them… ‘through a language more conducive to human thought’. So in 1867 the Native Schools Act outlawed the use of Te Reo Maori in the schools established to civilise the natives through education. Te Reo Maori was therefore not just strapped out of our children but legislated against. Our ancestors were thereby indoctrinated into a Eurocised education of assimilation. practices.

Hence the decimation of not only language, but also culture. As if that was not enough, the cultural genocide that took place also included the loss through the reo vehicle, of Matauranga Maori – Tohungatanga and self-belief. Maori language and world view was not deemed a viable pathway to success in a ‘modern world’. Te Ururoa Flavell described Te Reo Maori as the window to the Maori world view. Donna Huata said ‘to know me is to know my language’. Many more quotes of this nature epitomise the link of language to the revitalisation of not only language but Te Ao Maori. Through the Native Schools Act not only was Te Reo Maori outlawed, but subsequent amendments two years later ensured that, by law Maori children were indoctrinated into the belief that they were not academically minded enough to absorb learning of any great note and so were taught under the law labouring, cooking, cleaning and nursemaiding.

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The second thing that struck me were the reports of Maori refusing to take their children to these newly established schools because of the harsh way they were being treated. Corpral punishment was meted out routinely in the victorian model of education. Children were caned into submission for all manner of offending or simply to reinforce new learning. Such was the problem that the newly formed board of education sent out a formal messages to the teachers of native schools to be less heavy handed to ensure they did not scare the natives away and prevent children from attending school. Here for me was the evidence of the value of children in the pre-european Maori community. Children were treated as an asset, valued as a taonga and protected from harm. The question that came to me was how then did we as a people go from that to the current perception that we are among the top abuses of children in the world? Did we adopt to freely the corporal punishment model to whip into our children the purported belief that we must put off old ways and adopt pakeha ways to be successful. The intent was not in and of itself the only issue, but the method to instil that intent, has it left us with a model of bullying and abuse to correct behaviour? Have we adopted too liberally the cane, the mock, the communal ostracising of non-confomist behaviour.

Don’t get me wrong in Aotearoa we as Maori are not alone in this. Children in this country are abused equally as often by Maori and non-Maori. Surely this indictment on our modern society must be the greatest issue facing us.

It is the paramount reason I came to politics. The legacy of ten child murders in the space of ten years in Wairarapa has left an indelible mark on our community and on me. Not to mention that as Maori in Wairarapa we have been related to all of those children through whakapapa and to many of the perpetrators. Yet this is the extreme end of the issue. For each of these precious children lost there are many more who have suffered unspeakable abuse, physically, sexually and emotionally. The numbers of children in this country affected by abuse might also be linked with the numbers of young people taking their own lives. More questions arise; ‘why do our young people choose to end their lives instead of live their reality’? “How do we build resilience?” Surely Maori were nothing if not resilient, look at what we have come through. Look at what we have overcome. Yet the fact remains and despite the millions spent on suicide prevention we have not yet found the answers. The 10’s of millions spent in the CYFs area has not halted the problem. I’ve seen the data, if you are a CYFs child you immediately go to the bottom of every disparity we currently hold data for and 60% of those children are Maori. What is abhorrent to me is that this occurs despite the fact these children did nothing wrong. They have now been dealt a double blow. First by those who were supposed to protect them and second by the state that was supposed to step in to halt that abuse.

Yet I am a pragmatist at heart and whenever I see problems my natural instinct is to find solutions to them. In 2004 when I returned to Wairarapa having studied away and taught away for a few years. I returned to a community of young people who were embarrassed to be known as coming from Wairarapa. Young people who announced their whakapapa connections to any line of whakapapa they could cling to except from that of Wairarapa. When we took our tamariki and wharekura students out the area for hui or events and introduced ourselves as being from Wairarapa people would audibly sigh and our young people no longer wanted to stand up and proudly assert their links to our home. We had to change that. We began to put in front of them the great histories of our people. The magnificence of our ancestors and their accomplishments. 2004 was the year we presented our histories to the Waitangi Tribunal, the year we hosted “Kahungunu Ka Moe Ka Puta” exhibition that included the displays of local Marae and Hapu. Much of the knowledge on display had been lost to us through the loss of language. Through the restoration of language the stories of our old people were likewise able to be restored. The mana hidden within whakapapa unveiled for our profit and learning.

