My name is Paora Joass Moyle. I am a proud descendant of a long line of Ngāti Porou wāhine toa and also many strong Celtic women through my Welsh ancestry. I write on behalf of my siblings (both blood and whāngai) who spent our childhoods raised in the care of the New Zealand state. (Read our story here).
When my only child was just seven years old he announced confidently, “you know mama you’re not a state care kid, you’re a shero because how would we ever know what it’s like for those kids if they didn’t go through that. It teaches us what we most need to learn about ourselves aye mama?” I never saw my 14 years of being raised in state care in that light before. My son was expressing how he saw vulnerability as a privileged position and how we have a choice to either see that for what it is, or to ignore it.
From the mouth of a babe, I was given permission to speak out about what it is like to grow up disconnected from my bi-racial parents, my culture, my whenua, tikanga and reo. That vulnerable positioning has become my life’s purpose. Thus, I use my experience to speak about the need for positive change in New Zealand’s child protection system. This positioning also inspired my 27 year career in social work, and to be the kind of parent where there was no chance of the state taking my child.
Thank you Sir Anand (Chair for RC) for your letter inviting me (as a survivor and long serving social worker) to comment on the draft terms of reference (TOR) for the Historical Abuse in State Care Royal Commission (RC). In your letter you outline the four elements you would like me to comment on. The first being the “scope and purpose.” The second element being a “suitable reference to the Treaty of Waitangi.” (I will not comment on all as many others will also provide their views).
My first key comment is te Tiriti o Waitangi as a founding document of this nation should be first and foremost in the RC going forward to address multiple failures of the Crown to keep our tamariki safe in state care. Particularly when it is Māori who have been the predominantly targeted people over the time frame stated in the draft TOR.
One of my gravest concerns is that the government officials who put the TOR together appear not able to think and operate in equal partnership with Māori. Despite the RC website stating, “the Inquiry will adhere to the highest of standards of professionalism and integrity” and“we will work in partnership with Iwi, Māori and whānau. How do you do this when the RC operates from a dominant white-stream worldview? Being secondary speaks volumes of a deep underpinning assumption that we as Māori are incapable of deciding for ourselves, much less looking after our own child protection needs. Why does my tikanga have to be less than yours?
I stated in my opening address to you at a two-day survivor hui in February Sir Anand, “Te Tiriti was not even mentioned in the draft terms of reference and if we are to get this get this right, we must begin how we mean to carry on. Māori MUST have their own stream within the RC.” This means, our own panel of experts (including lived-experience) and advisory survivor roopu, if we are to engage successfully with our hard to reach people. Our world view, our experience, the loss of our mokopuna (grandchild) to genocidal, policy and practice in Aotearoa, is not EVER secondary. It is first and foremost in our living breathing existence. Has the state become so immune to the continued disproportional statistics of our tamariki in state care that, when we call for our own safe processes, we are still treated as an add-on? I don’t think Taika Waititi was kidding when he said “New Zealand is as racist as f..k!”
An example of “racist as f..k” is the way the TOR, (p5, 2.2) lumps Māori in with other groups of people. “In considering this, the Inquiry is also invited to have particular consideration for Maori and any groups where differential impact is evident, e.g. by gender, LGBTQI people, Pacific people and people who have experienced mental health issues.” Genocide and inter-generational trauma are not merely a “differential impact.” Please cease othering your te Tiriti partner. Is this truly adhering to the highest of standards of professionalism and integrity and working in partnership with whānau, hapu and iwi?
My second key comment is there have never been any safe spaces/processes for our Māori state abuse survivors to tell their stories. (Which is why we have had to take our concerns to the Waitangi Tribunal: Wai 2615 – The Māori Children placed in State Care Claim). A best example of this is voiced by my brother who at 8 years old (among a raft of other abuses) was put into psychiatric care with adult patients. He had this to say:
“Your MSD historical abuse claims process is there to make YOU feel better. It blames me and you get to distance yourselves from an unpleasant occurrence and thereby confirm your own invulnerability to the risk. Your process puts the onus on me to ‘prove’ that I was raped, beaten, abused and in doing so it labels me; makes me responsible for all that happened to my small body.
The whole claims process is like facing your rapists again. Like the Judge who took a fancy to me and would take me in the school holidays and on long weekends. A Judge although much older now, is very senior and still there. I see his face, when you all sit there assessing my words, my innocence, my stolen childhood. Where I have to recount the detail and you look at me with eyes, that spell out neon words in the air between us, “troubled” “broken” “dysfunctional” and “cognitively impaired.” Your labels and pathologising is like a knife to my guts, cutting me into bits and telling me I am to blame for your re-rape of me.
You have no understanding of inter-generational trauma, layered like whakapapa…heck you don’t even know what that means. How the mamae and energy of it is passed on through our cellular memory. Your homogenised approach is an affront to me and re-traumatises my being.
