Waatea News Column: Why is Oranga Tamariki so bad and why is the Government so hellbent on defending it?


Last week, Newsroom published a devastating critique of Oranga Tamariki management and work culture.

It alleges incompetence, bullying and a top-heavy management style that punishes putting the child and whanau first.

The problem with Oranga Tamariki runs far deeper than a management style, it is a horribly flawed neoliberal experiment in Welfare that the Labour Government should be ashamed of defending and supporting.

This Frankenstein monster was created under National after a critical 2015 review of CYFS that found more children abused while in State care than were being abused in the wider community. The argument was that by using Big Data algorithms, the State could step in before crimes were committed. National claimed this was about ‘saving’ the abused child, but the reality was that this was about saving money from the downstream social services kids in state care ended up costing the country.

The legal restructuring to allow this to happen saw parents unable to gain legal aid to fight uplifts, saw the legal rights of the parent watered down and the creation of an agency that had no direct oversight to such extreme powers.

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The Children’s Commissioner has the ability to run annual reviews, but he can’t challenge the process directly.

Oranga Tamariki’s goal is to save the State money, the welfare of the child and whanau is secondary to that which shouldn’t surprise us, as that is the goal of almost every neoliberal welfare agency we have.

Oranga Tamariki uses Big Data to generate a threshold for intervention that removes parental legal rights in a system that has no oversight and no way for whanau to challenge the decisions.

It is an obscenity that a Government agency with this level of unchecked power can operate with such impunity. New Zealanders bled on foreign beaches to stop Governments having this type of power over their citizens, to justify the taking of infants from mothers who have just given birth based on some algorithm box-ticking game from a bureaucrat in Wellington is an abomination of social policy!

There needs to be an urgent restructure away from this madness towards a fully funded and transparent Agency where the child and family are put above the need to see these children as future costs to the State, because that mentality, seeing these children as merely lifelong burdens to the taxpayer, is justifying a process that is manufacturing misery.

The Labour Government can not be allowed to win the September election without explaining why they are so hellbent on defending such a deeply flawed neoliberal experiment.

Our vulnerable children deserve better than this!

First published on Waatea News.


  1. “…………. and why is the Government so hellbent on defending it? ”
    Why is the government so hell bent on defending many of our dysfunctional departments and agencies!
    Now we have a problem with Worksafe to go along with OT, INZ/MBIE. MSD. Corrections et al.

    Collectively, they always were going to pose a problem for Labour. Helen Clark a week or so ago suggested “capacity isn’t what it used to be” – but its more than that. In some cases, it’s actually quite convenient for Ministers have things remain just as they are especially if you want a steady as she goes approach rather than a kind and transformational one – or indeed transparency.
    There needs to be reform – urgently. And while the gNats are far worse – sleazy, unethical and manipulative, we can’t say in all honesty that the depts/Ministries/agencies have functioned any better over the past 3 years.
    It’s biting Labour in the bum and it’s not ALL down to NZ1.

  2. It is so bad because Governments universally around the world suck at driving social outcomes.
    The reality is that money doesn’t fix poverty or any of the other social ills despite what anyone says.
    What is required is cultural changes which more money can ironically entrench rather than change by giving people money who are in poor situations.
    We need to pay unemployed more but demand more from them. They need to be put into work where they can develop the life skills they lack, even if that work is subsidized.
    Too many people lack the basic life skills required to get out of bed in the morning and get to work on time and we’ll dressed.
    Start there.

    • If the only job prospects I had from waking up in a cold, mouldy old room in the morning to earn less than a living wage…? you might want to just stay in bed aswell… and I don’t blame you. Why would you work to earn less than it costs to live?

  3. I do agree that welfare is bad for people particularly if people are dependent on it for too long. Benefits do have a place but they should never be long term. If we truly want to reduce the number of people on benefits then we need to invest properly and we need to have the right people working with the beneficiaries. Not all people are brought up with a good work ethic nor do they have people in their whanau to discourage them from being on welfare. (role models) I was on a benefits for a number of years and i was able to utilise the system to get an education. I got the Training Incentive Allowance. I am not sure if this still exists i think pull the benefit got rid of it. As for Oranga Tamariki this service needs an overhaul. Millions are going into CEOs salaries. And this organisation has a rotten culture, I know my sister worked for 14 years for this lot. And my sister told me what was going on and that she use to have to take her work home as she didn’t have enough hours in the day to get it finished. She was always stressed. And I was shocked when she told me how much she gets paid as my partner was getting more working in a factory. Something needs to change now, we cannot keep waiting because of Covid. Many of us are sick and tired of the lame excuses and we are sick and tired of the failures that are detrimental to our whanau. It is time for our own Maori whanau to do the job. We are asking for what was promised in the TOW, Tino Rangatiratanga. Now is that too much to ask.

    • The assumption that Maori will do a better job is groundless IMO.
      Furthermore if you have to intervene on behalf of a child, then you have already left it too late.
      By encouraging solid work ethics and sound life skills, people will grow up to be nurturing, caring parents.
      To break the cycle, the dysfunctional people need to be taught how to cook, clean, present themselves well and act respectfully towards others.
      But as I said earlier, giving them money will do nought to help this happen.
      Financial assistance needs to be tied to attendance of courses (or whatever) that teach these skills with progress demonstrably made.
      However people will undoubtedly cry that this is impinging on the individuals rights.

      • Jay, the assumption that a good work ethic will change the world is neoliberal dogma. The reality is that the nature of work has changed forever and in the future, without the right skillset, a large number of people will not be able to participate in the workforce – because the jobs simply won’t be there.
        You also say that money doesn’t fix poverty – but the evidence is that it does. This is particularly evidence in places where a UBI is provided. A good example is the superannuation aged population in NZ has very limited poverty – especially when compared to localities where there is no universal basic income provision.
        Once we are able to impact on structural inequality through mechanisms such as the UBI, we will be able to work effectively on a number of social ills.
        Martyn – as you probably know – I don’t beleive that Oranga Tamariki is broken – not as badly as you suggest anyway. You are right to talk about funding within the organisation being funnelled to management and ‘experts’ to the demise of social workers, but there are many initiatives that OT has undertaken to improve the situation, especially for Maori (s7aa). Do some actual research and take a look for yourself.

      • This is so true. The whole keep it in the whanau concept was good in theory but in practice makes no sense given the multi generational deficits and dysfunction that often defeats the point of preventing the environment for child abuse to occur in the first place.

  4. We (many Maori) are not assuming we can do better Jay we know we can if given the opportunity.
    Many people working in state services are getting paid vasts amounts and they aren’t delivering and in my view this is wrong. You need to look and see who is getting the money Jay and stop being judgemental.

  5. The problem here is big data. An algorithm is a process of trial and error, and the error is massive preexisting bias against Māori. Previous biased decisions trom CYF and Oranga Tamariki are baked into the data, digitizing systemic racism and giving it the unassailable authority we associate with algorithms. We need to realise that AI can never replicate human empathy and get back to basics. The Māori Party’s central policy should be to demand total authority over Oranga tamariki to cut out the moral and intellectual rot.

  6. Listen to the following for a very serious warning about Big Data AKA Machine Learning AKA AI (it’s not intelligent but the phrase has stuck) from someone in the machine learning field:


    Feels like we are sleep walking into this. If we reduce everything down to just a number (a price) we make it incredibly easy for heartless algorithms to run our lives.

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