Oranga Tamariki has a new name, but the same problems and, as we saw in Coroner William Bain's report this week, the same failings. But there is a way to make a difference

Every five weeks. Every 35 days. That's how often, on average, a child is killed in New Zealand. Usually the chid is under five and usually the killer is someone they knew. Knew. Past tense.

We were reminded of this shameful fact this week by the coroner's report into the death of Moko Rangitoheriri, when he warned of all the red flags missed in the lead up to this child's terrible murder.

The Prime Minister said it is "up to us to do things differently". The Children's Minister said we must all "do better". The coroner called for more monitoring. The Children's Commissioner said we need "world leading care and protection".

All of this is further evidence that Oranga Tamariki is failing.

For me, however, most of the failings in this terrible case – and many others – boil down to one core issue. It is, of course, not the only problem. Fix it, and you will still be dealing with the country’s most damaged kids. Fix it, and people will still make mistakes and children will still be let down by those who are meant to care for them. But fix this, and you will make some serious progress in keeping our children safe. You won't have a child killed every five weeks.

The core issue is spending. Money. Our tax dollars. We are trying to provide for the care of our most vulnerable children on the cheap, and kids like Moko are picking up the cheque.

The previous government liked to say you can’t fix this by just throwing money at the problem. But you know what? You could make a huge difference.

If you want to do better, more monitoring, world class protection, you need to spend. Most important of all, you need social workers. More trained, more hired.

The stories out of Oranga Tamariki are heart-breaking. The staff desperately trying to juggle caseloads of 25, 35, 45 children. Being lectured to about prevention and frontloading their work, when they are forced by their caseload to spend most of their time putting out fires, such as simply finding a bed for the night for the kids in their care.

We are seriously, life-threateningly under-staffed in New Zealand.

In 2014 Chief Social Worker Paul Nixon reported CYF were over 350 social workers short. Children in its care needed on average 200 hours per year. Social Workers doing 60 hours plus and carrying ridiculous caseloads to try to achieve this.

Very little has changed. New name, same old shortages.

Remember March this year, when judges forced CYF to staff their Masteron office with out-of-town social workers? Too much work, too few social workers. Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said,

"The rights and position of children can't be affected by the lack of human resources and we would expect things to change quickly".

They still are. More social workers would mean more time to care, more time spent on prevention, more time able to be spent on finding and checking out (and paying properly) the best caregivers.

I find it odd that we hear endless cries about other public sector caregivers. Before this week's mini-Budget, we heard concern about the lack of money to increase the pay of police, teachers and nurses. The trilogy of public sector caregivers we care about.

But why on earth aren’t the even worse paid social workers aren’t on that list? 

The services that the coroner and Children’s Commissioner want improved aren’t failing in most part because the carers don’t know what to do. They just lack the time and the tools to spot those red flags. Give them more social workers, and each child will have more time. Time to be cared for, housed and mentored. That time will cost us money, but it will – not could, will - save lives.

If we want to stop asking the Moko’s of this world to pay with their lives, it’s time for us to start paying to look after these kids. And that starts with more social workers.

Comments (31)

by James Green on December 16, 2017
James Green

There appear to be two versions of this blog posted. One has "-0" at the end of the url and the other doesn't and the view counts are different. It also appears twice in my RSS feed.

I recently read this: (http://iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2017_Fall_Deneen.php), which I think is relevant. Sure, in the short term throw money at it, but it is not a satisfactory long term solution.

by Tim Watkin on December 16, 2017
Tim Watkin

Sorry to have doubled up there, not sure what happened. But I've ditched the other one.

Thanks for the heads up.

by Charlie on December 17, 2017

So a gang tart leaves her kid with her own meth dealer (the bit the media didn't mention) while she takes a trip up to Auckland, supposedly to care for her other hositalised child.  The poor child is beaten to death and it's the government's fault for not spending enough? Really?

I don't get it. I really don't.

I may be short on empathy but I excel at problem analysis and I'm here to tell you no amount of money will fix this, short of providing a policeman and a paramedic team in every welfare house with child in it.

This is because you're not addressing the root cause of the problem.

The cause of this problem is the state: When it provides women like this a cash incentive to produce babies. Babies spawned by absentee fathers. Babies unloved.

Mostly, they just want the money: It's a lifestyle option, abeit a sad one.

So give them an equvialent amount (or more!) to accept long term contraception. They get to feed their habit and a child isn't born into misery. One generation and most of the problem will be gone and along with it the burgeoning prison population and gang problem.