You all (MSD process/panel) can then see yourselves as different, impartial and independent (the good guys, expert, well-intentioned). You are NOT! Your espoused tīkanga process does not help us, it repels us. Your victim-blaming marginalises me as a survivor. Your offer to access my notes for me is a load of BS also. I get my DSW notes and they are all redacted. Further, confirming to me that I am to blame and that you are protecting yourselves as state representatives, as colonisers, allowing me little to draw from.
My file notes were written by culturally ignorant social workers to cover their racist missionary-styles decision-making and NOT for my well being. Nothing in my notes remotely relates to my recollection of how I was treated. You (MSD) call yourselves “a tīkanga informed process with culturally competent professionals.” You are not even able to voice your knowledge of Māori models, modes and methods of healing that are vital to us as Māori. Even my medical notes were not to be found which, could’ve corroborated many of my injuries. Such as the burning of my genitals through electrical convulsive treatment (ECT) intended to punish me for telling or crying out for my mother.
All your white arrogance and assurances that you offer a “flexible” and thus “tīkanga” approach are just more lies; more fracking my Māori’ness. When you ask me to prove my rape to you, you ask me to undress to offer up my small body, so that you may inspect, poke and prod, measure, sodomise me and then calmly get up, and leave me lying exposed whilst you wash your hands and make your findings.
There are thousands more of us, whom my sister and other advocates are tireless in providing us with a voice. We want and deserve our own process according to our rights under te Tiriti” (Personal communication: June, 2016).
My third key comment is with the time frame of the RC. Genocidal policies and processes impacting our mokopuna did not miraculously end on the 31 December, 1999. Sir Anand, your stated reasoning for the draft time frame is, “After 2000, people were not in institutional care, by and large; people were in the community, and New Zealanders had available to them a number of mechanisms — Human Rights Commission, Health and Disability Commission, Ombudsmen, etc.” With respect, this a monumental cop-out because those processes and others since (such as, CYF/MSD/CLAS), have not provided a true tīkanga space for Māori survivors to tell their stories. Just because Big Tobacco says smoking is good for you, does not make it so. In exactly the same way posters adorning OT offices declare that they are “tika, pono and with aroha.”
Further, I contend that not a single one of these toothless processes has been able to STOP the tide of racist targeting of our most vulnerable mokopuna from the NZ state. 62% of youth incarcerated into care and protection residences and 73% in youth justice are our rangatahi. All part of the brown pipe-lining of our babies as fodder to fill NZ’s prisons. The proposed TOR time frame only serves to protect the current model (Oranga Tamariki) from being investigated as continuing to fall short in its statutory duty to keep our stolen mokopuna safe from harm.
The New Zealand government not only fails in their obligations to te Tiriti o Waitangi but also to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The declaration recognises “the right of indigenous families and communities to retain shared responsibility for the upbringing, training, education and well-being of their children, consistent with the rights of the child.” Secondly, the declaration recognises “the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.” Let’s call it what it is, not “cultural genocide” but straight up genocide!
In 2014, I wrote about the new focus upon Māori newborns (aka under 5s) by CYF. “In New Zealand, the statistics of newborns uplifted by the state are not made public; these requested through the Official Information Act process. In the 2012 – 2013 year, 13 new-born Māori from a total of 26 were removed from the birthing table, and 80 Māori babies from a total of 157 were removed from their mother within 30 days of their birth (Bernadette McKenzie, Deputy Chief Executive, Child Youth & Family, personal communication, June, 6, 2014). In the first instance, these infants are most often placed with state approved non-Māori caregivers until the concerns held can be addressed via a FGC. Māori make up 15% of the total New Zealand population and the uplift of nearly 100 infants a year from their mothers, many of who are not returned, essentially wipes out future generations of Māori. The actual number of infants uplifted is likely to be much higher as the primary ethnicity is recorded by the social worker and often this is discretionary depending who that social worker decides the child may go to.” (See Moyle, 2014).
In 2018, I am still talking about our babies being uplifted where 45 over the last year were taken from their mother the day they were born. The number has increased in the last three years, with 225 in 2017 – 38 more than 2016 and 63 more than 2015. Over the last three years, 574 babies ended up in state care within the first month of their life, according to figures released under the Official Information Act (See article source here). The percentage of these infants being Māori has increased from 50% in 2013 to 70% in 2018.
This targeting of our mokopuna is the structural/systemic/institutional racism (not unconscious bias), that the Puao te ata tu inquiry spoke at great lengths of, and like the Brown inquiry of 2000, was largely ignored. These uplift statistics of our mokopuna also correlate with what is being reported in other colonial jurisdictions such as the USA, UK and Australia, that right now are greater than they have ever experienced before. For example, ten times that of the Stolen Generations and the 60s Scoop. And whilst our Chief social worker commented in this article, “some of the babies would have been taken for planned adoption rather than protection reasons.” This is misleading in order to distract from the truth of the increase. There is a vast difference between children taken with a mother’s consent to adopt, and those uplifted for reasons of concern for their safety.
