27 Aug 2015

Minister vows to get CYF overhaul right

6:21 pm on 27 August 2015

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley will not throw money at Child Youth and Family (CYF) despite a scathing report into the agency's performance, she says.

National MP, Anne Tolley.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The report, by the Children's Commissioner, found systemic failures and said it was doubtful children were better off in state care.

Supervisors and social workers did not understand their roles and responsibilities, and there was often very little supervision of children.

It said when they left care, many children ended up homeless, jobless, and without any adult support.

Green Party MP Jan Logie asked the minister in Parliament whether she would make an emergency one-off injection of funding to CYF to address the problems raised in the report.

Ms Tolley replied that an extra $8 million was allocated to the agency in this year's budget.

She said throwing money at a system that was not working was just plain ridiculous.

Ms Tolley said the commissioner's report was not surprising.

"This is nothing new, and this has been happening for a long time ... there's no quick fixes here."

Ms Tolley said there had been "tinkering around the edges" with 14 reviews of the service under successive governments, and she planned on overhauling the system instead.

"This time we're going to do it properly," she said.

"I really want to get right under the system and turn it on its head so that it's focused on the needs of children."

Prime Minister John Key said there may well be more money for Child Youth and Family, and changes made to the organisation but not until an independent panel appointed by the Government reported its findings.

Mr Key said the Government recognised many of the problems that had been identified.

"Child Youth and Family try very hard - they've got a lot of dedicated people, they're dealing with some often very broken young people, and we have an obligation as the state to do a good job by those youngsters, so I'm sure there will be reform as a result of the inquiry, and potentially over time more money."

New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball asked Ms Tolley in Parliament about the Government's record on caring for vulnerable children.

"How can she stand by her statement 'our vulnerable kids deserve the best support we can provide' when New Zealanders are sick and tired of years of these same empty words and bureaucracy of process and paper, and just want for once the children in state care to be safe."

Mrs Tolley replied that she shared his concerns.

"That's why earlier this year I set up an expert panel with the express terms of reference to make a substantial change to the system that manages children in state care."

The Ministry of Social Development said the report would help it create a new operating model for CYF.

"We need to ensure that children are always at the heart of everything we do," CYF chief executive Bernadine Mackenzie said.

Pat Newman, president of Te Tai Tokerau Principals Association, said any restructure would just be a band-aid, and more funding was needed.

"The problem we have is that if you don't give the agencies the tools to do the job, I find it a bit of a laugh for a report to turn around and criticise them," he said. "The only way around this is to ask whether staff should be dealing with 80 or so cases at a time?"

Deborah Morris-Travers, spokeswoman for children's charity UNICEF, said CYF was good at initially assessing what children needed but its support ended there.

"It's really concerning that there's not a long term focus on wrapping around these children - the health, education and other support they need," she said.

"There's no really active monitoring of how well the children are doing, they're almost brought into the system and forgotten about."

Opposition calls for action

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern said CYF needed more resources to provide better care. "For a long time, we've had social workers saying that their caseload is too much and they're unable to do their job well."

CYF was good at its initial assessment of children but then lost sight of their care, she said. "We have children in some terrible situations, where our expectation is that if the state steps in, they're doing so to improve that child's life. To hear that that's not happening is absolutely damning," she said.

Jan Logie.

Jan Logie. Photo: RNZ

Green Party social development spokesperson Jan Logie said the commissioner had made it clear that waiting for a review of Child, Youth and Family and introducing children's team would take too long.

"The Government needs to put whatever amount of money is required into recruiting more staff and changing the systems to make sure children are well cared for."

Maori child advocacy consultant and Anton Blank said most Child, Youth and Family staff had a subconscious bias against Maori, which was why so many tamariki were in care.

Maori made up 58 percent of children in CYF care, and the report said it was imperative staff were well equipped to deliver culturally responsive services.

"This could lead to developmental training for Child Youth and Family social workers that unpatch their attitudes, their [subconscious] attitudes, and looked at ways of mitigating that playing out in their casework decisions."

Mr Blank said action needed to be taken to reduce the high rates of Maori in care.

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