Allegations of “inappropriate sexual behaviour” have surfaced against two staff members of Oranga Tamariki and ex-police commissioner Mike Bush will take over management of its youth residences.
Oranga Tamariki chief executive Chappie Te Kani said police were investigating, and the two staff members had been taken out of youth justice residences. He said he was told of the allegations over the past week.
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Te Kani said he was aware of five children who had been subjected to sexual behaviour from Oranga Tamariki staff working in youth justice and care and protection residences.
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He said these were separate incidents, at two different residences within the last year.
“Over the past week I have been informed of two serious allegations involving staff acting inappropriately towards young people in Oranga Tamariki residences,” Te Kani said.
Bush would undertake a review across all the Oranga Tamariki residences to find out if other staff were involved or if there was a wider problem, Te Kani said.
“We need to do the work to ensure all the young people across our residences are safe,” he said.
External staff would work with Bush to investigate the ministry, Bush said, before he would take on the role of implementing any reforms needed across its youth residences.
Shannon Pakura, former Oranga Tamariki chief social worker, would work with Bush to investigate the allegations, the ministry’s response, and any other child safety concerns.
Since leaving the police, Bush has started a new practice as a high-level fixer and consultant for Government agencies.
As the police commissioner, he was one of New Zealand’s most high profile public servants and played leading roles in the Government’s responses to the Christchurch terror attack, Whakaari White Island, and Covid-19 pandemic.
Oranga Tamariki has faced a series of issues in recent years. It faced protests over its policies of child uplifts, including taking babies from mothers while they were still in maternity wards.
And more recently, the child welfare ministry has been called to respond to a spike in youth crime. In September, Oranga Tamariki officials told Parliament its youth justice facilities were full.
Shaun Brown, an associate deputy chief executive of Oranga Tamariki, said the ministry was struggling with the number of children currently in its justice residences. He said over crowding in the facilities had led to children connecting with each other, and orchestrating crime to commit after their release.
Minister for Children Kelvin Davis has been a vocal critic of the methods at Oranga Tamariki, but in recent months has insisted positive changes have been made.
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