Eye-opening day in the life of Tama
Another child murdered, Hinekawa Topia – one of triplets. And the father who killed her also admits wounding another of her twomonth-old siblings in the three weeks before Hinekawa died of head injuries at Whanganui in the weeks after last Christmas.
Thomas Tamatea Ariki-Nui McGregor will be sentenced in the Whanganui Court in the week before this Christmas.
McGregor and his then-partner Tiffany Topia took Hinekawa to Whanganui Hospital after she stopped breathing. She couldn’t be revived and an autopsy found a nonaccidental head injury.
So much about it, so terribly familiar. Again and again. Year after year.
What sort of life lies ahead for the two surviving triplets?
Reading it, I was reminded of the Auckland and Waitemata district health boards’ joint submissions to Parliament’s Maori Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into ‘‘the determinants of wellbeing for Maori children’’, March 2012: From that text: E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga karangarangatanga tangata Ko Tamaki Makaurau tenei E mihi atu nei ki a koutou, Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.
Ki a tatou tini mate, kua tangihia, kua mihia kua ea
Ratou, ki a ratou, haere, haere, haere.
Ko tatou enei nga kanohi ora ki a tatou
Ko tenei te kaupapa, Hauora Maori, mo a tatou tamariki
Hei huarahi puta, hei hapai tahi mo tatou Hei oranga mo te katoa. No reira tena koutou, koutou, tena tatou katoa.
To the authority, and the voices, of all people within the communities. We send greetings to you all.
We acknowledge the spirituality and wisdom of those who have crossed beyond the veil. We farewell them. We of today, who continue the aspirations of yesterday to ensure a healthy tomorrow for our children, offer you greetings.
Embarking on a journey through a pathway that requires your support to ensure success for all.
In both Waitemata and Auckland DHBs, many illnesses that Maori children suffer are avoidable. Before birth, Maori pepi (babies) are more likely to suffer from poverty, low disposable family income, reduced access to antenatal care and exposure to cigarette smoking.
Maori pepi are less likely to live to celebrate their first birthday than European and other New Zealand babies, due to higher rates of premature birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death, and death from injury.
Maori pepi and tamariki (children) are more likely to be admitted
tena to hospital for a preventable illness, eg, whooping cough, rheumatic fever. Taitamariki (teenagers) are more likely to be admitted to hospital and to die of injury.
Maori child mortality is mostly associated with respiratory diseases, injury and sudden infant death – and most recently abuse.
Illness comes largely as a result of social-related behaviours and circumstances. This is true – the name has been changed to protect his privacy.
Tama is a 21-year-old Maori living in West Auckland. Born to a young mum, he didn’t know his father as a child.
Tama remembers sleeping rough in bus shelters at 2, exposure to Child Youth and Family services, and has lived with various relatives, shifting frequently during his childhood. He didn’t complete high school and is unemployed.
Tama has four stepbrothers and two stepsisters. He is the father of three children, aged 4 and 2 and 2 months old. Tama now lives with his stepfather and three stepbrothers in West Auckland after a period rough sleeping in a car under a bridge.
Tama’s partner and children live between Tama’s stepfather’s house in West Auckland and her father’s in South Auckland. Tama and his partner don’t have a car or phone. His household doesn’t have a car. Two beneficiaries within Tama’s household support six adults and four children.
Tama’s 2-year-old suffers from asthma. When the little boy became unwell Tama took him to the local general practice.
On return, he was unclear what, if any, specific advice or instruction the doctor had given. Three hours later his son began to cough incessantly and became distressed.
At 8.30pm Tama asked a neighbour to drive him and his sick son to an accident and medical clinic.
Tama had never been to a clinic before. His son was previously admitted to hospital for asthma.
Tama is shy and admits feeling uncomfortable in the clinic setting. He admits to feeling whakama (embarrassed) if he struggles to understand something during a clinical consultation.
Tama’s neighbour helps him fill forms and tells reception that the child is struggling to breathe.
The receptionist says under-6s are free but there may be charges for the child if the nebuliser is used.
Neither Tama nor his neighbour have any money with them.
The nurse introduces herself. The neighbour explains that Tama’s the father, the mother is at home caring for small children, hence the neighbour being there for support.
The nurse speaks directly to the neighbour. The 2-year-old has very low oxygen levels and a high heart rate. A doctor is called to the child straight away. The boy is given ventolin with a nebuliser.
The 2-year-old responds well to the ventolin nebuliser. The neighbour asks questions and discusses the answers with Tama.
He becomes more relaxed and responsive with the nurse who offers to show him how much ventolin can be administered overnight, what to watch for and in what circumstances Tama must seek medical attention for his son.
The nurse discusses the three other medications prescribed.
Tama is whakama (embarrassed) because he has no money to pay for the prescription.
Tama’s child improves significantly. On the drive home, Tama thanks his neighbour and explains that he is uncomfortable in such settings because he often doesn’t understand. Tama thinks that sometimes he is treated differently to other parents in clinical/hospital settings as he is young and Maori.
Many of the most vulnerable Maori children are children of young parents, not unlike Tama. They are disadvantaged educationally and economically – enough money to pay for food and power is an ongoing challenge.
They have no access to transport or phones and are transient, living in often overcrowded multiple dwellings. Access to health services continues to be a significant barrier for many Maori whanau.
Is this the life the surviving Whanganui triplets, and so many like them, face? And the life their father lived before he became a statistic – as a child murderer.
What is our answer?