Tolley on CYF reform and child protection

Anne Tolley was interviewed on The Nation on a damning report on a lack of child protection from CYF (Child Youth Family) despite decades of patch-up changes.

Far too much time is spent on administration/form filling and too little time is spent engaging with and helping children.

Tolley says that how CYF  operates needs to be dismantled and rebuilt with the primary focus on the needs of children.

Much of the questioning – demands about costs and solutions – as a report is expected in December that will make recommendations.

Dealing with children from the most dysfunctional families (or non-families) in New Zealand is extremely difficult. It is often an inter-generational problem, so putting children into the care of wider family can be risky.

Here’s the interview (video): Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Here’s an excerpt confirming that there is no intention to outsource core functions:

The Panel: Matthew Hooton, Laila Harre & Bernard Hickey – Hickey is worthwhile, Hooton is ok and Harre is pushing a socio-political barrow.

The media release with interview transcript:

Lisa Owen interviews Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Tolley says NZ needs “a lot more” caregivers and “definitely looking” at paying and supporting them more; reveals plans for a new ‘A team’ of caregivers for the most troubled kids.

“We’d be looking for some people with some extra special skills that we might pay more, we might provide specialist services to take care of things.”

Says it’s “not ideal” that 50% of caregivers are on a benefit as children will be going into homes under financial stress

Commits to putting in place all the recommendations of the Rebstock report on CYF, saying previous reviews have not been fully implemented.

Says that “may well” lead to more social workers but a better mix needed. “We need more specialist services, so we need more psychologists and psychiatrists and therapists.”

Rules out outsourcing care and protection services, as it as a “state responsibility” and “there’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility”.

Says she’s not backing Labour’s private member’s bill to register all social workers because the timing is wrong, has asked Social Workers Registration Board to review Act and report back to her in December

Says frontline CYF social workers spend more than half their time on administration work because every time there’s a crisis “there’s been another layer put in there to deal with that response,”

“What I’m saying is, ‘Yes, we’re going to have to put more money in, but let’s make sure we’re putting it into the right places that are going to get the best outcomes for the kids’.”