To quote a movie: If you build it they will come. (works for welfare as well as fields of dreams)


by Megan Pledger on December 18, 2017
Megan Pledger

We should be encouraging men and women to use appropriate contraception.  But not everyone can use chemical contraceptives and all contraceptives have failure rates.  So, for the immediate future at least, there are always going to be unintended pregnancies.  

Therefore there needs to be some organisation that responds to children living in difficult circumstances.  And hopefully work with the family rather than impose things on the family which only adds another layer of stress.

To take a step back even further - it's well paying, stable jobs that helps people form stable families.   So I do blame the (previous) government -  for bringing in hundreds of thousands of immigrants who will work for less money and put up with terrible working conditions which, in turn, drives wages and working conditions down for everyone else.




by Tim Watkin on December 18, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie, I can only agree with your comment about your lack of empathy. Labelling a mother for bad choices really is missing the point. Name me a parent who hasn't stuffed up at various times, put their child at risk by accident, made a mistake. And that "supposedly" comes from a pretty dark place, in my opinion. Yuck.

But I'm equally concerned about your problem analysis. It seems you're being blinded from the facts by your own prejudice. Proper problem analysis would put aside your personal judgments and look at the facts. It would ask what first-hand expertise you have in this area and whether it's enough to make such sweeping generalisations.

First, what evidence do you have to support what you've identified as the root cause? I'd really like to see any hard evidence you have that about how many women breed for cash. 

Second, please support your claim that more money won't help. I laid out my evidence, so have a crack at defending your take. The coroner said numerous red flags were missed (you can read them in his report). Reports, anecdotal evidence and real life facts (judges ordering staff into Masterton, for example) all say there is a social worker shortage. 

It seems a pretty basic formula that if one of the problems is missing red flags and another we know about is that New Zealand social workers have high caseloads, then the two are related. They are missing opportunities to save children from being hurt and killed. It's pretty strong evidence for a cause and effect, so rather than damn people for bad choices, I'd love to hear where that problem analysis is flawed.

Because you can damn parents and the choices they make all you like, but are you happy to damn their children as well?

by Charlie on December 18, 2017

Hi Tim

You need to get out of you middle class academic bubble and see how the world really works.

My sources of information are as follows:

1. My drop-kick neice in the UK who has four kids to 4 men and who candidly admits it's her lifestyle choice: To milk the system in this way.

2. A friend's sister who also has had 4 kids out of wedlock, all of which have been removed by CYPS soon after birth. She's already pregnant with the 5th.

3. My son's classmate who was pregnant at 16 and had three kids to different fathers by age 21. I've lost track of her since. Her stated objective when still at school was to go on a benefit.

4. A friend who is an analyst with MSD who tells me that have analysed the DPS statistics and there is a clear pattern of timing pregnancies whilst on DPB to optimise the cashflow. Quote "These women are far from feckless and incapable of managing their fertility. They carefully plan it".

5. Work experience in Otahuhu  ;-) Once were Warriors is a documentary!


by Colin Fleming on December 18, 2017
Colin Fleming

I may be short on empathy

Yes, that's correct.

I excel at problem analysis

No, you don't. You're extrapolating from a very small number of cherry-picked anecdotes and using it to damn a very large number of people. It's basically a textbook definition of bigotry.

I notice you also conveniently ignored Tim's question: Because you can damn parents and the choices they make all you like, but are you happy to damn their children as well? 

Those kids are going to grow up with problems, because of the environment they grew up in. When they're older, if they are in similar situations presumably you will be telling them it's their fault then too. If not, what's your proposal for helping them? Do you actually have anything constructive to suggest?

by Tim Watkin on December 18, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie, I'm not an academic. I'm sorry that three people you know look like they've made some awful choices. I'm not seeing any evidence they're breeding for cash, but you know them so maybe that's true. There are undoubtedly some sad and/or stupid people who do that. There are also, of course, people who don't have the resources or role models or mental health to make better choices.

But no decent analyst would extrapolate the general from just a few specifics and a friend's opinion. That's a classic 'all dogs bark, all dogs have four legs, therefore all animals with four legs bark' scenario.

Either way, bring it back to the fundamental question - how do we make sure those kids end up with a better life (or at least survive that unlucky start in life)? Because they aren't any sort of problem, they are a child. I reckon more social workers ups the odds of a good outcome significantly. 

by Chris Morris on December 18, 2017
Chris Morris

There was some data analysis done a few years ago on time on the DPB - from memory, there was a core of women who went onto a benefit as teenagers and stayed on it over 20 years - the lifestyle choice.  Look at the background of the women in the numerous court cases - what Charlie says is there in the court transcripts. It is more than just a few people - the average of 10 deaths a year says it isn't isolated.  Talk to the cops that have to deal with the issues. In the data, there were also a very big group of women who were only on the benefit a short time.  Society's problem is supporting the latter in a different way to the former group.

