Children’s Commissioner’s State of Care Report

Children’s Commissioner Dr Russel Wills has just released the first of what will be an annual report. It’s damning of the poor quality of State care of children and notes grave concerns about the safety of children in Sate care.

Radio NZ report: ‘Dump and run’ culture at CYF

The Children’s Commissioner’s first annual report has strongly criticised Child, Youth and Family for what it calls a dump and run culture of neglect

In his first annual report, State of Care 2015, commissioner Russell Wills finds systemic failures in the service and says it is doubtful children are better off in state care.

“We don’t know if children are any better off as a result of state intervention, but the indications are not good,” it said.

The report said too many children were bounced from one placement to the next.

“In the course of our preparation for this report, we heard of children who had had upwards of 20, 40, and in one case over 60 care placements in their short lives,” it said.

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

“Some providers went so far as to characterise CYF’s attitude to these placements as ‘dump and run’.”

Many workers lacked the right qualifications or experience, and were not properly supervised.

Dr Wills told Morning Report other ministries, such as justice, health and education, ministries must work with CYF, to get the changes needed. “I think we’ve got a culture where the other agencies expect CYFs to do all the work, that’s not right and that’s not fair.”

From State of Care 2015: At a glance:

What do we expect from Child, Youth and Family?

CYF is the statutory service charged with protecting children from abuse and neglect, providing secure care to those who need it, and the care of children who have committed an offence.

New Zealanders expect CYF to keep children safe from immediate harm and hold children who have committed offences accountable, but more than that, we expect CYF and other government agencies to take good care of children and improve their life outcomes.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner expects best practice

Our independent monitoring of CYF provides a tool to ensure CYF, as the primary service responsible for the care of vulnerable children, provides high quality services that improve children’s lives. We examine CYF’s policies and assess its practices, and consider how well these meet the needs of children. Our expectations of CYF are set out in our monitoring framework.

We expect CYF to deliver high quality services, plan for the future, make good decisions, learn from mistakes, work effectively with other agencies, seek children’s views, and improve children’s lives. Part 1 summarises the findings of our monitoring of selected CYF sites and residences against these expectations between January 2014 and June 2015.

Children expect to be treated with care and respect

Children also have expectations of CYF. They expect CYF to tell them what they are entitled to, provide them with high quality social workers and caregivers, help them maintain relationships with their birth family/whānau, give them a voice in decisions about their care, and, crucially, listen to what they say.

Children can tell us a lot about whether CYF is meeting its objective of putting children at the centre of everything it does. Part 2 summarises what children told us about their experiences with CYF between January 2014 and June 2015.

Children should be better off as a result of state intervention

A fundamental expectation we have is that children who come into contact with CYF should be better off as a result. Part of our monitoring function is to consider the outcomes CYF is achieving for children in care.

CYF’s practice framework talks about keeping children safe from abuse and neglect, providing them with secure care, addressing the effects of any harm they have already suffered, and restoring and improving their wellbeing.

CYF has recently developed an outcomes framework that will require CYF and other agencies to ensure that children are safe, healthy, achieving, belong, participate, and have improved life outcomes. As CYF develops indicators to measure these outcomes, we thought it would be timely to provide an assessment of how well CYF is currently doing at improving children’s outcomes.

Part 3 attempts to do this, based on the available data, our overall findings, and feedback we received in our engagement with key stakeholders.

Is CYF meeting these expectations?

CYF’s practice is not consistent

Some of the CYF sites and residences we monitored in the past 18 months met or exceeded our expectations. CYF generally has strong frontend systems and processes for investigating and making decisions about cases of potential abuse and neglect, which means it generally does well at keeping children safe from immediate risk of abuse and neglect.

However, CYF’s overall performance against our monitoring framework was highly variable. Across most of the sites and residences we monitored, we found inconsistent vision and direction, variable social work and care practice, and insufficient priority given to cultural capability. Underpinning these findings was a core issue with workforce capacity and capability.

CYF does not put children at the centre of everything it does

Some children report positive and life-changing experiences with CYF, but others report negative and harmful experiences. Generally speaking, the longer a child spends in CYF care, the more likely they are to experience harmful consequences.

The feedback we received from children suggested a system that is not centred on their needs, and that does not take into account the potential negative consequences of CYF’s actions and decisions on children. We have a number of suggestions to help CYF ensure children are at the centre of everything it does.

We don’t know if children are better off as a result of state intervention

Accessing data about children’s outcomes is core to our monitoring framework. Yet there is little reliable or easily accessible data available about the outcomes of children in the care system. In our view, CYF and MSD’s systems are not set up to measure and record the information that matters, and the integration of data between MSD and other government agencies is poor.