Lisa Owen: Good morning, Minister.
Anne Tolley: Good morning, Lisa.
You’ve talked repeatedly about how radical this is, so is it a major shift to focus on children at risk and to integrate services better?
Yeah. So, you know, as you say, we’ve had 14 different restructures of CYF over the years, and the reality is not much has changed for the children that come through that system. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to take the system completely apart, and we’re going to put it back together, but this time it’s going to be absolutely focused on the needs of those children.
You say ‘this time’, but the thing is, in that question, I was quoting from your predecessor Roger Sowry from a press release in 1998. And then in this bundle here, there’s ones from Steve Maharey, all of them talking about charting a new direction, quality outcomes for children. So why should anyone have any confidence that you’re going to deliver something that’s better?
Well, we are. We simply have to. And when you look at the results that the system is getting for those children that we take into our care, we should be ashamed of those results. And all of us have a role to play in that. So the chief executive and I are absolutely determined that this time all the recommendations are going to be implemented. And when you go back and look at the previous reviews and restructurings, not all of those have been put into place. We’ve done a little bit here and a little bit there, and often responding to crisis and putting more into managing crisis.
But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Because everybody sets out with the best intentions, but this is your seventh year in power, so why are you just acting now?
I think when you look at what we’ve been doing with work around vulnerable children, we started and there was the Green Paper and the White Paper, which culminated in the Vulnerable Children’s Act, so my predecessor Paula Bennett started with that wider group of children who are in vulnerable circumstances – about 100,000 at any one time. That’s all in place. We’ve got children’s teams; we’ve got the community; the $330 million that MSD invests each year, that’s been redeveloped and refocused. And so now we’ve got the very tip of the iceberg, which is the top of that triangle.
I understand that, but some of the figures that you referred to this week that you said you were horrified and embarrassed about; one in particular was from 2010 showing that 23% of kids that go back to their biological families are revictimised, reabused. But those figures, as I said, from 2010. So why wasn’t something done about that in the past five years?
So, it was at the time. It fed into a review which made some recommendations, and some things were done. What’s clear—
Another review, other recommendations, more paperwork.
But what’s clear is that no one has ever gone back and monitored and checked and evaluated if what they were doing is actually working. You know the old adage – if you keep doing the same things the same way, you’ll get the same results. And so that’s very clear from the expert panel’s review. They’ve got underneath all that data. For years we’ve heard how the notifications were increasing. We’ve put more money into more social workers, because they were overworked and overstretched. What the review panel has found is that now almost two-thirds of those children are now known to CYF already, and they’ve been churning back through the system, so we’ve been creating that extra workload by not dealing with those children well and their families in the first place.
Let’s look at—
It’s stuff like that that the panel’s got underneath for the first time.
Let’s look at the panel’s report, then, and look at some of the things they have identified. Front-line social workers have spent more than half their time shuffling paperwork. Why?
That’s because this is a system that has responded. Every time there’s a crisis and another child is horrifically abused and killed, there’s been another layer put in there to deal with that response, there’s been another review done, part of the recommendations have been taken up, and small changes have been made, which is why I’m saying I’m not going to be rushed into making a patch-up job. We have got to take this system apart and rebuild it, centred on the needs of those children.
Because you’ve just identified what is the system’s fault here. But when The Nation has talked to social workers this week, we hear that they’re flat out finding emergency placements; they’re ferrying, they’re like a taxi service for kids, taking them to school, taking them to other appointments; they’re working on paperwork, at the expense of long-term care that you want and they want.
And the system has demanded that of them.
I just want to finish this, Minister, because you’ve said, despite all those pressures on them, you’ve said that we shouldn’t expect a massive change in the numbers of staff.
Well, what I’ve said is when I’ve been asked, ‘Will social workers lose their jobs?’ We need those social workers. I can’t see that we would need viewer social workers. But actually, the report tells you only about 25% of the workforce are actually working directly with children. We’ve got lots of managers and supervisors and people who are filling in forms.
But isn’t that because there’s not enough of them?
Well, there’s 3000-odd staff, but only 25% of them are actually working with children. And of that 25%, they’re only spending 15% of their time actually with children.
So are you telling me that we need more back-room staff to allow those people to get on to the front line and deal with the kids?
What we need is a system that is designed to look after those children when they first come to our attention, we need good interventions with them and their families, and we need to free up the front-line social workers to do the work they come in every day to do which is to work with children, not a system that’s built on layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration, which is what we’ve got now.
But, Minister, you talk about the research and the reviews and evidence based… going ahead with evidence. But some evidence that was provided last year was the case-load review, which said that you were 350 social workers short. So can we expect more social workers?
We may well. We may also expect, and you talked to front-line—
But ‘may well’ is not a definitive answer, is it, Minister? So yes or no? Will we get more?
I don’t know, because the final system proposal will come to me in December, so I’m not going to pre-empt what the panel’s coming up with. What they’ve done in this interim report is give us the building blocks. They will come to me in December with the final system design and the costings for that. So there may well be more social workers. What there will be is a different mix. Because you talk to front-line social workers with the increasingly complex family dysfunction that they’re seeing and some of the complex needs of these kids; we know more about them, we can diagnose better. We need more specialist services, so we need more psychologists and psychiatrists and therapists.
All right.
All of that. So that will be a different mix that I’m expecting to get.
So you do – you do need more. Does that mean you’re going to hire more?
Well, we’ll wait and see what they put in place. But as I say, we’ve got 3000 social workers who work for us now in CYF. Only 25% of those are working with children. Surely we need to release some of those supervisors and administrators and whatever they’re doing filling in forms and bits of paper to be out there working with children. That’s what we want – a system that’s focused on the needs of those children.
Okay. Well, the report indicated you also need better social workers, so Labour’s got a private member’s bill would register all social workers, which means they would be police-checked, they would be professionally-trained. Are you going support that bill?