Unfortunately, for many of the kids brought up in the households that feature in the court cases, they are in a cycle of dependency that has proven near impossible to break. Those children are almost certain to be as disfunctional as their parents.  It seems until there is a death or hospitalisation, the courts won't remove the children from the mother. If they are removed, the households of the relatives they are placed with are often just as bad. They fail because they aren't at school and there is no family support for them to be there - schools cannot and should not be the substitute for bad parenting. I don't think having more social workers will solve that one. Remember that Moko was hidden from the social worker and there was intimidation present. Do social workers need to take the police with them for every visit?

by Charlie on December 18, 2017


You're wasting your breath: These Neo-Marxists think the state makes a great parent, despite all the evidence. Please find that link you mentioned.


Who is damning the parents? Im just giving them a choice: a realistic alternative they don't have to take.

As for the children, I am proposing this alternative just because of the plight of the children. Including the generations to come, unless we change something.

by Chris Morris on December 18, 2017
Chris Morris

It is old data, but 6% of women have 2 or more children while on the benefit and 10% are on it more than 10 years. Total numbers appear to be about 200,000 women.  That shows it isn't an isolated problem


And Charlie, I don't think namecalling people who have different opinions to you does much to support your case.


by Colin Fleming on December 18, 2017
Colin Fleming

Chris, could you elaborate on what you mean by "it isn't an isolated problem"? 6% is a very small number of the total number of DP beneficiaries. In fact, the whole document you linked to is more or less refuting Charlie's arguments quite explicitly. While it will always be true that some abuse the system, that's a maximum of 6% of all beneficiaries who could possibly be commiting the sort of "breeding for a business" that he's claiming.

by Ross on December 19, 2017


I certainly think that more social workers would help in general but I'm not sure if the effect would be significant in terms of reducing preventable child deaths. One of the main issues is children returning to violent families. Children can be removed from violent families only to be returned to the same family. 


As for Moko, I understand professionals went to visit him at his home weeks before he died but never actually saw him. Also, an appointment with the family was cancelled not long before he died. Someone with a history of violence was living in the same home. A number of red flags were missed. "A coroner has concluded that Oranga Tamariki's predecessor Child Youth and Family, a DHB and three community organisations were blind to the warning signs and failed to ask key questions in the weeks before." If so many people can fail to act, why do you think more social workers would have prevented Mokos death or other child deaths? That's simply wishful thinking. 


It's also worth noting that there are large delays for allegedly abused children to be formally interviewed. That is unacceptable.


Then there's the issue of violent offenders getting a slap on the wrist if and when they're caught. In a recent case of domestic violence, the offender was discharged without conviction.


It's obvious some kids don't stand a chance and more social workers will have only a minimal effect.

by Chris Morris on December 19, 2017
Chris Morris


6% of 200,000 is 12,000 - so would involve at least 25,000 children. That is not an isolated problem. The data is for women who gave birth to two or more children while on the benefit and only a ten year period. How many is more and for how long? The report was specifically written to try to disprove that there was a problem, so was framed in those terms. I am certain a less sympathetic author could have put an entirely different spin on the same data.

There may be more recent data than the old report, but I have not found it. It would be good to be proved wrong, but I suspect the lack of information indicates the problem has got worse.


by Colin Fleming on December 19, 2017
Colin Fleming

Chris, the numbers are less than that, because it's confusingly worded: Over time, of those people depending on DPB, less than 25% give birth to, or become sole caregiver to, more children; and of that 25%, roughly 6% (around 1,500 women) have 2 or 5 more children while on a benefit.

They're talking about 6% of the 25% who have more children while on the DPB, or 1.5% of the total number of women. The percentages are discussing the parents, not the children. So somewhere up to 1500 women could be "breeding for a business".

Obviously that 1500 contains ample scope for plenty of horror stories like the ones that we see in the media. But to suggest that this problem is so widespread that the solution requires radical solutions for all beneficiaries is grossly misleading according to that data.

by Tim Watkin on December 19, 2017
Tim Watkin

Thanks for the link Chris. I was going to make the point Colin has made. As he says, that report puts the number of women who had two of more children while on the DPB at 1500. So that precisely reinforces the point that this is a small problem.

You make good social policy for the vast majority, not for the fringes. There will always be those who break the rules or make choices contrary to the intent of the law. Social policy does not ever get 100% hits. But you do the best for the most (and the most innocent), don't you?

It's a bit like the old 'dole bludger' line, when the number of people on the dole for more than six months is in the single thousands (hanve't checked for a couple of years). 

