Bennett challenges ‘whanau first’ rule

NZ Herald Nov 14, 2009

Abused Maori children in state care will be monitored to see whether they do better with their own whanau or another family. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has asked Child Youth and Family to compare the progress of the 50 per cent of children placed with extended family and the 50 per cent placed elsewhere – normally with foster families or permanently with a new family – to see what works better. The idea stems from her concern at the high re-abuse rate for Maori children and anecdotal evidence that some placements with extended family can do more harm than good. Last year almost 1800 children were re-abused within six months, an average of five a day. Almost half of all abused children are Maori.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said it was commonsense that sometimes an extended family could not help but often the wider iwi could. “They’re there – it’s a question of finding them. The extended family can almost be tribal or sub-tribal, so that’s where you’ve got to look.” But health researcher David Fergusson, one of the experts Paula Bennett has tapped for ideas, said the re-evaluation was well overdue. “It is blatantly a false assumption to imply families are always capable of solving their problems. The system … has probably emphasised the role of the family too much, relative to the role of professionals.” Family First spokesman Bob McCoskrie agreed: “We’ve operated on the basis that kids are always better off with their extended family. You’ve only got to look at the Kahui case to see that that’s not always necessarily the case.”