The New Zealand Herald
Bereft mum ‘broken’
Apology over baby uplift
Anew mum says she felt “powerless and broken” after her baby was uplifted by Oranga Tamariki because she refused to move into a centre for women who have been exposed to drugs and violence.
Robyn Shearman said two social workers and four police officers burst into her apartment on March 11 and told her: “We are here to take your baby.”
The Auckland 29-year-old was lying in bed and had just finished breastfeeding her 9-week-old son.
“I said, ‘no, you are not taking my baby anywhere.’ A male officer pushed back my shoulders, grabbed my baby out of my arms and gave it to the social worker,” she told the
Herald. “I was restrained, they grabbed my legs and cuffed me. They threatened to arrest me for obstruction if I didn’t comply. They took off with my son without any of his belongings. I lay there crying.”
For five days Shearman had no idea where her son was or who was looking after him.
This week Oranga Tamariki’s deputy chief executive services for children and families, north, Glynis Sandland, apologised to Shearman.
“It is apparent that mistakes have occurred and for that, I want to apologise wholeheartedly for the hurt that we have caused this mother and family,” she said in a statement.
“We had legitimate concerns for the safety and wellbeing of this baby and our staff were acting with the best intentions. But after reviewing the case and situation the regional manager recognised there was clearly another way to work with this mother, and therefore we did not need to step in as we did.
“We recognise the distress that removing the baby has caused for this mother and her family, it should not have happened in this way, this mother and baby deserved better.”
Shearman was 27 weeks pregnant when she was violently assaulted by someone she knew after a heated argument.
She was punched in the face, breaking both her eye socket and cheekbone, and needed extensive surgery and the left side of her face is now permanently numb.
Because she had been exposed to violence, Oranga Tamariki wanted her to move to the Merivale Whānau
Development Centre, which offers support for new mothers and women who have been subjected to violence and drug abuse.
But she didn’t want to go there, believing the violence was one-off and she has a protection order against the man involved.
On January 8, four days before Shearman was to be induced, Oranga Tamariki threatened to uplift her baby once it was born if she refused to attend a meeting with them that afternoon. She didn’t attend.
“I was due to get induced on Monday, January 11 at Auckland hospital but Oranga Tamariki phoned and said ‘If you don’t come in by the end of the day, we’ll be there on Monday to take your baby.
It is apparent that mistakes have occurred and for that, I want to apologise wholeheartedly for the hurt that we have caused this mother and family.
Glynis Sandland, Oranga Tamariki
“I was nearly due and under a lot of pressure.” Petrified her baby would be uplifted, Shearman decided to give birth at North Shore Hospital four days later.
Her son was born on January 15 at 5.30am and she was smitten from the moment she held him.
“He is a beautiful angel who has filled a gap in my heart. He has given me strength, love and hope.”
But her happiness was brief. Six hours later two social workers from Oranga Tamariki arrived at North Shore Hospital and presented Shearman with a placement safety warrant which prohibited her from leaving the hospital.
The mother was placed under strict 24-hour surveillance for two weeks. “There was someone watching me the whole time even while I was breastfeeding and sleeping. I had to keep the door open, it was so intrusive.”
Shearman and her son moved back to her city apartment at the end of January where she has had two Karitane nurses monitoring her 24/7.
“They are lovely, kind and supportive but they don’t do anything apart from keeping me company. I know how to bathe, change nappies and feed my son. I mean the Government is paying huge amounts of money which is ridiculous.”
Shearman was allowed out for two hours a day with a nurse but not allowed to drive or take her son for a walk to the park across the road from her home.
“It sucks. I feel like I’ve been imprisoned in my own home for eight weeks. I want to say to Oranga Tamariki, give me my life back. Give me a chance to be a mum. Give me a chance to be happy.”
Every month Shearman is drug tested and every time she has tested negative.
She has no history of mental illness but admits the constant threat of her baby being taken from her has caused her stress and extreme anxiety.
Shearman has no contact with the man who assaulted her and she believes he will keep his distance.
After making a complaint to the
Ombudsman and threatening to go to the media, she said Oranga Tamariki dropped her baby off to her five days after the uplift without any warning or explanation.
The Auckland Central Regional manager from Oranga Tamariki arranged a meeting with Shearman this week. She apologised for the way Shearman had been treated.
Sandland added: “Going forward, the mother developed a safety plan which we have been able to add to which satisfies the needs of the baby, mother and Oranga Tamariki.
“We are also in the process of providing the mother with a new social work support team to ensure that she feels confident and safe alongside Oranga Tamariki.”
Shearman is no longer required to attend Merivale and she has one Karitane nurse supporting her seven hours a day.
She can now take her son for walks in the park.
Shearman has a message for other mothers: “Question Oranga Tamariki. If you don’t, they will destroy your life. I have spent so many days crying my eyes out and being punished for things I haven’t done or been accused
,, I feel like I’ve been imprisoned in my own home for eight weeks. I want to say to Oranga Tamariki, give me my life back.
of. It makes me wonder how many people go through this hell and don’t know their rights or have the strength to challenge them. They shouldn’t be allowed to degrade you and make you feel like you’re nothing.”
Oranga Tamariki has been under fire for similar actions since a video was published of the uplift of a weekold Māori baby in Hastings in 2019.
That event led to five reviews of Oranga Tamariki and its child uplift practices: An internal review and inquiries by Whānau Ora, the Chief Ombudsman, the Children’s Commissioner, and the Waitangi Tribunal.