Ardern on State of Care report

Having been the centre of much discussion this week afret being promoted by NZ Herald as apotential Labour leader it’s worth checking Jacinda Ardern in action.

Yesterday she led the Urgent Debate on the Office of the Children’s Commissionaer State of Care Report.

Draft transcript: Office of the Children’s Commissioner— State of Care 2015 report

JACINDA ARDERN (Labour): On behalf of Carmel Sepuloni, I move, That the House take note of a matter of urgent public importance.

The report that we have before us today is an absolute indictment, and it is only right that this House gives its time and consideration to what can only be considered some of the most important issues that we have a responsibility to address as members of this Parliament.

There is no statement in this report that captures the seriousness of the issues more so than the statement that the Children’s Commissioner made that “We don’t know if children are better off as a result of State intervention, but the indications are not good.”

To hear from the representative and advocate of children in this country that we cannot even guarantee that a child who is potentially being abused and neglected, who has an intervention from the State, is necessarily better off as a result of that in an intervention. What an absolute indictment on this country that we are in this situation.

The commissioner lists a range of areas specifically where we are failing our most vulnerable, and they are our most vulnerable.

More than 50 percent of these children are under the age of 10, and 5,000 of them are in the care of responsibility of this State. The State is their parent. The State has become the only stable thing that the Government has determined needs to take over so that they can be assured of safety and security.

Yet what is happening to those children after that intervention?

We have the case of one child who had up to 60 different placements. What message do you send to a child who has experienced abuse and neglect at the hands of their own family or caregivers, to then shuffle them around into up to 60 different placements?

We have got records of constantly changing caseworkers and a lack of stability and care and support for those children—a lack of support when transitioning not only between care but out of care. Let us remember that “out of care” in this country means to be at 17 years of age, one of the youngest ages to exit care in the developed world, and even then we are not supporting those young people.

The horrific number of more than 100 children, who even once they are removed, is experiencing further abuse and neglect. What long-term hope do they have, when only 20 percent of these children are then reaching National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 or higher.

All of this paints a damning picture not only for the State but for the children themselves who are experiencing this. It is true to say that in an area such as this, where you have wickedly complex problems, we have had issues arise before.

Labour had to deal with it when we came into office in 1999, and what did we do? Straight away, we recognised the under-funding and under-resourcing. We increased the baseline funding of that department by more than 50 percent. I will say that again—when Labour last took office it increased support for baseline funding of Child, Youth and Family Services by more than 50 percent.

But even then, as the years went on, we recognised we needed to do more, particularly with the workforce. We undertook a baseline review. That piece of work was completed by the Hon Ruth Dyson.

And before that, we also made sure that we started registering social workers, and now we say it is time that that becomes mandatory. We improved relationships with the community sector and our 10-month baseline review resulted in $111 million in operational spending going into Child, Youth and Family Services.

Why? They did not have the resources they needed to do the job. When that happens you have got to stand up and have the courage to acknowledge it as a Government, and that is what we are calling on this Government to do.

Because as much as that Minister stands up and says “We can’t just throw money at the problem”, well, Minister, the last time we looked at whether or not this department was sufficiently resourced was 13 years ago—13 years ago was the last time a baseline review was done of Child, Youth and Family. And a lot has changed in between.

Reviewing these issues again is not chucking money at an issue; it is good practice to check that your social workers have the support they need to do the work that they do. What has changed?

We do not have a static picture when it comes to vulnerable children in New Zealand. Let us just look at the numbers. During the year 30 June 2014 Child, Youth and Family received 146,657 notifications of possible abuse or neglect—146,657, that is enormous.

That is 17 percent higher than just 5 years ago—80,000 notifications were made back then. That is just a massive increase in a short space of time. The Minister will claim that not all of that is substantiated, that we might have false reporting, that just more people know about the vulnerability of children. In part, some of that will be true, but not all of it.