No, I’m not supporting that bill, and I’ve talked to Carmel. It’s not that I don’t support it. I’ve said to her that her timing is wrong. So I have asked the Social Workers Registration Board to do a review of their Act and to match with the final report that I get from the expert panel. They’re reporting back to me in December. So they are looking exactly at what do we mean by a social worker, what’s the career path. There’s a lot of people who work in the social sector that call themselves social workers, but what should a qualified, registered social worker look like?
One thing you have promised immediate action on is this nationwide drive to get more caregivers. How many do you think you need?
I think we need a lot more. A lot more, and that will be defined. But it’s not just about caregivers. Look, I think- What the report identifies is more and more of these children have very high and complex needs. We saw this when the chief executive and I went overseas earlier this year. Some caregivers, we will need people with high, specialist care, being able to provide that for some of these children. The average family is not going to be able to provide that. So we might need a structured system of caregiving.
Okay. Well, one of the statistics that you brought up was half of the caregivers that we’ve currently got are on benefits. Is that an ideal situation?
I don’t think it is. I don’t think it is for the family who are on a benefit that we know- I mean, it’s pretty hard to survive on a benefit. And for the children that go into those homes, they’re going into a home that will – that is under financial stress. What we want for these children is a better life, so we need to be looking broader and wider to New Zealand families to take- to take these children under their wing. Now, some of that will be fostering; some of that might be home for life, which is sort of a modern adoption.
Basically , am I right, you’re thinking – you’re looking for sort of an A-team of caregivers?
Yes. Yes, we are. We saw it in Norway, actually, where children that were identified with those high and complex needs – they described them as an A-team; I wouldn’t say that. I’d just say- I’d just say we’d be looking for some people with some extra special skills that we might pay more, we might provide specialist services to take care of things.
Okay. Well, you talk about more paying more, and I just want to pick up on that, because CYF caregivers are paid about $150-250 a week. We know one private company is paying $600 a week. Should you be matching that kind of figure?
Well, I think you’ve always got to be very careful that you’re not setting up a professional caregiving regime. And when you talk to people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money. What we need to do is make sure that they are well- those children are well-supported financially so that they are able to do all the things that other New Zealand children can.
So that’s definitely something that you’re looking at – increasing payments.
We certainly are, and the support that we give to caregivers. I mean, the Children’s Commissioner have talked about a ‘dump and run’, so- and that comes through to me clearly from those foster kids organisations.
But everything I’m hearing screams money. It screams money, and your own panel says this is going to take significant investment. So why do you keep saying you don’t want to throw money at this?
It’s because we want to invest money sensibly in areas where we know it’s going to make the greatest difference for kids. So- So the immediate reaction from people when the Children’s Commissioner’s report came out was, ‘You’ve got to put more money in here. You need more social workers. You need more money.’ We’ve seen that over the years every government has done exactly that, and nothing’s changed for those kids. What I’m saying is, ‘Yes, we’re going to have to put more money in, but let’s make sure we’re putting it into the right places that are going to get the best outcomes for the kids.’ And that might be in getting them more psychological support to deal with their initial trauma. That might need getting them caregivers at that very early stage. The kids themselves tell us – and I’ve got a youth- I’ve set up youth advisory group of young people that have been through care; we’ve got a couple of them still in care – they say make that- they say to us, ‘Make that first placement the best placement for us.’
Okay. Just in terms of money, you are asking, or wanting to set up an agency that advocates for the kids, but you’re not going to pay for that. You’re looking for philanthropic people to step in. So the report-
No, I haven’t said- I haven’t said the government won’t pay for it.
The report says – and you announced – that you’re talking to the charity sector, basically, to fund this. Isn’t that core government business, though?
No, what – no, what we’re saying is we’re actually going to do what I’m talking about, which is let the young people decide how they want that organisation to work. I don’t have any objection to putting government money into it, but I want it so that it works for them. So what I’m saying to my youth advisory panel, the Dingwall Trust panel; I think there’s another group out there – ‘There’s a group of philanthropists that are out there. They want to help you, and they’re looking for ways to assist you. I’m happy that you can, with the panel, have those discussions, and then come back to us in the final report.’ If there’s going to be Government money needed, I don’t have a problem with that. But I don’t want to design it. I want the young people to design it.
Okay, because some people would regard that as almost like outsourcing by stealth, having to go to another agency or charity to fund-
Well, if they become a lobby group that wants to be able to criticise Government and hold Government to account, they might need some independence.
But are you saying-? There are other Government bodies, or funded by Government. Are you saying they don’t have independence, like the Independent Police Conduct Authority, like the Ombudsman, like the Children’s Commissioner? They’re independent, and they get funded.
They are set up- they have- Yes, they are, but they are statutorily independent, so – this is an advocacy group. As I say, I want them to design it, and if they come back to say, ‘We want some seeding money underneath that from Government to keep it going,’ I don’t have a problem with that.
There’s a couple of things I want to get through in the time we’ve got left. Very quickly, the PM – the Prime Minister hasn’t ruled out more outsourcing. The report makes little mention of that. Can you rule out today that you won’t be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?
Look, I- Let’s put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.
Okay. One last thing before we go – you are looking at placements in family/whanau situations, because there’s been bad outcomes and reabuse, revictimisation. Do you have the numbers? If you want to change that family-first approach, which is in the legislation, do you have the numbers to make a change to that?
I think the report’s making the case that we have to think differently. In many cases, families can take care-
But would you have the numbers to get that through? Because the Maori Party is not going to support it; Peter Dunne says that he likes the approach of Tariana Turia, which is giving those families more support, not taking the children away.
I think where I come from – I don’t have the numbers, because I haven’t started talking, but I think it’s a good conversation we have to have – whose agenda is most important? Is it the children’s and their lives, or is it the adult agenda? So for me, I’m unashamedly on the side of the children. If their family can be supported and get themselves back on track and provide a safe and great environment for those kids, I’m all for that. But I want those kids to have the best opportunity for a good life.
All right. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Minister Anne Tolley.
Transcript provided by Able.