So to the question of hope in a system change for CYFs and how we can be part of it. There is no doubt it will take a whole of population approach and not just a whole of government approach. The report notes that CYF staff, agencies and the Government can’t do this in isolation. Communities need to be engaged and play their part. We must find the way to build and strengthen families. The report itself determines ‘love’ as the ingredient needed. “Love lives within families. The state and communities must do its utmost to make sure it thrives”.

Key points from the ‘Final Report of the Expert Panel on Modernising Child Youth and Family

Building Block: Engaging All New Zealanders
29. Note that the love and care required by children and young people can only be provided through individuals and families, not through organisations or the State. (P70)

30. Note that all New Zealanders can have a role in providing love, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.

31. Agree that a core responsibility of the future department will be to raise awareness and engage all New Zealanders in providing love, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.

Our Aspiration for Maori Children and Young People
The majority of the children who are known to CYF are Maori, and reducing the over-representation of Maori children and young people is important for all New Zealanders. If the re-design of the system continues to fail Maori children, then it fails us all.

We are fortunate to have Maori and iwi organisations and whanau who are ready and willing to assume responsibilities to raise these children in the way they raise their own. The new approach will make sure the opportunities such people seek are worthwhile and genuine.

Whanau Ora has driven a systems change
Whanau Ora has driven a systems change within government and service providers toward a greater focus on the integrated delivery of social services for whanau. The whanau planning process involves assisting whanau to define and engage with the issues they face and to develop solutions tailored to their circumstances. Capability building whanau level is necessary to respond to increasing levels of complex needs, including those of vulnerable children.

20. Agree that Whanau Ora can play a role in assisting whanau to develop a stronger understanding of their own strengths and how they can access social services to support better outcomes for vulnerable children (P62)

21. Agree strategic partnering with iwi and Maori organisations is established by the Transformation Programme, and later by the future department, to provide opportunity and invite innovation from organisations interested in improving outcomes for vulnerable Maori children, young people and their whanau. (P62)

An unrelenting approach to reducing the numbers of Maori children and young people co,ing into contact with the system is needed. Some iwi, Maori and community groups and organisations are better placed to do things and achieve outcomes than government agencies and this should be recognised and valued. These organisations have access and influence beyond the scope of any department and are prepared to use this for the good of these whanau. We need the courage to work this through and the flexibility to develop evidence-based solutions that are necessary for different circumstances.

What all this says to me is that the power is in our hands to make change. We should not be waiting for government to tell us how to fix ourselves. I applaud the day when our iwi organisations put as much emphasis into building and strengthening whanau as they do in building their asset base. Some are, and many will argue that we can’t possibly address these issues without an asset base. I would argue that the two should not be mutually exclusive. What is needed is a heart and mind change. Leadership to make the hard choices ensuring that once again we put our children at the heart of our decision making. Ensuring that families have the capability and capacity to do just that. I also expect that we hold the government at their word that they will commission the right approach that brings our tamariki home and keeps them there surrounded in love and nurtured in a manner that they deserve recognising their whakapapa.

“When we change what we do in our own homes we will change society” – Dieter F Uchtdorf


  1. To answer the question : No!
    Governance that works FOR the people, FOR families, FOR children, can.
    Anything less, is just same old same old same old introduced years ago at the start with breaking down and breaking up of traditions, respect for ancestral knowledge and spiritual values, banning of language, etc., etc. With the forced TPPA knowledge and use of traditional medicines will be stomped out. Holistic practitioners will need to watch their backs. How can children blossom under the heavy hand of the global corporate money grubbers whose only interest in herbs is to twist the genetics into addictive. mind altering toxins, and whose only interest in children is to dumb down the intelligence with addictive drugs and “toys” with mind altering frequencies … or …. push them into their child trafficking routes for the entertainment of the the TPPA pushers.
    When a country is nothing more than a profit margin as a incorporated company, no number of do-gooders in Parliament will change a thing. It is my opinion, Ms Fox, we need a clean up and clear out of everything existing within the management of NZ Inc and rise up as the sovereign country called (for the moment) New Zealand.