In fact, we know that roughly a third of those notifications are coming from the police, who know that those children are witnessing domestic violence, and we know the impact that has on those children.

We also know from the police that a lot of them are in fact substantiated. In fact, the recorded number of cases where children have been abused has gone up to 5,397 offences. That figure is 56 percent higher than in 2009. So in that short space of time the workload on Child, Youth and Family and the increase in harm against children has absolutely been documented.

And what has happened to staff? What have we done to make sure that that are able to cope with those dramatic jumps? In the 5 years how many more social workers would you expect to be dealing with 66,000 more notifications? How many more staff?

Well, in that short space of time there have been 76 new fieldworkers—76 new field workers. Crudely, that is 877 cases per new social worker. That is phenomenal. There is no way anyone in this House could claim that that is sufficient to deal with the extra demand this department is dealing with.

Yes, some issues in Child, Youth and Family have cut across Governments—absolutely, no denying it. But there is no denying that right now, in this period of time that this Minister in this Government has responsibility for, the changes for Child, Youth and Family have been enormous.

The Children’s Commissioner put it like this: “The ability of CYF’s current workforce to improve the outcomes experienced by children in the care system is constrained in various ways: limited resources, high caseload, and the need to invest in training.”

The Minister cannot put her head in the sand—that she must support her department as part of answering these issues. I wonder if the Minister, in fact, could respond even to the body who represents social workers, when they said, and I quote from the New Zealand Public Service Association, “The Government must address these issues of underfunding and capability. Otherwise there will be no improvement for those in need.” I do not want to hear a contribution from the Minister that says: chucking money at this problem is not the answer. No one said to chuck money at anything.

We said: “Invest in the people that you have charge of. Make sure they are equipped to do the job.” It is a hard job and at the moment all of the indications are that the cracks are showing in what they are having to deal with.

No one knows this better than the Children’s Commissioner. Even he has had static funding. So much so that he has closed his Auckland office. He cannot do an annual visit of all of the residences that he is meant to monitor; they have moved to every 18 months. He himself is struggling under the weight of an under-investment in this sector. He will not say it, so we will say it on his behalf.

The one area that the Children’s Commissioner has said that Child, Youth and Family is doing a good job at focusing on is that first intervention—the first moment when it is told that there is a potential issue with the safety of a child. In fact, this is how he states it: “Our analysis is that Child, Youth and Family is very focused on keeping children safe and managing the intake and assessment processes at entry to the system.”

I will say that again—at entry to the system. He said: “They’ve lost sight of what children need while in care and what they need to receive to ensure they thrive once they’ve left.

That concerns me.” That beginning is incredibly important. It is the triage phase. It is the point where we make sure a child is not in immediate danger. Interestingly, it si also where the political risks exists. As the Social Services Providers Association stated in its response to the report: “CYF’s staff are extraordinarily challenged by the dual expectation of managing both political risk and the risk of abuse to children.”

Very few social workers ever speak out of turn. They are very professional. But I will never forget when I had a Child, Youth and Family social worker who retired and came to see me and said that they are required to keep a political risk register”—not a register of harm to children, not a register of risk to family—a political risk register. We all have to take responsibility when a department starts focusing on the politics instead of focusing on children.

That is an absolute indictment, and it is part of the problem. It is part of what must change if we are to focus on outcomes for kids. What have we lost sight of? The Children’s Commissioner put it clearly—transition into placements, support for caregivers, and focus on residential care.

I want to touch on residential care. The Minister knows she has had problems with residential care—Children, Youth and Family residences, including youth justice residences run by the department. How do I know that? I have Official Information Act information to prove it.

I have never used these statistics in the House, or anywhere in fact, but there is a youth justice facility in Christchurch that the Minister has been briefed on almost continually, for a couple of years. And why? Because based on the Official Information Act information I received, between July 2014 and April this year that facility had more than 600 dangerous incidents.

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How many?

