Monday, September 13, 2021

A few thoughts on that Moana decision

 As a matter of record, I should note that Family Court judge Peter Callinicos delivered his judgment last week in the case of “Moana”, the six-year-old Maori girl whom Oranga Tamariki wanted to remove from her Pakeha caregivers because her “cultural needs” were supposedly not being met (these apparently taking precedence over all her other needs, such as warmth, love, affection and physical wellbeing, which were). I was away when the judge’s decision was announced but mention it here in case people who had read about the case on this blog missed the news stories.

As Stuff’s Hawke’s Bay reporter Marty Sharpe reported here, Judge Callinicos ruled that Moana, who was traumatised and neglected before being placed with the Pakeha couple, should remain in their care. His decision will be widely applauded as a triumph of compassion and humanity over the grotesquely cruel and inhumane demands of the culture wars.

Sharpe reported that the 145-page decision “includes stark criticism of Oranga Tamariki, its chief executive and numerous of its staff”.

“The judge was particularly scathing of Oranga Tamariki staff members’ failure to appreciate the need for honesty and accuracy when compiling statutory reports, and concluded that social workers appeared to place little importance in documents that were vital to a child’s wellbeing.”

Judge Callinicos said the ideal goal in such cases was to have children of a specific cultural group placed with caregivers from the same family or cultural group, but “sadly that may sometimes not be achievable”. The key flaw in such a belief-driven approach was that it distracted from the mandatory consideration of what was holistically best for the child, he said. (Pause here for further applause.)

Most tellingly, the judge said Oranga Tamariki’s insistence on removing Moana from the couple’s care showed the agency was either incapable of seeing the wood for the trees or that it was driven “more by ideology than workable child-centred outcomes”, or both.

Oranga Tamariki’s claims that the couple were “stripping [Moana] of her whakapapa” were found to be groundless. In fact Callinicos noted there was overwhelming evidence that the agency failed to provide the couple with any support to build their "cultural capacity", and neglected their requests for more information on Moana’s whanau and whakapapa.

This suggests the agency’s professed concern for her cultural needs was a sham, serving only as a pretext to get her away from caregivers whose sole failing was that they are not Maori.

The judge clearly wasn’t unsympathetic to the view that Moana should know about her cultural heritage. He ruled that while she should remain with the Pakeha couple (whom Stuff called the Smiths), her guardianship should be shared by Mr Smith, Moana’s birth mother and the Maori caregiver Oranga Tamariki had intended to place her with, who will look after Moana for several weeks each year and who has “strong and competent links to whakapapa and whanaungatanga (kinship)”.

So – all done and dusted, then? Er, no. A follow-up story by Sharpe revealed that Moana’s birth mother – no doubt funded by the taxpayer and egged on by activists – will appeal the judgment. The social justice zealots in the front line of the culture wars don’t give up easily, especially when they know there’s a good prospect that a higher court will be more easily swayed than the redoubtable Judge Callinicos by ideological arguments that place racial considerations above human needs.

Naturally, Ngahiwi Tomoana, head of the Ngati Kahungungu iwi that supported Oranga Tamariki’s bid to remove Moana from her Pakeha caregivers, supports the appeal. Stuff’s stories don’t explain Tomoana’s legal standing in the case (if any), and neither do they reveal what (if anything) the iwi did to provide practical support for Moana’s birth mother or help her Pakeha caregivers trace her whanau. But that hasn’t stopped Tomoana from grandstanding on the case and using it to promote separatist models of care.   

“The days that [sic] judges can tell us we’re not good enough anymore are over,” Stuff quotes Tomoana as saying. “This is just another case of other people thinking they know what’s best for Maori.”

No, it’s not; it’s a case of a judge humanely stepping in where others – including Ngati Kahungungu, quite possibly – failed to protect a vulnerable, damaged child.  Why should Moana be made an innocent pawn in the culture wars? That’s ultimately what this case was about.

The matter still has some way to run, and not just because of the pending appeal. There’s also the small matter of the two senior judges who allegedly intervened in the case at the urging of Sir Wira Gardiner, who was then acting head of Oranga Tamariki. The two judges’ actions, for which they were rebuked by Judge Callinicos, are now the subject of a complaint to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner – although no one who has observed how the legal and judicial establishments protect themselves will be holding their breath in the expectation of a salutary outcome.

Beyond that, there’s a risk that Labour’s powerful 15-strong Maori caucus – almost a government within a government – will push to change the current Family Court rules so that iwi input in similar child care cases will be prioritised over other factors. Respected welfare commentator Lindsay Mitchell thinks Judge Callinicos, inadvertently or otherwise, has pointed the way in his judgment.  

