Radical changes to child protection and care

  • Anne Tolley
Social Development

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says Cabinet has agreed to major state care reforms and a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family to improve the long-term life outcomes for New Zealand’s most vulnerable population.

“The whole system needs to be transformed if we are to give these young people the protection and life opportunities they deserve,” says Mrs Tolley.

“After making a very clear case for change in its interim report, the expert panel advising me on the radical overhaul of CYF has delivered a final report with a bold set of recommendations for a new child-centred system which the government is taking action on. I want to thank Dame Paula Rebstock, the panel and its support team, and my youth advisory panel for their hard work and dedication.

“A new system will be in place by the end of March 2017 which will have high aspirations for all children and address their short and long-term wellbeing and support their transition into adulthood.

“It will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending.” 

The overhaul, which is expected to take up to five years to be fully implemented, will include:

  • A new child-centred operating model with a greater focus on harm and trauma prevention and early intervention. It will provide a single point of accountability for the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable children, with the voice of the child represented in planning and strategy. A social investment approach using actuarial valuations and evidence of what works will identify the best way of targeting early interventions, to ensure that vulnerable children receive the care and support they need, when they need it.
  • Direct purchasing of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child, so that these young people can gain immediate access to assistance.  
  • A stronger focus on reducing the over-representation of Maori young people in the system. Currently, 6 out of ten kids in care are Maori. Strategic partnerships will be developed with iwi groups and NGOs, and new ways of working effectively will be developed with qualified academics, social service providers, iwi and Whanau Ora. 
  • Legislation will go through Parliament this year to raise the age of state care to a young person’s 18th birthday, with transition support being considered up to the age of 25. Cabinet has also agreed to investigate raising the youth justice age to include 17 year olds.
  • Legislation will establish an independent youth advocacy service to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard in the design of systems and services.
  • Intensive targeted support for caregivers, including some increased financial assistance and better access to support services. For the first time, National Care Standards will be introduced so that there is a clear expectation for the standard and quality of care in placement homes.

“Today we are announcing our initial response to some of the panel’s 81 recommendations,” says Mrs Tolley.

“More decisions will follow after we carry out further work and receive additional advice.

“We have a fantastic opportunity to deliver lasting change for our vulnerable children and this is only the beginning.

“We need strong leadership and a culture change away from only crisis management and short-term harm minimisation, to focus on long-term needs and outcomes, ensuring the earliest opportunity for a loving, safe and stable home, while also providing transition support into adulthood.

“Young people have told me they don’t want the system to experiment with their lives. They should not have had eight different placements by the age of seven, with all of the associated trauma which comes from each move.

“With funding following the child, it will ensure that any additional support is able to be purchased immediately, for example from DHBs, education, NGOs and other specialist providers. These children should not have to negotiate with bureaucracies to access the services they need, nor should they be subject to competing priorities in other agencies.

“The new system will also need a suitably trained workforce, with a requirement for staff with a range of specialist skills, to better prevent harm and trauma. We can no longer have a system which sees social workers spending half their time on administration, and less than a quarter of their time actually working with kids and families.

“And staff, agencies and the Government can’t do this in isolation. Communities need to be engaged and play their part. Work is already underway on attracting and retaining a wider pool of quality caregivers, who will receive increased support to take on such an important role.

“It’s acknowledged that the new system will require additional funding. The total amount will only become clear once the detailed work on the operating model is complete, and following a comprehensive look at what funding, if any, can be reallocated from other departments with the introduction of direct purchasing.

“I want to thank everyone who has contributed to this radical change in the way we support vulnerable children into their teenage years and beyond, including the Maori Reference Group, Practice Reference Group, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, NGOs, caregivers, government agencies and experts.

“Now the really hard work begins, as the transformation takes shape.

“It will take years and is far too big a task for any kind of quick-fix. But these young New Zealanders deserve to be listened to, and deserve the very best future that our country can give them.” 

The expert panel’s final report and relevant Cabinet papers are available at: www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/investing-in-children/index.html