JACINDA ARDERN: I will say that again. Between July 2014 and April this year, a Christchurch-run Child, Youth and Family facility had more than 600 recorded serious incidents, including serious assaults, drug use, and self-harm. The police have been called to the centre numerous times, and in the past 2 years, as the Children’s Commissioner pointed out as part of the problem, they have had 16 temporary staff and five different residential managers.

I have briefings that show that the Government knew about the problems at this residence, and indeed it knows about the problems more broadly within Child, Youth and Family. What have we had from that Government in response to these kinds of issues? We have had a white paper, we have had a green paper, and we have got a Children’s Action Plan.

The Minister places a lot of weight on children’s teams, for instance. Apparently they are going to help 20,000 kids. Where is that resource going to come from? I will tell you where— Family Start.

The Minister is reprioritising resources that are already in the field on early intervention and shifting them to her new action plan. That whole exercise had the goodwill of the community sector behind it, but it did not address core issues.

What we should be looking at is putting children at the heart of all of the decisions that we make around them. We should be focusing on early intervention.

That means Ministers and the Government have to look at deprivation, poverty, and inequality in our communities. That is at the heart of many of these issues that we are dealing.

They need to join back together interventions in the home and continuity of care, because they have been separated. They need to focus on ensuring their department is resourced properly, trained properly, and supported properly. They need to guarantee they will not privatise the bits of the system that they are scared are falling over and causing accountability issues for them.

We have all heard rumours about Serco sniffing around youth justice facilities. We need the Minister to rule out that that will not be her answer and her way of getting this issue off her plate. What we also need to do is ensure that young people who are in care and protection right now, the kids who are in the facilities, the kids who are in care, and the kids who are in foster care are used to come up with the answers.

They should be part of this discussion. Not only did the Minister’s expert advisory panel not even include a social worker, but it did not include the young people who know care and protection better than anyone, and those are the kids who are in it.

Labour will use those voices. Labour will use the voices of social workers. Labour will use the community sector that works in this space. Only collaboratively will we come up with solutions, and that includes Māori and Pasifika as well.

Yes, some of these issues go beyond just the last 7 years, but this report absolutely has to be taken on board by this Government, and responsibility has to be taken by this Government to repair the damage that has been done to children’s lives right now. We should expect no less.

Leave a comment


  1. Mike C

     /  28th August 2015

    Does Jacinda Ardern have to get the Seal of Approval from her Party Leader, before she submits her questions to the Parliamentary Speaker?

    Or was Andrew Little blind-sided this week?

  2. So “blah blah absolute indictment blah blah blah”.
    And that was it. No incisive policy analysis or deep thinking about a problem. Just fluff.
    Ardern is a featherweight.

  3. Iceberg

     /  28th August 2015

    Ardern will have no solution apart from more government. Despite tens of billions of dollars in transfers, ostensibly to prevent this, here we are. Again. When will we stop looking for the next great solution, and focus on THE solution. Stop paying people to have kids they can’t afford. Just. Bloody. Stop.

  4. Laughable and tragic discourse by Ardern: perhaps she might want to turn to her left and ask former Minister of Social Development Ruth Dyson what she meant when, confronted by Rodney Hyde with a near identical litany of CYF failures when Labour was in Govt, Dyson grunted “I stand by my Social Workers”.

    I have been listening to this woeful Parliamentary hand-wringing about CYF since 2002 – it’s getting a bit old.

    • That sugggests it’s a very difficult issue to actually deal with. And it is.

      • Sorry Pete, I’ve had 17 years in Social Services, which includes 16,000 hours of face to face client experience, 1000’s of hours of client advocacy work in the public domain, and I both practice and teach in the profession. The “issue” is not difficult to deal with – the difficulty lies with a nationalised and Govt-sanctioned corporate cultic mind-set informed by external conventions and treaties NZ has signed up to that have rendered us powerless to exercise our own sovereignty in almost every facet of our lives, child welfare simply being one of those facets.

