Record high number put in CYF care
A record number of children have been taken into state care in the past year – a sign of serious underfunding as Child, Youth and Family (CYF) transitions into the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, say the Greens.
Figures released by CYF this week show 5453 children were placed in the custody of the chief executive in the year to December 2016. It is a leap of more than 300 on the 5139 children that were taken out of their families the year prior.
‘‘These figures show that we’re going the wrong way, that Child, Youth and Family is having to pick up the pieces of a society that’s really struggling to get by and our children are suffering as a result,’’ Greens social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said.
The update, released without fanfare on the CYF website, came just days before the Government launches the new Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Vulnerable Children.
The new ministry will be launched today and from tomorrow, will assume the responsibilities of CYF. It will work to a new operating model focused on prevention and working more intensely with families to keep children in their homes.
The ministry is the result of more than a year of work by the Government to overhaul state care practices in New Zealand, following decades of failures by an under-resourced CYF.
‘‘This is a record number to my knowledge, of people in CYF care,’’ Logie said.
The numbers had gotten worse, because the Government had underfunded the transition between agencies.
‘‘When we’re talking about the lives of children, I don’t think the concept of letting it get worse before it gets better is in any way acceptable.
‘‘The Government has had plenty of warning that they needed to put more resource into this and from what I can see – in terms of even just looking at the numbers of social workers – they haven’t done it,’’ she said.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley agreed the number was too high.
‘‘We know too many of our vulnerable young people are being failed which is why we’re completely overhauling our care and protection system with a focus on trauma prevention and early intervention, rather than crisis management.’’
But simply having more social workers was not an adequate response to the scale of the problem. ‘‘We need to ensure we have the right people who are suitably skilled and experienced in the right places at the right time. We need to work with other agencies to ensure the whole system works better.
‘‘The new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, which we’re launching, puts children and young people’s safety and wellbeing first.’’
Staffing at the new ministry was almost complete.
Seven of the nine deputy chief executives had been appointed and 10 out of the 11 regional manager positions were filled. All four youth justice regional manager roles were filled, as were both the residence general manager roles.
‘‘The changes from CYF to the new ministry are focused on having fewer management layers, to ensure management are closer to the young people they serve, and staff on the ground have more direct access to management,’’ Tolley said.
But legislation governing Oranga Tamariki is only partway through being passed.
The second stage of law reforms is at its second reading in Parliament, but has stalled to allow for further discussion over wording that would remove the priority to place a Maori child with extended whanau, hapu or iwi, if it wasn’t immediately safe to do so.
The reforms would also allow young people to remain in care up to the age of 21, with transition support and advice available up to 25, establish an information sharing framework to keep vulnerable children and young people safe from harm, and extend the youth justice system to include lower-risk 17-year-olds.
Child, Youth and Family has acknowledged the organisation has failed to meet its standards of care in Wairarapa.
CYF deputy chief executive Murray Edridge this week admitted failings at the department’s regional office in the wake of a recent Family Court ruling, whereby a Masterton judge severely criticised its dealings with a couple seeking assistance.
Among other things, the judge said CYF had threatened to take the pair’s children away if they went to court to force the organisation to provide help.
The judge’s criticisms pointed to ‘‘wider issues that we have identified around how Child, Youth and Family has been discharging its responsibilities in Wairarapa, in particular to the Family Court’’, Edridge said.
‘‘I am disappointed that we have not met the standards that the court, lawyers, caregivers and young people have a right to expect.’’
He said the organisation was ‘‘taking significant steps to ensure a substantial improvement in our performance’’ in Wairarapa.
His comments came after months of alleged dysfunction in CYF’s Masterton office, with a staff shortage causing long delays in cases and severe communication problems with Family Court lawyers.
The branch has eight social workers instead of the normal 12 and, at one point, it’s believed there were only four social workers in the entire office.
When asked about the district’s staffing levels, a ministry spokesman said it had been a struggle to recruit employees there. ‘‘Staffing in Masterton did fall to unacceptably low levels and substantial efforts were made to recruit more staff. It hasn’t been easy ... However, we
"I am disappointed we have not met the standards the court, lawyers, caregivers and young people have a right to expect." Child, Youth and Family deputy chief executive Murray Edridge
have moved in experienced staff to assist, and are actively working to get the numbers up where they should be.’’
The problem led to a complaint being lodged with the Children’s Commissioner in February. The Ministry for Social Development was also notified at this time.
Subsequently, there have been reports of new social workers failing to adapt quickly, because of their lack of familiarity with the region.
Masterton lawyer Jessie Hunt, who specialises in family law, said CYF’s problems were ‘‘a huge issue’’.
‘‘There are many cases that aren’t being dealt with appropriately and, because of this, children are being put at risk.’’
Problems relating to CYF had been ‘‘acute’’ over the past six months, she said. ‘‘There’s a high level of dysfunction ... in terms of both resourcing and management.’’
Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said she had heard rumours of problems at CYF for a while, although matters had come to a head only recently.
‘‘It’s a real concern because this is about protecting kids. If they’re not providing a service like that when it’s needed, then that’s very serious.’’
CYF’s days are numbered, with the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children (Oranga Tamariki) launching today.
More children than ever were placed in Child, Youth and Family care last year.