    • Spot on, HELENA.

      Officialdom is a major part of the problem, and will not provide the answer to anything, other than how to loot and enslave.

  2. Thank you Marama for a most interesting article.

    Although you see the problem through the lens of Maori, it is not a racial issue and I think it’s a mistake to go down that route. I have lived in many places in the world and have seen the exactly same issues in largely white suburbs in the UK.

    My personal experience tallies with the results of longitudinal studies undertaken in NZ and elsewhere. The dominant factors contributing to child abuse are:

    1. Absentee fathers
    Although the introduction of DPB had good intentions, the unintended consequence was a generation of welfare children with no fatherly influence and often exposed to a series of abusive ‘uncles’ passing through. There was also likely a subset of DPB mums who produced children just for the cash flow. Unloved and unwanted children born for dollars and doomed to become criminals the day they were born. (Note that since the current government tightened up the DPB rules the number of teenage pregnancies has roughly halved, so maybe there is some hope) If you think back to the notorious child abuse cases in the last few years you’ll see the preponderance of ‘partners’, live-in boyfriends and yes whanau who committed the crimes. Where were the fathers?

    2. Welfare dependency
    We’re now seeing the 3rd generation of children being born into welfare dependent families. It was said by a teacher friend who works in Northland that the first employed person a typical child meets is his primary school teacher, and that is probably a women. No father. No external male role model.

    We need to ask ourselves:

    Is the current welfare model helping Maori or is it holding them back?

    Is it uplifting them or is it just keeping the ‘natives on the reservation’?

    Isn’t CYPS just the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff?


      The epidemic of child abuse in Aotearoa, as Marama points out, begins with European colonization introducing it. The fact that the welfare of Māori children started being flagged as an issue around the time many Māori started leaving the land and migrating into cities looking for cash work, supports the theory that child abuse began, or was at least made worse, by the breakdown of extended families by industrialization and wage slavery. The lack of easy access to other trusted adults who can help make ends meet, help parents with childcare, and act as advocates for children’s welfare are all risk factors for child abuse that are seldom found in non-industrial societies (see ‘Stone Age Economics’ by anthropologist Marshall D. Sahlins). Through the 20th century, another contributing factor was the traumatization of whole generations of fathers by their participation in world wars. We know that wealth inequality and exploitative working conditions make it worse too, as stress passed down the hierarchy at work has no where else to go when it hits the bottom but home.

      When you can read what Marama says about the disproportionate number of Māori whānau on CYF radars, and Māori children in CYF care, and say this is “not a racial issue”, you are clearly in denial. It would be fair to say it’s not *just* a race issue though, so let’s have a look at your other claims.

      The intention of the DPB was to support children if their mother wanted to leave an abusive husband, or their father just decided not to support them. I agree that positive male role models are important, equally so for both boys and girls, but there are millions of men who can potentially fill this role, the biological father isn’t the only one. If he was, we wouldn’t ever allow adoption, or refuse abusive fathers custody or access to their children, now would we?

      I’m incensed by your slight against partners who are not the biological father, and your insulting use of the word “uncle” to describe the minority of them that are abusive to their girlfriend’s children. I’ve had relationships with solo mothers, and lived with others who are friends. As well as being an ‘uncle’ to their children, I’m an uncle to four of my siblings’ children, and I’ve never abused any of them.