        Change won’t come from within Govt – change will come when NZ’ers stop voting for the status quo – which in my lifetime hasn’t ever happened, and is thus unlikely to ever happen.

        I recently heard a commentator describe NZ as a third world banana republic with a thin veneer of first-world respectability: I would posit our child welfare systems as “Exhibit A” of this description.

        • Steve I would posit that the problem is not our Child Welfare Systems, its not some corporate cultic culture … I have heard the litany of its poverty driving this. It is not. I have heard the “its the neo-liberal corporate systems” fault before to, though not as eloquently put as you have above. Its is not

          Its our parents.

          Not all poor people bash their kids and abuse kids – so to put the finger at Corporate cultic system can’t be right, or every family on benefits or under financial stress would be abusing their kids. AND THEY ARE NOT

          The real solution here is people in families intervening in their own families to stop a brother, sister, brother in law, sister in law, auntie, uncle etc abusing kids in the family.

          You know WHANAU stepping up and resolving it. FAMILY stepping up and solving it. ‘AIGA stepping up and solving it… [insert cultural word for family here] stepping up and solving it

          Kids need simple stuff. Warmth dry shelter, simple food 3 times a day, a good example of behaviour that doesn’t depending on violence for getting your way, parental engagement and some old fashion love and caring.

          Now if people are unable to do this for their current kids the kids should be removed. And the parents should be given long lasting contraceptives to stop them producing more kids they can’t or won’t look after.

          We then need to weed the scum carers out of the system. Anyone in a carer role who abuses kids should go to jail, go directly to jail and spend a good 5 years inside

          Labours solution is throw lots of money at the under privileged and more social workers at it….. bandages on the issue. More money for the worst families means more money for booze and parties, more social workers just reinforces that its not the families problem to deal with its societies fault and therefore societies issue to fix.

          I respect the fact you have deep and intimate knowledge on this, but I am sorry I don’t buy its neo-liberlism, its corporates, its foreign multi nationals, its international treaties, its a loss of sovereignity, its him down the road at number 95…. pointing the finger at “the other” bogeyman doesn’t cut it.

          People either value their children as something precious or the shouldn’t have the right to have kids

          • Mike C

             /  29th August 2015


            Great Comment 🙂

          • Dave1924: Who empowers these parents and families you speak of, to negate personal responsibility for the children they have?

            Think Macro, and you will nail micro.

          • I’m also probably the antithesis to a neo-liberal 🙂

            • Steve – I don’t buy the whole schtick that says I’m powerless in face of whatever system is ruling my country so therefore I am going to beat my kids….. plenty of people have nothing and struggle day to day, but not all those people beat their kids or abuse their kids. Its a cop out to blame the “corporate cultic” world. Sorry but it is.

              Movements of social change start in the micro – if everyone is an advocate for looking after kids and puts pressure on their mates and family who aren’t doing the right things by their kids, then things will change. Its that simple don’t turn away when you see shit happening

  5. I think you are drawing a long bow between powerlessness and child abuse.

    What happens when the State turns away, Dave1924, as it has on countless occasions when faced with evidence of the markers of abuse?

    When does the individual who is attempting to facilitate and empower change recognise that “micro” doesn’t “cut it” in the face of an actively resistant macro?

    You are viewing this through a reverse – angled kaleidoscope.

    • Steve now you are trying to switch – you said:

      “The “issue” is not difficult to deal with – the difficulty lies with a nationalised and Govt-sanctioned corporate cultic mind-set informed by external conventions and treaties NZ has signed up to that have rendered us powerless to exercise our own sovereignty in almost every facet of our lives, child welfare simply being one of those facets.”

      You implied its a power thing. I have stated the solution it is micro. It is Family, Whanau, ‘Aiga doing what is right and intervening for the kids in their extended family and stopping violence or sexual abuse of them.

      no social worker in the world can be there 24/7/365 with every child who has come to the attention of the state agencies. It is the parents, the Aunties, Uncles, Grand parents – they have the initimate holistic and constant contact. They need to be doing the right things.

