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Oranga Tamariki hid sexual violence project report - ministers, officials

The Government says what went on was an "incredibly serious" failure by Oranga Tamariki. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Government says what went on was an "incredibly serious" failure by Oranga Tamariki. Photo / Jason Oxenham

By Phil Pennington of RNZ

Oranga Tamariki's botched sexual violence project was hidden from top officials and the Public Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, who was supposed to have oversight of it.

The Government says what went on was an "incredibly serious" failure by Oranga Tamariki (OT), but Government ministers said they did not know anything about the "mess" that jeopardised the $60 million project.

Last week RNZ revealed the internal report by independent assessors for Oranga Tamariki which last year found the project team was so dysfunctional and inadequate that OT had to shut it down and start over 20 months on.

Hughes who chaired the board of a cross-agency anti-violence joint venture, said OT told him late last year its work was on track.

"I was not aware of the independent review report, which resulted in a programme being closed down," Hughes told RNZ last Friday.

"It is disappointing I have only found this out now."

Delays still plague the $15m-a-year programme aimed at boosting support to all children who have been sexually abused.

This is at a time when a new briefing shows OT is dealing with 400 rangatahi in care who have been sexually abused and knows of 1500 instances of sex abuse against children each year.

The April 2021 review that shut down the team said it failed to plan for expanding existing sexual crisis services even though that was central to its 2019-20 Budget bid that snared $60m.

'Responsible leadership' in shutting down project - Langridge

Former OT deputy chief executive and sponsor of the project Trish Langridge, who led and then shut down the project, said she did the right thing.

"I'm accountable for it. I did the right thing, I stopped something that wasn't working. That's what managers do. That's leadership."

She dubbed the project "a mess" but said it did not play a part in her leaving OT late last year.

Project manager Mooch Williams left OT after her team was shut down. She did not respond to requests for comment.

The review found governance was poor, with steering group meetings called off because few people turned up.

The two ministers and two commissioners involved told RNZ improving the services was critically important.

But all four disavowed knowledge of it going off the rails.

Just last December, Hughes told RNZ the project was progressing "as intended".

"I was given assurances by Oranga Tamariki, which aligned with information reported at the time, that the agency was progressing its sexual violence programmes as intended," Hughes said in a statement on May 27.

Accountability sat with the chief executive, he said, adding he understood it had been fixed, with funding going directly to communities.

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis said in a statement he did not receive the independent report and was not made aware of the level of dysfunction it identified.

"While this happened shortly after I became minister, I expect Oranga Tamariki to keep me better informed about things such as this," Davis said.

Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence and Sexual Violence Marama Davidson said accountability was a key focus of the six-month-old Te Aorerekura, the National Strategy to Eliminate Family Violence and Sexual Violence, that she led.

"This is incredibly serious. Any instances where government agencies have failed to deliver on work for people impacted by sexual violence and family violence is of huge concern to me," Davidson said in a statement.

"I was not advised at any time of failings in the Oranga Tamariki sexual violence project."

The Office of the Children's Commissioner learned from RNZ last December about OT's drastic underspend on sexual violence services in 2020-21.

It did not monitor such spending, it said.

It took four months for the commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers, to get a briefing from OT on the matter. That two-page briefing in April did not mention the project being derailed.

A follow-up meeting was intended, but none took place.

Only last week, on the same day RNZ asked the office of the Children's Commissioner about it, did the Children's Commissioner get an assurance from Oranga Tamariki that its work was back on track.

"We were not aware of the independent review until now," the Commissioner's office said.

"The Office of the Children's Commissioner has connected with Oranga Tamariki, who have assured us that, after a slow start, the funding allocated for sexual violence services is being distributed as intended, in a timely manner."

Agencies did not have any obligation, "nor [was there] an expectation" to share such reviews with the commissioner, it added.

OT is having another go at co-designing the sexual violence support services with iwi, many months on from when it was planned to begin.

Sexual harm - Where to get help

If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email support@safetotalk.nz
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.