      >> since the current government tightened up the DPB rules the number of teenage pregnancies has roughly halved

      Please provide some evidence that the one has caused the other. It’s much more likely that the reduction in teen pregnancy has been caused by “better access to contraception, better sex education and better parenting”. Increased use of social media is just as likely a cause as DPB rule changes:

      “Welfare dependency” is not a thing. it’s a propaganda claim intended to distract people from the real causes of unemployment; the shortage of secure, fulltime paid jobs, the high cost of going into education/ re-skilling (leading to immigrants being brought in to fill those skilled jobs that are available), and the income inequality that stops people paying for things, and thus creating jobs at the places that sell things. Taking benefits away from unemployed people will not help any of these things, and will in fact make them worse. Returning to free education would definitely help. A Universal Basic Income that removes the stigma (eg accusations of “welfare dependency”) attached to social welfare benefits might help too. A UBI would replace student allowances and “student loan – living costs”, so students wouldn’t need to take paid work while studying fulltime, and those part-time paid hours could be aggregated into fulltime jobs for people who actually wants them.

      Keeping all this in mind, the obvious answer to your first two questions is “it’s helping” and “no”. I would probably answer “yes” to the third, based on the way I’ve seen CYF operate, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As Marama says, integrating the massive resources chewed up by CYF and its bureaucratic empires into a Whānau Ora approach could transform it into a strong, well sign-posted fence at the top of that cliff.

    • “Welfare dependency” my ass.

      That’s libertarian code for cut welfare spending, then cut taxes, and reduce government.

      Result? An explosion in poverty not seen since the damnable Victorian era.

      No thanks, Andrew, you can take your Act style policies and shove them!!

    • “Welfare dependency” my ass.

      That’s libertarian code for cut welfare spending, then cut taxes, and reduce government.

      Result? An explosion in poverty not seen since the damnable Victorian era.

      No thanks, Andrew, you can take your Act style policies and shove them!!

  3. But when the Whanau are the same ones who created the abusive parents and abusive environment, are we really doing the children any favors by letting them stay in that environment, or do children thrive more when they are completely removed from that environment and able to flourish?

    Before we go off on a tangent about Whanau and community groups being the best solution, perhaps we should first look at some quantitive studies on the relative outcomes for the children. Their welfare is paramount over cultural and whanau ones.

    • Maybe, Jollo, that’s because the poverty afflicting children has engulfed whole families and entire communities. You should get out more and see the real world instead of typing away from your comfortable Khandallah/Mt Eden/Fendalton villa.

      • So being poor is an excuse to bash your kids?

        So these people are producing children, knowing they don’t have the financial resources to feed them, and then blaming the government?

  4. CYFS needs to be scrapped, period.
    There DOES need to be an organisation set up to assist families with their challenges, but not CYFS.
    CYFS has been looked into, reported on, and overhauled so much, but fundamentally, nothing has changed. And the ones who have paid the price, aren’t just the taxpayers, but the children who didn’t get protection, the families who didn’t get help, the mums and dads who cried out for a hand-and were ignored.
    I was shocked to learn recently, that back in the 1950’s, CYFS would take children out of low-income families for no reason, and place them in high-income families. I was shocked because I have seen that same kind of mentality in CYFS today.
    Basically, NOTHING has changed.
    Children, families will still continue to suffer, supposedly under CYFS help.

  5. And why we’re all trying to find the cause of and the cure for child abuse, let us all read about the last days of wee Moko Rangitoheriri’s life.

    He was repeatedly hit in the head.
    He was repeatedly bitten.
    He was stomped on “really really hard” (according to child witnesses).

    When he died (mercifully) he was found to have…

    ” facial and neck contusions and abrasions; human bite marks on the left cheek, right cheek and arms; lacerations to his chin, neck, ears and lip; haemorrhages to both eyes; and multiple abrasions and contusions over the skin of his chest and abdomen. His bowel was also ruptured, causing infections, making him very weak. ”

    It took him some days to die, during which time…

    “Moko was soiling himself uncontrollably. By the Sunday, Moko could barely walk. He started falling to the ground, was vomiting often and was unable to stop defecating. Both Shailer and Haewera were at home the entire day with Moko, but no medical treatment was sought. Haewera kicked Moko in the back after he defecated on this day. Shailer held his mouth shut to silence him.”

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