It's easy to pick some anecdotes as Charlie does, but that's no way to make social policy.

As it stands, nothing has been said in this thread that to me undermines the argument that more money wouldn't go some way to fixing the problem and that the money should first and foremost be spent on social workers.

by Tim Watkin on December 19, 2017
Tim Watkin

Ross, it's really curious how you make your argument, because to my mind everything you say reinforces my point. Interesting how we can look at the same points and see quite different things.

I quite agree that kids are too often returned to families where they should not be... and that's often because social workers don't have the time or resources to find a better and safer option. Imagine having nowhere to place a child and handing them back to the family knowing you are rolling the dice on their safety? More social workers would mean fewer kids assigned to each, so more time to find suitable care. (I'd add there needs to be better funding for caregivers).

Red flags - why do you think they were missed? Because the social workers were rushed and had too much work to do proper checks and take the time to look more closely. Again, smaller caseloads means better care. That's not wishful thinking, it's simply that overworked people aren't as thorough.

Why would there be delays in kids being interviewed? Um, the story actually says it's because police are overworked. So that's a police issue, rather than CYF. But if anything the caseload (and pay) is worse for a social worker than a cop, I understand.

As for the courts, that's another issue. But every other issue you recite seems to be precisely down to a lack of staff to do the job. 


by Ian Tinkler on December 19, 2017
Ian Tinkler

I am a foster caregiver. That means I care for children who have come into contact with Oranga Tamariki.

Some of the comments about are vile and disgusting. I am unsure what benefit them thing they are making to the world. They make no improvement to the care of the children in my household. They label and denigrate the children and the relationships they have (and need) with their biological families.

What would help me care for the children in my household is more social workers and more flexibility with funding for their needs. The children have been damaged and their care can be difficult. The high workload of social workers makes my role more difficult as the social workers are not able to be fully aware of the children they are assigned to.

I am stopping now. Some of comments here are very upsetting. I apologise if this is a little disorganised. I thought about not posting but i don't want to sit back and let go unchallenged by those who live with children who need support. 

Thanks for letting me comment

by Chris Morris on December 19, 2017
Chris Morris

Yes Colin and Tim, I stuffed up and read the passage incorrectly. I tried to find the report referenced but it doesn't seem to be on the net.

There is a more recent report on child abuse here.


One comment that probably needs to be highlighted is this

"In 1967, the first ever survey into child abuse recorded seven deaths from inflicted injury. This is not so different to the numbers recorded today. The overrepresentation of Maori and Pacific ethnicity and the ages of the children are also similar. What differs is the deaths did not receive massive media coverage...."

The graphs on Page 20 and 21 indicate the rate is not getting better or worse - it just now gets often sensational publicity while 40 years ago, it would be swept under the carpet.

by Peter Grant on December 19, 2017
Peter Grant

I think it would be really helpful to all concerned if "kids" were to be refered to a children, as they ought ot be. That might make a change for a start.

by Charlie on December 20, 2017

Tim: "So that precisely reinforces the point that this is a small problem.

You make good social policy for the vast majority, not for the fringes. There will always be those who break the rules or make choices contrary to the intent of the law. Social policy does not ever get 100% hits. But you do the best for the most (and the most innocent), don't you?"

Yep, so we have policy that works for the majority and so only a few kids on the fringes get bashed to death every year.

Is that OK?


by Charlie on December 20, 2017

But there is a wider, less well publicised issue with DPB, solo mums and the resultant offspring.

It has been documented both in NZ and internationally that fatherless boys suffer a wide range of dysfunctional behavior including depression, drug abuse, suicide, gang membership, a wide range of criminal behaviours, and eventual prison occupancy.








We created DPB with the best of intentions: To help women in abusive relationships escape and to support women who had unplanned pregnancies. As a child I remember the shock over the ducumentary Cathy come home in the UK,


but the well-intentioned desire to find a solution to that problem has created another problem. Maybe a bigger one.

It seems the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.


by Colin Fleming on December 20, 2017
Colin Fleming

Yep, so we have policy that works for the majority and so only a few kids on the fringes get bashed to death every year. Is that OK?

Not really, but it does seem to be somewhat inevitable. Nowhere has (or has ever had) a perfect society where no kids are ever killed. The question is how to reduce those numbers as much as possible. Here's a comparison of NZ's rates with other developed countries:


If welfare is so terrible, how is it that countries with much more developed social safety nets than NZ have much lower death rates?

but the well-intentioned desire to find a solution to that problem has created another problem. Maybe a bigger one.

