A “number” of Oranga Tamariki staff have been stood down after footage of a child being violently restrained by staff was leaked to media.
An investigation was launched and Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis has since labelled the incident “totally unacceptable”.
A staff-member-turned-whistleblower provided the footage to media outlet Newsroom and spoke out about what they felt were illegal constraints constituting assault.
Oranga Tamariki chief executive Sir Wira Gardiner earlier said he was “deeply concerned that excessive force looks to have been used against children and young people in our care”.
This morning he told Mike Hosking on Newstalk ZB that “a number of staff” were stood down yesterday.
He said given that there appeared to be “more than necessary force to restrain a child” they launched their own investigation.
“We have a protocol with police, the child protection protocol, where we bring in police to investigate the level of force and whether an assault has occurred.
“We stood down a number of staff yesterday.
“We’ve appointed a social worker to make sure the child, or young person involved, was okay.”
Asked by Hosking whether he was confident he could get Oranga Tamariki out of its “mess”, Gardiner said it would be possible, but with a bit of work.
“If I might use an analogy, it’s like turning a large container ship.
“It’ll take time, it’ll take commitment, it’s not a resourcing issue.
“I think we need to look at the way we do some practices, we probably need to change the culture of what we do, but yes it’s possible.”
He said one of the main ingredients in changing the tide was getting the public’s support.
“Because every day hundreds of my staff on the front line are facing enormous challenges which come from dysfunctional families, a whole range of challenges as we deal with these kinds of situations.
“The main thing is, I’ve told my staff to use their experience and judgment to the best of their abilities, if we make a mistake, fess up and let’s fix it.”
The video, published on Newsroom, shows a boy aged around 13 in one of the state child protection agency’s Care and Protection Residences being tackled, held on the ground by three staff members, his face pushed into a wall and arms twisted behind his back.
Another boy of a similar age is shown in a video being placed into a headlock and also thrown to the ground.
The whistleblower told Newsroom such residences were for the country’s most vulnerable young people, who hadn’t committed a crime, were not being held as punishment and often came from years of violence and trauma with complex needs.
Earlier, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had been briefed on the video but had not had a chance to see it.
“I understand the Minister for Children has asked for an explanation.
“Our priority in these environments where we have the responsibility for the care and protection of children is to make sure everybody is behaving to the standard we expect.
“We have a responsibility as the state when children are in our care even in the most difficult circumstances we are applying standards.”
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