Public seminar series addresses child welfare system

The Children's Commissioner and the Chief Social Worker of Oranga Tamariki–Ministry for Children are among those speaking in the first of three Victoria University of Wellington public seminars addressing the historical, current and future role of the state in New Zealand's child welfare system.

The free hour-long seminars are hosted by the University’s School of Government, whose head, Professor Girol Karacaoglu, says the series will bring together key stakeholders to discuss child protection that promotes children’s rights to be safe, grow and be within their whānau, as well as whānau wellbeing and community resilience.

“Changes are currently being undertaken in the ways the state protects, supports and intervenes with children and their families,” says Professor Karacaoglu. “The changes are taking place amid broader social changes rooted in notions of social investment and wellbeing, as well as evolving concepts of childhood and adolescence.

“This series will explore the role of the state—including the family courts and Oranga Tamariki—in shaping these changes and their impact on children, their families and whānau, and in relation to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

The first seminar is called ‘History matters: Child protection in context’ and will discuss how patterns of contact with the child protection system have changed over time, describe socioeconomic inequalities within these patterns, and use a risk-bias framework to understand the overrepresentation of certain demographic groups—in particular Māori and poor children—within the system.

A historical look at legislation and the organisation of state actors whose role it is to care for children removed or at threat of removal from their whānau will shed light on two important questions: has there been a fundamental policy shift in the way the state interacts with tamariki and whānau; and could this shift account for present-day inequalities and rates of entry into care?

“Importantly,” says Professor Karacaoglu, “these sociodemographic and system trends will be placed within the context of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and children’s rights—two pieces of governing legislation that frame New Zealand’s current and near-future approach to the child welfare system.”

As well as Children’s Commissioner His Honour Judge Andrew Becroft and Oranga Tamariki Chief Social Worker and Deputy Chief Executive Professional Practice Grant Bennett (Ngāi Tahu), speakers in the first seminar will include: Her Honour Judge Sharyn Otene, Family Court Judge at Hamilton District Court; Dr Emily Keddell, a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Otago; and Dr Ian Hyslop, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland.

The seminar is 12.30pm–1.30pm on Friday 9 August at Government Buildings Lecture Theatre 1 on the University’s Pipitea campus. RSVP to

The seminar is also being livestreamed.

The second seminar in the series will be ‘Current system changes: Ambiguous and uncertain outcomes’ and the third ‘Gaining foresight’, which will bring together key stakeholders to discuss what a more just and supportive system that incorporates the obligations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi would look like, and how multiple stakeholders can work together to balance the need to identify and protect children from the worst consequences of abuse and neglect while making sure tamariki are not unnecessarily separated from whānau.

‘Current system changes: Ambiguous and uncertain outcomes’ will feature Family Court lawyer Tania Williams Blyth (Ngāti Pukenga, Te Arawa), Oranga Tamariki Chief Legal Officer Erin Judge, Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero and Wesley Community Action Director David Hanna.

‘Gaining foresight’ will feature Dr Claire Achmad, General Manager Advocacy at Barnardos, Hoani Lambert (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Te Wairoa), Deputy Chief Executive Voices of Children at Oranga Tamariki, and other speakers to be confirmed.

For up-to-date information on seminars, including dates, keep an eye on the School of Government events page. Recordings of seminars will be posted here.