If you're going to make that claim convincing, you're going to need more than just an assertion, you're going to need to back it up with some evidence that the DPB causes those problems and not, say, living in poverty, which is very highly correlated. Because if it is living in poverty which is the problem, doubling the amount of the DPB would be more helpful than eliminating it.

by Tim Watkin on December 20, 2017
Tim Watkin

What would help me care for the children in my household is more social workers and more flexibility with funding for their needs. The children have been damaged and their care can be difficult. The high workload of social workers makes my role more difficult as the social workers are not able to be fully aware of the children they are assigned to.

Ian, I for one really appreciate you commenting. I hear the same sort of thing from a number of people and it was that experience I was trying to reflect in this piece. People like you do an amazing job for us all. And, you should get more financial, logsitical and emotional support for being willing to try to raise NZ's most troubled children. 


by Tim Watkin on December 20, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie, pick your hell. Where we agree is that fathers (or at least two parents) are vital to a child's development. But sometimes life ain't perfect. That's why we need social workers at all. To come back to the point you don't want to accept - to help deal with that imperfection, we need to spend money on more social workers, or those kids won't get much of a chance.

by Charlie on December 21, 2017

Colin: If you're going to make that claim convincing, you're going to need more than just an assertion, you're going to need to back it up with some evidence that the DPB causes those problems and not, say, living in poverty, which is very highly correlated

Maybe you didn't read all my links. All the research has been done, some of the best in NZ. (the Dunedin study).

The USA statistics are as follows:

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)

Read more disturbing facts here:  https://thefatherlessgeneration.wordpress.com/statistics/

And in NZ?

Chief Youth Court Judge Andrew Beacroft said in a speech in Parliament a few years ago that the court has identified six characteristics of serious youth offenders:

85 percent are male, the majority have no contact with their father, 80 percent do not go to school and have chronic drug or alcohol addictions, most have psychological or psychiatric issues, and 50 percent up to 90 percent in some courts are Maori”

He went on to say:

“...14, 15, and 16 year-old boys seek out role models like 'heat seeking missiles'. It's either the leader of the Mongrel Mob or it's a sports coach or it's Dad. But an overwhelming majority of boys who I see in the Youth Court have lost contact with their father. …What I'm saying is that I'm dealing in the Youth Court with boys for whom their Dad is simply not there, never has been gone, vanished and disappeared”...." “…and every single young boy that we have dealt with has been abused as a child”.

Now you all may find those facts unpalatable because they don't fit in with your politicised 'child poverty' meme, but if you really care and truly want to address the problem, you have to accept them and deal with it.

by Colin Fleming on December 21, 2017
Colin Fleming

As Tim mentioned above, no-one is arguing that kids are not better off in stable two-parent families. But sometimes life doesn't work out - what is your proposal when that happens? Removing the DPB isn't going to magically fix those cases, it will just make the situation even more desperate for women and their children when it happens. You seem to be assuming that the DPB encourages women to leave men, but in the case of my two friends on the DPB the father simply left. This line here implies that's not uncommon: their Dad is simply not there, never has been gone, vanished and disappeared. What do you propose in cases where the father is abusive? Are the kids still better off if the mother stays? 

You're also conveniently ignoring that not having a father is one factor among many cited just in those quotes, including never having been to school, all having been abused as children, mental illness and mental health issues. There are no easy answers to the difficult cases.

by Tim Watkin on December 21, 2017
Tim Watkin

Thanks Colin. But Charlie, I think we agree the evidence shows two parent families – even if the parents aren't love's true dream – are better for kids. That is, the odds of of them appearing in negative stats are lower.

It doesn't change the need for more social workers, but quite agree that committed parents are super important.

by Megan Pledger on December 22, 2017
Megan Pledger

The thing with fatherless homes is that they are not just like middle class homes but without a father. 

In America, in particular, they are generally homes at the bottom of the income heap, the homes are in very poor areas which means they are highly segregated, and the children only have access to under-funded schools. Sole parents get TANF for only two years and there are work requirements with it.   

So those American statistics are not just becasue the father isn't around to father his child,  it's because the children find themselves living amongst crime and poverty with little chance to escape their  circumstances.

by Joe Wylie on December 23, 2017
Joe Wylie

"As a child I remember the shock over the ducumentary Cathy come home in the UK"

Cathy Come Home isn't a documentary. That you remember it as such is probably a compliment to Ken Loach's filmaking skills.

by Charlie on January 01, 2018


I've known several upper middle class families over the years where there has been a divorce (in one instance the father is a lawyer). In all cases the teenage boys became went out of control and became angry young men.

I suspect you're trying to wedge this complex problem into your rich/poor oppressed/oppressor Marxist paradym. It doesn't fit.


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