Better collection and analysis of data is essential for CYF to improve its services and for the Government and the public to have confidence that CYF and other state agencies are improving outcomes for vulnerable children. We don’t have enough information to say conclusively whether children are better off as a result of state intervention, but the limited data we do have about health, education, and justice outcomes is concerning.

CYF focuses more on keeping children safe, and less on improving their long-term outcomes

CYF has become oriented towards front-end processes for investigating and making decisions about cases of potential abuse and neglect, at the expense of on-going support for children in all types of care placements.

We make this observation based on our monitoring findings, which found strong intake and assessment practices in most of the CYF sites we monitored, but poor case management and oversight of young people in specialist care placements. It is supported by what children and other key stakeholders told us about their experiences with CYF.

This observation is consistent with the conclusions in the recent Workload and Casework Review undertaken by the Office of the Chief Social Worker within CYF.

The reasons for this focus on front-end services are complex and historical, and we have not attempted to analyse them here. Rather, we have focused on ways to support CYF to maintain its focus on initial safety, and to expand this to include the on-going support necessary to improve children’s outcomes in the long term. This will require a greater level of investment in children in all types of care placement.

CYF can’t do this on its own. Some changes are within CYF’s power to effect, but some will rely on other state agencies, service providers, and NGOs working effectively in partnership with CYF. It is our view that all the participants in the wider care
and protection and youth justice systems need to work together much better to deliver effective, high quality services to vulnerable children.

Health and education services in particular need to support children in care to achieve better outcomes. This will require leadership from the Ministries of Health and Education to be accountable for achieving better outcomes for these children, and for ensuring local providers in their sectors are supported to meet explicit expectations about what they deliver to children in care.

Recommendations

We made 53 recommendations to help CYF lift its performance and improve outcomes for children in our monitoring reports between January 2014 and June 2015. Some were directed at individual sites or residences, while others were changes CYF national office could make to improve policies and practice across multiple sites and residences.

The 53 recommendations were aligned to the key themes that recurred in our monitoring findings, and can be grouped in the following categories:
• Clarity of purpose, direction, and strategy (nine recommendations);
• Ensuring child-centred practice (11 recommendations);
• Improving the quality of social work practice across all types of care placement (nine recommendations);
• Building workforce capacity and capability (eight recommendations);
• Building cultural capability (five recommendations);
• Improving integration of services between CYF and other agencies (three recommendations);
• Strengthening partnerships and networks (four recommendations);
• Improving the physical environment in residences (two recommendations); and

Other recommendations relating to operational systems and processes (11 recommendations).

For this report, we have reviewed all our individual recommendations within the context of the themes emerging from our monitoring findings, our engagement with children, and the available data about children’s outcomes. From this review, we have developed a set of seven aggregated, future-oriented recommendations that we believe will help address shortcomings in the current system and improve children’s outcomes in future.

Aggregated recommendations, in brief, are:
1. Set clear expectations about CYF’s core purpose and the outcomes it needs to achieve;
2. Ensure CYF is fully child-centred in all its activities;
3. Invest more in on-going support for children in all types of care placements;
4. Address capacity and capability issues across the CYF workforce;
5. Improve cultural capability across the organisation;
6. Collect and analyse relevant data to drive improved outcomes for children; and
7. Set clear expectations for other state agencies responsible for improving the outcomes of children in care.

PDF: State of Care

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2 Comments

  1. Teresa Wilson

     /  4th September 2015

    I have children in the care of Child Youth and Family and I’ve been involved with them for quite some time now. As of 2012 of being in Dunedin of having CYFS involvement they have removed my kids from me and never gave me the support I needed after leaving a domestic violence relationship. After all this time of being involved they took my kids from me, I’m not aloud to bond with my children, I am not violent, CYFS, the kids lawyer and caregivers can say my children are wonderful only because I was the one that raised them and I plan to fight and get my children back because, I have a violent free home, it’s all love, respect and kindness in my home. They do not have a valid reason to remove my children. They say neglect and violence, I say they never done what they were suppose to do and help our families! CYFS were surprised to see my son whom was very young at the time clean up the mess of food in the CYFS office in front of Lawyers, CYFS, caregivers and those supports that were at the meeting. My son was even younger when he did the same thing, he saw the waitress drop some things and he run over to pick up the things for her and was rewarded a Lonestar shirt from Wanaka. You can’t tell me that’s a neglected child ! My kids are loved by me and each one of them treated equally. Barnados also told me of for not using the ladder of doom because I used a strategy that worked for my family and I was told off and questioned about it but no support I got even when I did well. CYFS wanted me to fail so they would get paid to remove my children, it’s not about the children, it is about the money.

    Reply
  1. Looking beyond CYF for solutions | Your NZ

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