Rebuild of Oranga Tamariki underway following years of turmoil

Maiki Sherman
Source: 1News

The man sent in to clean up Oranga Tamariki after almost two years of turmoil is wasting no time in trying to turn the organisation around.

Sir Wira Gardiner – who is two months into a six month contract as acting chief executive – is leading a major overhaul covering everything from the organisation's structure through to staff practices and attitudes.

One of the first things he did when taking over the role was to watch a video which showed Oranga Tamariki staff attempting to uplift a newborn baby from its mother.

The video sparked public outrage and led to four public reviews and a Treaty of Waitangi claim with the Waitangi Tribunal.

“It's led to a CEO no longer being here and so it was important for me to go back to the start point and to watch that video,” he said.

Sir Wira told 1 NEWS he recently travelled to the Hawke’s Bay where it all began.

“I wanted to go there to talk to the staff, to talk to the community, to talk to the providers, and to see what impact the uplift of May 2019 had on their relationship with Oranga Tamariki.”

Sir Wira replaces former chief executive Grainne Moss who resigned earlier this year.

At the Waitangi Tribunal, Oranga Tamariki admitted institutional racism.

Sir Wira says staff at the organisation lack an understanding of things Māori. It’s a problem given 60 per cent of children in state care are Māori.

“That's what I think is at the root of the criticism about institutional racism,” he said.

He wants cultural competency courses, including te reo and tikanga, rolled out for staff across the country.

”We need to have an understanding of the societal conditions of which our children live and operate in and if we don't have that then there's one part of our tool kit that we don't have available to us,” he said.

Asked whether he agrees with calls for the permanent head of Oranga Tamariki to be Māori, he says not necessarily.

Sir Wira says Māori need to be in positions of influence and while that could be the role of chief executive, he also believes the position could just as well be filled by non-Māori.

“If you have a good understanding of reo and tikanga and the history of the Treaty and the history of New Zealand then you're in a good starting position to begin to lead this place,” he said.

Sir Wira admits however that probably wouldn’t go down well with Māori.

Meanwhile, three out of ten deputy chief executives at Oranga Tamariki have also gone.

“I think I need to look at every aspect of this organisation from the top of the organisation to the bottom,” Sir Wira said.