What, then, of Oranga Tamariki? In normal circumstances, scathing judicial criticism of a government agency – including implications of dishonesty – would prompt, at the very least, a rigorous internal review. But these are not normal circumstances, and it’s likely that the febrile internal culture at Oranga Tamariki is too securely entrenched to be threatened even in the unlikely event that the bosses feel moved to act. Stuff quotes chief executive Chappie Te Kani as saying he will take time to consider the judge’s findings. I bet he will. And you can be sure there’ll be no pressure from the Beehive for Oranga Tamariki to change its ways.

Still, the case is encouraging for a number of reasons. A Pakeha couple cared enough for a vulnerable Maori child to fight on her behalf against Oranga Tamariki and its scheming social workers, and an independently minded judge cared enough to rule in their favour despite knowing, as he must have done, that there would be a backlash.

Oh, and a reporter brought this important case to public attention, reminding us why society still needs good journalists. Full credit to Marty Sharpe, then, and to Stuff for publishing his stories. There’s still some hope.  



Unknown said...

A well written article, again.
I note the lack of any comments, which would say to me, there is nothing to comment on. Perfect.

Karl du Fresne said...

Hmmm. Early days yet. We shall see ...

Anna Mouse said...

It goes to show who is running OT and clearly it has been infiltrated by the young CRT enthusiasts. Sadly it seems that the older wiser employees with oversight have no sight to see......

LNF said...

I read this the other day.
The head of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi, Ngahiwi Tomoana, ...............“If the state was giving Pākehā children to Māori families there’d be a hell of a hue and cry about it,” he said.
Total rubbish. I have Maori relatives and friends. There certainly would not be a "hue and cry" if they were "given" a child of any race in need
With this reported kind of thinking - we have a problem

Doug Longmire said...

Well said, unknown !!!
However, let's wait a bit. I am sure that there will be comments on the clearly apparent organizational racism in Ministry for Children, and revisionist/activist judges.

Doug Longmire said...

This whole sorry saga illustrates a major problem in the Ministry for Children (OT). I have made this point before, but will make it again to illustrate:-
Suppose the child was, for example, European, and the foster parents were European (or Chinese or African).
In that case, would the activists from OT have taken (=kidnapped) the child away from it's loving, nurturing family ? In order to place the child in some alien environment for "cultural" training?

Throughout all of this appalling racist saga of child kidnapping, I feel so much for the child involved. This is just so cruel.

Orinoco Jones said...

This article tells you all you need to know about the birth mother's lawyer, Janet Mason:

She's hopeless!

Doug Longmire said...

I have had further thoughts about this seizing of Moana.
This child, having had abusive start in life, then the security of a loving Mum and Dad.
Then along come these frightening strangers and (forcibly ?) take her away from her loving parents to be with the abuser again.

This is CHILD ABUSE. That young girl would have been terrified.

Kimbo said...

It is inevitable due to the nature "ambulance at the bottom of a cliff" work that Oranga Tamariki and its various predecessors including CYPFS have always been controversial, and involved bad news stories. I can well remember when Anne Tolley was Minister, and there was yet another death of a child on her watch, that she made the policy change to emphasise the welfare of the individual child is paramount above that of parents, family/whanau and iwi.

And therein lies the source of the continuing wrangle because, genuine expressions of concern for their tamariki and mokopuna aside, the like of Ngahiwi Tomoana (Ngati Kahungungu) reflect the primarily collective value of traditional Maori culture.
And view attempts to undermine that as a loss of sovereignty and continuing colonisation and disempowerment that helped cause this child's plight in the first place. Note, I'm keeping an open mind on whether he is right or wrong in principle, as in the absence of knowing all the circumstances of the mother's situation that resulted in the removal, we are speculating. Mind you, that judge's decision looks pretty sound to me.

And with the due diligence that my personal values are, before I expect some "collective" to assist me, if I am capable the wisest course in life is to use my own initiative and take care of that to which I can attend. Is that viewpoint really irredeemably shot through with European-Enlightenment colonial racist individualism? Seems to me plenty of tangata whenua embrace it too (indeed it surely has some place in Maori tikanga!), while also functioning with their corporate all cultures do.

The problem is, there seems little prospect in the current environment of a compromise. Instead, this is just more of the same ratcheting up. And that Oranga Tamariki will continue to be the meat in the sandwich. And lurch from one irreconcilable delivery paradigm to another. And be a source of regular bad news stories and accusations of ideological capture.

Because when kids are at risk and removing them from their parents is maybe necessary, there is always dysfunction and shades of gray.

Hilary Taylor said...

It's our dirty little secret...Godzone, that great place to bring up kids. For some maybe. Getting harder by the day for many and meanwhile our social agency charged with picking up the pieces when families fail is riven, or these days driven by ideological wankery. Poor MOana was already damaged and where were those concerned whanau & iwi leaders while all this was happening? Busy feathering their nests and blowing their own trumpets, I'll bet. Why folk think state agencies should/could perform miracles when the parents/whanau have failed is beyond me. They will measure up as well as the people who work for them in any given day/week/month. I just hope this child has found her 'forever' home that will serve her well. Shame on these individuals and their odious meddling.