      And if they are not they should lose their rights to kids and the right to have more kids….and they should face very strong societal sanctions from name and shame to time in the big house doing hard labour with no privileges

      Wriggle on this all you want – parents are the problem and parents are the solution. Blaming a lack of government spending as Ms Ardern did is a cop out.

      We aren’t going to agree on this, so I’ll leave you to it.

      • Dave1924, you are simply so far out of your depth on this topic, that you are unable to even follow my thinking on this issue.

        It matters not, because who cares anyway?

        Govts of any current shade don’t, and feral parents don’t have to, because no-one makes them.

        • I’ll bite Steve… gee thanks for saying Im out of my depth. So far you have said you’re the expert in response to Pete, you’ve said its a power thing [corporate centric world], then you’ve said its not when I said that was rubbish, and now you say it needs someone to force ferals to do the right thing…

          Water on a hot griddle… hops around makes a lot of noise but never does the same thing twice – same as your arguments.

          Bottom line Steve: Child abuse exists. Social Workers have been wringing hands over it for decades now. We have tried State intervention it didn’t work [see Epuni Boys Home and other heavy interventions], we have tried family conferences and inclusion – and still it goes on, we have tried keeping the kids in the extended family and look the same shit happens.

          The only answer is families of the extended kind standing up and protecting the children in those families with people calling out the nasty behavoiur as unacceptable. more money for more social workers may employ people but it wont solve stuff.

          I have put my prescription of families stepping up, the state removing kids with a nice dose of contraception to stop new ufortunates being born in to this dysfunction slime pit families where abuse is ongoing above. Whats your prescription apart from Mana news inspired waffle about Corporate centric blah?

          • Mike C

             /  29th August 2015


            Yes … the extended family need to step up and tell these mothers and fathers who abuse their kids that its unacceptable behaviour, and if the extended family cannot teach them new habits … then the extended family need to report the abusers to the Police and CYFS.

            I am sick of hearing every few weeks about yet another child dying at the hands of family members.

            It has to be stopped … and clearly what successive governments have tried, is not working.

          • Dave1924: have a read of this, and when you are able to recognise where I am coming from, we can progress on the issues raised:


            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  29th August 2015

              Some good stuff in your scoop articles, Steve. You could have briefly summarised it here though. What did you think of this column today?

              Audrey Young: Damning report paves way for CYF redesign

            • Hi Alan, I think that unless there is personal accountability and public sanction upon individual Social Workers, plus formal service outcome measurement (as measured by service clients), plus meaningful sanction upon those who commit child abuse, plus an independent CYF Complaints Authority, plus an overhaul of the CYF Act, plus cessation of the oxymoron term “child poverty”, plus a radical cultural shift in valuing the sanctity of life – then it is unlikely anything will actually change.

              The mistake Dave1924 made with me is that he tried to pigeon-hole me into an ideological position (sort of “you’re either this, or this” type of thinking).

              The fact is that Russell Wills is of the same ideological mind-set as those he so vociferously criticises – he simply cannot see the wood for the forest of trees that confront him.

              “Independent”? Give me a break, Audrey.

            • Yes, that is a concise summary, perhaps omitting your call for evidence based culling of non-performing providers and programmes. That implies competitive tendering and privatisation of service provision.

            • Steve – yeah ok. So that article while full of scholarly references doesn’t talk about the fundamental – families need to take ownership for themselves to put a stop to this abuse of children.

              That is the key thrust of what I have said in all my comments on this post. The social worker is the ambulance driver – they only become involved if the abuse and violence is reported.

              Extended families need to stand up – key leaders need to stand up [like Kelvin Davies is trying to do] and not stop until the problem is fixed.

