New Directions

  • Steve Maharey
Social Development and Employment

Tena koutou katoa. Greetings to you all. Welcome to Palmerston North.

I want to thank the senior management team and staff throughout the country for the way you have worked with the new Labour/Alliance government.

The theme of your conference is ¡§Navigating the Future¡¨. I want to make use of this theme in my comments to you this evening on the future of the Department of Child, Youth and Family.

The new government is seeking to chart a new course for New Zealand in the 21st century. Our predecessors in the first Labour Government established a welfare state which would protect people against predictable crises. Their plan offered support to those deprived of income through ¡§age, illness, unemployment, widowhood and or other misfortune¡¨.

During the middle of the last century the welfare state came to stand for security from the ¡§cradle to the grave¡¨.

This is an inadequate model for today. There have been fundamental shifts in New Zealand society, with the changing demands of family life, the recognition of the importance of the Treaty principles in the development of social policy, along with the emergence of globalisation.

Work patterns have changed. Periods of unemployment between jobs are now common as job patterns change and individuals expect to change jobs regularly. The conditions that gave rise to the post-war welfare state no longer exist and we, therefore, need to change our thinking.

Let me hasten to say, that I am not indicating the end of the welfare state. Quite the opposite. Social and economic change creates a new and even more vital need for the security that the welfare state provided.

However, we need to move from a welfare state designed for old risks, old industries and old family structures to one which is about building social capability so that people can negotiate an increasingly unpredictable world. Instead of a welfare safety net focused on relieving problems, we need a social welfare system that prevents problems.

We need a welfare society for the 21st century. Let me look more specifically at what this means.

Our policies focus on the core principles of social participation ¡V all New Zealanders have to be able to participate in the mainstream of their society - as well as exclusion and inclusion. We want to know why people can¡¦t participate and how to change this situation.

To take one example, the commitment to participation lies behind the government¡¦s vigourous promotion of its ¡§Closing the Gaps¡¨ strategy. Helen Clark is leading this strategy personally and it will be built into everything we do as a government. I should stress that closing gaps does not imply that everything will be alright when the statistics for Maori health, employment, education and so on are the same as for the general population.

Maori have made it clear that they see the future as built on the principle of ¡§by Maori for Maori¡¨. Our challenge then is not to simply ¡§do things for Maori¡¨, but to ensure Maori can do things for themselves. This is why the government talks so frequently about building capacity.

The Ministry of Social Policy will lead the work on participation, inclusion and exclusion and will need to work closely with Child Youth and Family.

Because we want people to participate, our policies are geared to creating opportunities. A great deal of what has been done over the last decade has reduced opportunities and trapped people into poverty.

The highly complicated benefit system which penalises people when they take on paid employment is an example.

Our aim is to refocus the services we provide to people who come to the state for assistance by shifting from judging their eligibility to asking how we can help them get on with their lives. A great deal of work is currently underway in this area with Work and Income New Zealand.

Of central importance in our policies is the support we give to families.

Children¡¦s well-being is the touchstone of the health and strength of a society.

Families are the first institutions children know and the means by which they are introduced to all other institutions.

We demand a great deal of parents in New Zealand and tend to take most notice of them when they fail. However, we can¡¦t just expect parents to bring up children on their own. Children are the responsibility of the whole community.

Only if we share the responsibility for children can we overcome the issues that arise from growing gaps between those families with resources and those without.

It is also vital that we acknowledge families are changing. Too much energy in the debate about the family is spent on its structure. In other words the focus is on an argument about the need for a particular kind of family. Our belief is that we should focus on the functioning of family. As common sense tells us and research makes clear, children flourish in any kind of family where there is consistent love, support and guidance and in no kind of family where these qualities are missing.

A government serious about children should, therefore, develop policies for families which:

„h ensure all children grow up in surroundings which enable their needs to be met ¡V physically, emotionally, intellectually. A strong community should support its families, not expect strong families to make up for the limitations of weak communities.
„h Empower women to share financial, as well as practical and emotional, responsibility for their children.
„h Empower and enable men to share the emotional and practical, as well financial, responsibilities of parenthood.

The policies being proposed by the government for which involve Child Youth and Family (we will not be changing the name) are designed to support this kind of agenda.

Key parts of the policy include:

„h The children¡¦s agenda.
„h The development of Family Start.
„h The focus on professionalisation within the Department.
„h The focus on prevention in the youth justice policy.
„h The focus on lifting skills within foster/kinship care.
„h The emphasis on relationships and parenting which includes co-parenting and fatherhood.

The government wants CYF to focus on providing statutory social work to the highest standard.

I will be announcing two reviews covering notifications and placements because I want to restore confidence in the areas of practice. At the moment confidence is low. We need to allow people to talk about the problems they see and fix them.

I am also keen that we continue to look at the role of contracting. I am not a fan of the way contracting has evolved. It is too often a one-sided inflexible process which reduces the value we get from working with the community. We need to develop better processes which makes the most of the partnership. The recently negotiated Memorandum of Understanding with Open Homes is an illustration of where we are going.

The Agreement that the government wants to negotiate with Non-government social service organisations also marks the way ahead.

The Government believes that if we are committed to resolving problems then it is vital that communities have the capability and capacity to act on their own behalf. People within communities need to take the lead by identifying issues and possible solutions. Government needs to back this process with resources.

The Agreement will both symbolise this change of direction and provide a practical way to look at issues such as consultation, funding, compliance, accountability and quality of service.

This plan to develop partnerships with the community also lies behind the emphasis the government is placing on decentralised models of management and requirements to work closely with stakeholders to ensure the service provided is responsive to local needs.

I want to bring my brief comments to a close by making the following points.

This government is committed to building the capacity of core services to meet the needs of New Zealanders in the 21st century.

For this to happen we need to have a shared sense of vision and purpose.

It is your job to ensure the provision of highly professional services, a genuine partnership with the community and a focus on building the capacity of communities to do more for themselves.

It is the job of your Ministers to give you an environment within which you can get on with your work. We will do our best to provide that environment.

A great deal rests on the success of our partnership. Children, young people, families and communities are looking to us for leadership. I have every reason to believe that we can deliver.