In Rachael Taylor's opinion, Oranga Tamariki is a corrupt system, "they have no soul. No mana. No integrity in what they do."
This is her story.
My time in the system began December 21, 2016 when my three children were forcibly uplifted from my care. The experience was traumatic and confusing. My children were clinging to my legs and crying – the police were trying to lift them off me. I was told to convince my kids not to make a fuss, that I would be arrested for obstruction of justice if I made it difficult. I relented and let them take my kids – trying to calm them as much as I could. Powerless to do any different.
I wasn’t even allowed to pack their clothes or stuff – they were just taken away in the clothes on their backs. I didn’t know my rights or the process of how to appeal.
It was a week before we had our first meeting to discuss any plans. I wasn’t allowed to organise a family alternative or to have any knowledge of where my children would be placed. At that first meeting, there was one lady who spoke in support of us; she couldn’t see why the kids needed to be uplifted, there was no record of neglect or any discussion about our case prior to the event.
As I see it, my kids were taken and then a case was made against us. They created their reports based on heresy, there was flimsy evidence to their claims and in some cases none - in fact accusations of our son being behind and truant at school were lies – I showed them the mid-year and end of year report sheets to prove his academic progress and attendance – he had been given an A grade. My documents were not allowed into their report – they refused to acknowledge them.
Don’t get me wrong, I was no saint – there were issues in my life and relationships that weren’t healthy, but my kids were not neglected or abused.
My children were fed and clothed and in school. I had family support. My husband was in permanent employment and I was training to be a chef. I owned my mistakes and was honest about my dysfunction.
Intimidated. Ignored. Marginalised.
Over my four years in the system, I was talked down to, patronised, lied about, intimidated, ignored, manipulated and marginalised. I was not supported or affirmed in any steps I made to meet their demands. In fact, efforts I made to improve my situation were either not acknowledged or dismissed.
Reviews to our plan were stalled, test (hair follicle) results held up, and positive changes in me and my partner’s life ignored.
We were handled by over fourteen different case workers during our time in the system – none of which knew us, or even tried to build a relationship with us.
They just read off their papers, they looked at me but didn’t see me. I was already judged guilty and incapable of change – stereotyped as an alcoholic, a troublemaker and a ‘dumb maori’; I was expected to give up and to fail.
I was expected to bow to them ‘cause they were the government and had all the power. I was always reminded of my faults and failings; I was never offered any hope of restoration with my children – all their efforts were on keeping us apart.
Where is the Accountability?
Two months into the state care of my children, they ran away. My son helped his sisters over the back fence and into the neighbour’s property. They were able to get hold of us and the neighbour drove them to our home.
My son had bruises all over him from being beaten with a hammer and they told us about being starved.
When Oranga Tamariki staff phoned us to demand the children go back into care, I flatly refused. They said there was no evidence to prove the stories the kids were saying were true. I was told that my kids were making it up just to come home. “It’s what kids do, they’re making it all up. They can’t stay with you Rachael, you’re an unfit mother. They have to go back into care.”
As far as I know, there was no formal investigation into the caregivers that had my kids.
An extended family member stepped up and offered to take our children to live with her and her husband. This arrangement was agreed to by Oranga Tamariki and continued for another 2 years. We were allowed supervised visits once a month.
I had to have a hair follicle test during this time, and a case worker from Oranga Tamariki came looking for my partner – she wanted to make a deal with him. The deal she presented was that if he left me, then she would arrange for the children to return to his care. He told her, No Deal.
Despite the proactive and positive choices we were making, Oranga Tamakiri caseworkers kept rehashing our past and refusing to acknowledge our changed situation and lifestyle.
Instead, they were busy convincing the kids that they would be better off without us and should choose to stay at the new Caregiver's home permanently. I remember there was on FGC, where my kids were instructed to read a letter to me, as each of them read their letters, I could tell things weren’t right - the words were all the same, and the kids wouldn’t look at me, they kept their heads lowered and looked nervously at the case worker who was prompting them. Their letters stated that they wanted to stay at the Caregiver's and that they didn’t believe I was able to change to look after them.
We had reached a stalemate. Nothing we had done was changing the mind of Oranga Tamariki and it was apparent that our children were not ever going to be allowed to come home to us.
It was during one of our visits with the kids, we had been to church and were having lunch together in a park, that the girls broke down in tears; their brother was telling them to, “stop it, shush, you’ll get us into trouble.”
We encouraged them not to be afraid and to tell us the truth, to let out what was making them sad. The girls shared, in sobbing, broken voices, that they had been sexually touched by an older boy in the home. We were stunned. Our babies! We needed to keep fighting to get them home to us.
The Caregiver's denied the treatment of our kids and were planning to move out of Auckland, and were going to take our kids with them. Despite the revelation of the sexual touching to our daughters and the toxic environment within the house, and despite the children’s lawyer recommending a transition period to return our kids to our care - Oranga Tamariki still believed the best decision was to permanently rehome our children.
We were desperate.
The Difference of Man Up and Legacy.
Eight months into my children being uplifted, my partner and I came into Man Up and Legacy (through my brother and his partner).
These programmes were literally game changers for us. We had never come across anything as positive and as genuine as Man Up and Legacy.
We faced our relationship and lifestyle dysfunctions and started to drop our habits and old ways. We become very determined to get our children back into our care and to prove ourselves as fit parents to Oranga Tamariki. We became Christians and connected ourselves to Destiny Church. The leaders we met in this church were loyal to us and gave us honest and practical help to continue in the changes we wanted to make.
We dropped our alcohol and Meth addictions. We worked on our relationship and got married. We completed all the recommended courses prescribed by Oranga Tamariki plus extra programmes offered by Destiny Church. We paid off our debts and removed ourselves from negative associations.
Our Man Up and Legacy leaders came with us to the final FGC prior to the intended move to another city, the situation was really grim - without an agreement from Oranga Tamariki to prevent the Caregivers from moving out of Auckland, we were going to lose our kids.
That’s when our leaders stepped up to look after our children and facilitate the transition process. They pulled their trump card of being social workers and suddenly, the situation turned in our favour.
It was an incredible turn of events that had taken four years of fighting to get to this point. Within 6 months of progressive transition, our children were back in our care permanently and our case closed. We are restored.
I am a Voice for the Voiceless.
I am a Legacy facilitator myself now and have supported numerous other mothers and fathers fighting the system to prove themselves as changed in order to get their children returned to their care.
What makes me frustrated and angry is the systemic racism and stereotyping within Oranga Tamariki – the way Maori families are discriminated against, the way that children are removed from families without due process or care. The refusal to acknowledge positive change; instead tying people to their past mistakes with no recourse to prove otherwise.
I’m angry at the intimidation tactics used on our ladies to prevent them from having hope or believing that they are worth more or can have better. The system wants to prove them as quitters and losers. The system is set up to separate kids from parents and to keep adults in their dysfunction, they are not interested in the welfare of children or in restoring families.
I want to call them out on their review processes and diligence to check the safety of the homes children are placed into.
I want to make them accountable for their decisions, false reports and stall tactics. I am just one of thousands affected by family separation through the government funded programmes and interventions.
I have broken the cycle for my family, and I want to help others to do the same. We deserve more, we deserve better.
Tu Tangata! Rise Up - Stand Tall, Stand Strong.