Dr Moana Eruera: Do we really need another youth justice residence review?

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Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis has ordered a review of Oranga Tamariki’s Youth Justice facilities. Photo / File


Waking up this morning to breaking news about footage surfacing of youth fighting while OT staff callously egg them on in a youth justice facility shows the severe dysfunction of the system at work.

I am not surprised taitamariki scaled the roofs in order to get attention and their voices heard, if that is an example of the culture occuring within the walls, unseen by the collective.

A desperate call for help when you look at the big picture of tamariki in the care of the state. A cry myself and many Māori hear, loud and clear over and over.


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For decades, concerns have been raised over the disproportionate numbers of tamariki Māori in state care. For Ngāpuhi, the issue is further amplified. Our tamariki and young people are two to three times more engaged in all parts of the State care system than taitamariki from any other iwi.

Dr Moana Eruera. Photo / Supplied
Dr Moana Eruera. Photo / Supplied

So despite the public promise to close residences, despite issues raised by numerous reviews including the Ministerial Advisory Board back in 2021, this lock-up approach still continues.

The solution is not another review of Oranga Tamariki residences.

The solution is not repeating what you’ve always done because you’ll always get what you’ve always got – a system that perpetuates harm and fractures whakapapa.


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The solution here is prioritising iwi and community interventions.

While young people who offend need to take responsibility for their actions, they must also be enabled to access a range of healing, rehabilitation and therapeutic models which involve their whānau and whakapapa.

So what can work?

There are Iwi and community alternatives to residential care for taitamariki. Their value and effectiveness must be acknowledged and validated as the pathway ahead.

Emerging evidence shows that working with taitamariki on the causes of offending, holistic healing, kaupapa Māori approaches and whānau programmes are more effective as opposed to punitive, institutional approaches.

Ngāpuhi Iwi Social Services has been running an alternative solution for five years. The Mahuru remand programme offers a non-institutional, iwi-based response. It works.

This involves whakapapa placement, strengthening of identity and belonging, and an individualised programme that works on their healing and the causes of offending. Absconding rates from our programme are minimal.

It is widely recognised that a significant number of young people who enter youth justice residences have endured physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse.

An extremely high proportion (88 per cent) of young people in residential state care have been engaged with the child welfare system as 0-12 year olds.

This means there are often patterns of intergenerational trauma, disconnection from whānau, whenua and culture, and neurological complexities that require multipronged responses.


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For Ngāpuhi, taitamariki are our future and critical in our transformation and intergenerational wellbeing.

Time for change has expired.

Dr Moana Eruera has more than 30 years’ experience in family violence prevention, statutory child protection and youth justice, social work education and iwi social services sectors. A critical thinker challenging the design and implementation of policies, strategies and practices impacting Māori.

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