Andy Espersen said...

Doug Longmire – I am late getting to read all this , including your 9.30 am comment. Your heartfelt last sentence was “This is just so cruel”. You here put your finger squarely on the most significant element in this sad saga – which also Karl’s article stresses - and which permeates the judgement from Peter Callinocos, namely lack of compassion, lack of simple human charity. It is very saddening to observe the hypocrisy now oozing out from what we knew as charitable, wise and humane “Child, Youth and Family” - before its completely useless and unnecessary name change. They piously claim to be “child-centred” - but are the exact opposite.

Come to think: Lack of compassion and lack of simple human charity is the hallmark of so many political decisions we now get from our smug, woke masters – all falsely pretending to benefit New Zealand’s citizens.

In relation to Covid : Our woke masters enforce lockdowns to avoid natural deaths – but in the process, and in myriads of ways, cause untold agony and misery to so many. Directly, lockdowns are economically inequitable : if you have secure incomes, jobs and dwellings they may be positively enjoyable - but not so for the rest of us. And indirectly they cause massive economical and psychological harm. It would, of course, be far more charitable to citizens if our government just humbly accepted those natural deaths; and encouraged us all, and assisted us, to keep on living and working as usual - in the face of, and ignoring the ravages of the epidemic.

In relation to mental health : Our woke masters are blind to the fact that we have 2000 people in jail – who are not criminals. They ignore hundreds of homeless people, slumped in our streets - cynically assuming that just paying a sickness benefit must be sufficient.

Et cetera.

This woke, supercilious generation never suffered hardship to any extent – and, perhaps therefore, they lack the imagination to perceive of any sufferings of their fellow human beings. I know a saying in Jutland dialect : “It takes a broad back to carry good days”. Our contemptible government woke’ists are spineless - and, generally speaking, quite unethical.

Alexandra Corbett Dekanova said...

There is just one race - human race- and all human beings are equal. Their basic needs and rights are those of life, liberty and security. All the other "identity" issues are secondary. Judge Callinicos's judgement met the basic needs as well as the secondary. We should be proud that we have a judge like him.

It is incomprehensible, absurd and arrogant that the birth mother appeals the judgement. She the most of all should be happy and thankful that her daughter can grow up in loving family environment.

That this is happening here shows very clearly that there is "someghing rotten". If the Government will initiate and pass the change of the law and give preference to iwi, it will be openly against the Declaration of the human rights.

Alexandra Corbett Dekanova.

Ricardo said...


I see the Law Society has leapt into action and is investigating the lawyer who fled surreptitiously to Wanaka for some unauthorised R&R. It is a shame we did not see the same response about the improper pressure put on the Judge in this case.

Just on the miscreant pair of pleasure seekers... clearly an ill judged action and worthy of criticism but the sheer scale of national opprobrium heaped on them, their abject grovelling apology, his mother's throwing of her son to the wolves, ... is this how being kind to each other works?

Ricardo said...

Further to my last, it is a shame this sort of public reaction cannot be mustered each time a child dies in care.

Trev1 said...

I agree entirely Alexandra. Sadly this appalling government can do anything it wants thanks to COVID and women voters.

Alexandra Corbett Dekanova said...

One more thought. I have read the article "Can Pakeha caregivers provide adequate cultural support for Maori children in care?" where associate professor Khylee Quince, justice advocate Julia Whaipooti and assistant Māori commissioner for children Glenis Philip-Barbara give their views that for a Maori child it is equally important to meet its cultural needs than health and safety blaming Oranga Tamariki for not trying hard enough to find a caregiver from the girl' s whanau, hapu and iwi.

The question is what is so special about the Maori culture that it is as important as health and sefaty? Therefore where were the whanau, hapu, iwi of the girl when she was tossed to and fro for three yeras? If the Maori environment were so beneficial and important for the wellbeing of the child, there wouldn't have been the need to find a caregiver for her. Doesn't it itself show that the alleged beneficial Maori environment is just a myth, pium desiderium, anything but reality?

The other question is, where is the father of the girl? Why don' t these ladies who are in position of influence focus on the right of the child to grow up in a healthy family? How is it possible that a person responsible for the conception of the child's life is legally out of obligation to take care for the child? There are means to make fathers responsible to care about their offspring at least financially (reduction of their income for the benefit of the child), there are means to make the families to spend the money given them by state for the benefit of the children so that they will attend schools and get the health care.

Their standpoint shows what is the most important for them and it is not the wellbeing of the child, it is not the effort to mitigate if not to solve the problem of children needing state care, it is just to play the race card "by Maori, for Maori" and to blame the Crown, the institutions, the Europeans of racism and systemic racism (may it be whatsoever).

Alexandra Corbett Dekanova

Anonymous said...

I was there .You journalist haven't heard the full story yet!