It is also not true that these infants are taken as a “last resort.” My FGC findings with over 30 whānau members showed that often the under 5s (including newborns) were often uplifted as a first resort in family violence situations (See, Moyle & Tauri, 2016 for further reading). Especially where predictive risk modelling type assessments were being used by police, social workers and contracted assessment services. They are deficit-focused rather than strengths, and they accentuate weakness from a white-is-right worldview. ‘Child centered’ as a policy/practice is about as state centered as the term ‘child poverty.’ It is ludicrous to assess a child apart from their collective environment and connections.
The under 5s are the largest growing uplift group under Oranga Tamariki. (A title that grossly misrepresents the meaning. Rather than tamariki ora, is more aptly Tamariki Trauma.) An organisation where the social work ‘elite’ fail to challenge the brown care to incarceration pipeline. That re-branded itself from CYF, promising to have NZ child protection sorted in 5 years time. And in 12 months of rolling over its same senior staff into the new model; it did so assuring the same “partnership with whānau, hapu and iwi” (stated earlier in this submission) yet minus any acknowledgement of te Tiriti or the need to address institutional racism. Not even the Expert Advisory Group with its ‘no social work experts at the table’ could utter the words ‘institutional racism’ in any of its shiny reports. A year on, under Oranga Tamariki the total number of children in NZ state care has skyrocketed from 5,600 to 6,100 and 63% of those are ours.
These numbers are unprecedented and result from racist practice window-dressed as cultural competence to work with our mokopuna. Supported also by Family Court practice that often put our women and children at risk of further harm (See Backbone Collective reports on this). Employing overseas social workers and new graduates (like interns doing fine brain surgery) to deal with complex cases, high workloads, in a robotic risk averse work environment, with little understanding of dynamics of colonial fallout/domestic violence, historical trauma and with no external culturally competent supervision, adds to the bush picnic (See more on institutional racism in child protection here).
In a recent report commissioned by the new child protection model, it quoted 12% of children in state care have disclosed being abused, since being placed in care. That is, those who have had the courage to tell. It, like other disclosure research states that the actual number is thought to be considerably higher. If we were to take that 12% and apply it to the 100,000 survivors that went through state care from the 50s to the 90s, then we are looking at 12,000 at the very least. And we’ve probably transacted at least another 70,000 children through state care since 1990.
Which leads to my last two questions. If it took the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS), 7 years to listen to 1,100 survivors, what does the RC hope to achieve with 12,000 potential survivors in 2 ½ years (by end of this political term)? And if it cost the Australian Royal Commission 500 million over 5 years, realistically what will we achieve with 12 million?
I, my brothers, my whāngai siblings and wider whānau have contributed multiple times to this kaupapa over the years. My/our final comment, is if we are to learn anything about what we are not getting right for mokopuna ora in Aotearoa, then we have to listen to, and cease dismissing the experiences of those most affected. Lived-experience is everything. It is true knowledge. It is vital that the voices of Ngā Mōrehu and all survivor groups are centralised in this RC. It is essential that as Ngā Mōrehu/survivors are supported to speak out. Our silence does not belong to Oranga Tamariki, MSD, the Family Court or any system, and positional people that trough feed off the backs of our mokopuna. We will no longer be silent so that others can remain comfortable. These systems have no right to keep us from protecting ourselves, our whānau and future generations of our people!
- Tangata whenua must have their own stream in the Royal Commission, their own panel of chosen experts, and advisory survivor roopu, all with appropriate resourcing.
- Change the timeframe to include current abuse experienced by our young people state care.
- Consider an appropriate restoration process that includes not just an apology but compensation for all survivors that come under the final terms.
- If faith-based institutions want to be open and accountable for the way they failed to care for some of their wards, I suggest they combine their resources and establish their own inquiry. Perhaps run it alongside the Royal Commission, with an appropriate resolution process and compensation for survivors.
- In the learning about how to make it different, the RC must investigate how institutional racism within the current model of child protection contributes to the gross over-representation of our mokopuna in state care.
- Look to establish a totally independent (of MSD) quality assurance and accountability body to act as oversight to the practices of Oranga Tamariki. A body which also processes compliments/complaints from families and individuals experiencing this practice.
- Look into a tangata whenua model/body responsible for approving social workers as culturally competent (fit and proper) to work with tangata whenua in need.
- Look into the need for OT social workers to engage in external ‘culturally competent to work with Maori’ supervision for OT social workers.
- If, the RC cannot do anything to put matters right for survivors (both present and historical), then just hand it all back to us, our lands, resources, our babies, everything!
Paora Joass Moyle
Image (with permission) from Robyn Kahukiwa