Record high num­ber put in CYF care

The Dominion Post - - Politics - STACEY KIRK

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.

PHOTO: 123RF.COM

More chil­dren than ever were placed in Child, Youth and Fam­ily care last year.

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