The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has today released its most recent monitoring reports on another Oranga Tamariki care and protection residence, showing serious concerns about the safety and wellbeing of children are not limited to the Christchurch home.
The monitoring reports into Epuni Care and Protection residence in Lower Hutt were released following a request under the Official Information Act.
“These reports, along with the video of apparent assaults at a Christchurch residence, provide graphic evidence of the need for these outdated residences to close as soon as possible,” Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft said.
“One of two key findings our team made regarding Epuni was that: ‘Children and young people do not feel safe from others and/or themselves.
Staff told us serious self-harm was widespread among children and young people at Epuni. One staff member said they were worried there could be a “sentinel event” meaning that a child would die or be seriously harmed.
“We welcome the fast and serious response to the video showing a boys’ treatment at Te Oranga, in Christchurch. However, enough is known already about the unsafe situation in other residences to urgently accelerate efforts to close these, in favour of small home-like places where young people are cared for by people they trust, close to home.
“Children who’ve experienced trauma need highly skilled, loving care, and should not be living in institutions that have their origin in Victorian-era borstals or orphanages,’ he said.
Assistant Maori Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara said: “As the statutory monitor we remain seriously concerned about the wellbeing of children and young people in all Care and Protection residences, with Epuni being of particular concern.
“Children at Epuni complained to us about being “manhandled” by staff who sometimes used force inappropriately. They were worried about being hurt, as a result of bullying or fighting, and they felt staff didn’t intervene fast enough to keep them safe.
“Staff, many who are doing their best in very poor circumstances, told us they needed significant upskilling to provide care for children with complex mental health needs.
“Our monitoring team regularly reports on our findings about Oranga Tamariki Care and Protection and Youth Justice residences, and the agency is well aware of these concerns.
“As well as completely changing the model, our focus must now be on the wellbeing of the mokopuna affected by the closure in Christchurch and those in other residences. They, and their whānau need to be listened to, involved in the decisions and understand what is going on and what to expect.”
Commissioner Becroft added: “These reports are the latest in a long line of concerns raised with Oranga Tamariki, by our monitors, and by others.
“As far back as 2015, the Governments’ expert advisory panel recommended the phased closure of these residences calling, as we have done for family-style community homes.
“The time has come for a new way, a new vision and at its centre there must be by Māori for Māori approaches with shared governance and leadership with whānau, hapū, iwi and Māori NGOs,” Commissioner Becroft said.