              Reporting systems, Social worker training, risk assessment models etc etc is a technocratic approach to what is fundamentally a human problem – i posit it needs a sustained, bottom up movement of people saying no more to fix the issue. Top down system centric approaches have failed since forever.

            • Dave 1924: You STILL don’t get it.

              You are advocating for families to “stand up”, for the public to say “no more”, for a “bottom-up” approach to the problem.

              My work and observation as an advocate over the years has taught me the following:

              When a family “stands up”, the state vilifies them for doing so, and makes the family who “stood up” the problem:

              Click to access our_experiences_on_discovering_our_daughter_was_victim_of_sexual_crimes_in_nz.pdf

              When the public says “no more” the State ignores them;


              When a “bottom up” approach is initiated, it runs into an entrenched bureaucracy that tries (most often successfully) to shut it down:


              And let’s not forget the Care of Children Act – which nominates parents not as parents, but simply people who provide “day to day care” of their children.

              And most illuminating of all – the majority of Kiwi’s still vote in favour of the very people who perpetuate the above -time and time and time again.

            • So Steve – I read the first link some time ago – pretty horrible stuff and stinks

              The second on referenda – rightly ignore binding referenda unless initiated by parliament. We have a representative democracy and it works by and large. Binding CIR lead to the craziness that occurs in California, and Im not up for that

              As for the Problem Gambling foundation – well that is more politics than anything else. IF the PGF focused on helping those with problems instead of lobbying for more money all the time it wouldn’t be a big thing at all.

              Anyway Steve bottom up movements work for social change, Gay law reform and Gay marriage show this is true. If you think it won’t work for child abuse I believe you are mistaken

            • When there is meaningful change regarding the welfare in this country that is initiated by a “bottom up” movement, please let me know – because I don’t believe that this will be happening anytime soon.

              If you believe that the reforms that happened with homosexual law reform in its various drag disguises had anything to do with a “grass roots” movement, then you will also believe that the Rosa Parks bus incident was simply a random civil rights coincidence, and I have a bridge to sell you.

              Saul Alinsky has much to reveal to you.

            • All good Steve… you obviously are a typical leftie seeing conspiracy and elites everywhere. If people in the industry of social work stopped looking to government to fix things and applied a true socialist collectivist ethic to the problem then a grassroots bottom up approach would work…

              Looking at you article on Scoop its obvious you believe in a socialist government imposing from the top down….. revealing that at heart you’re not a true socialist just another authoritarian with an eye to power…. have a good one, this is my last reply

            • Yes, the whole socialist collective really worked a treat in Mao’s China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Venezuela……………oh, you get the picture.

              A “typical leftie”?



            • Steve you mistake socialism for totalitarian…..

              ah a Conservative….. so I pegged you as an Authoritarian correctly just not of the hard left kind…. enjoy

  6. Hi Alan,

    Evidence based culling of non-performing providers and programmes could apply equally to public, NGO, or private providers. Perhaps a better term is evidence-informed? I have no issue with competition: if one agency is consistently getting better outcomes with clients, and another agency can’t get traction with any – I would have no problem re-directing funding towards the agency getting results, be they public, NGO, or private.

    Recently, the largest provide of Counselling services in the country (Relationships Aotearoa) had their funding re-directed to 5 other service providers. RA were certainly not performing, and stepped so far outside their terms of contract that it I believe that RA losing their funding was a natural consequence of their actions.

    The trouble I have with the funding re-direction is that the re-direction has gone to 5 other agencies who don’t actually have any idea how they are performing with clients either, and who don’t collect any outcome data (which RA did do, just not very effectively as to make a difference to the eventual outcome of their eventual demise).

    I run a private practice – have done since 2002. I publish my outcome results for all to see on the Practice website, including the 22% of times when I am not successful with clients.

    I have yet to hear of a NZ social Service agency (any NZ Social Service agency) who has a 78% success rate with clients, a figure arrived at via formal routine client outcome measurement.

    I have never received Govt funding, and have no wish to.


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