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  1. Mike C

     /  26th September 2015

    Tolley kept on using the term … “Layer upon Layer of Form Filling” and yet nothing good coming out of all of that time consuming and worthless paperwork.

    It’s clear that this is a deeply seated and entrenched mentality within a Government System that apparently goes back many decades.

    I am all for the entire way of doing things at CYFS being erased and something decent and humanitarian and cost effective coming out of its ashes 🙂

  2. DaveG

     /  26th September 2015

    Rather than bang on about what’s wrong with CYFS internally, how about the real root causes. Perhaps

    Decades of welfarism has encouraged two generations of entitled feral so who believe it’s their right to breed and claim money, with little regard for their offspring! Could this be part of the problem???

    Perhaps part of the solution is to have the worst offending sectors of the community take more ownership over a ten year period?? It won’t be the Asain community that Labour dislike, it’s far more likely to be the Maori and PI communities leading the stats, so why not reset their way of life, social mana, and hold them to account???

    Perhaps also, once a family has two strikes, it’s time to remove the children, and immediately STOP and benefits from the parent/s. The benefits go to the new caregiver, and perhaps provide an intensive parenting / training scheme (not run by Whanau) to allow the parent / caregiver to better look after their children, prior to them having their children again.

    A bit simplistic perhaps, but we need to start somewhere, the time for a CYFS full of caring socialists dishing out cups of tea, kind words and hugs is at an end, it has not worked.


    • jaspa

       /  26th September 2015

      I agree right, Dave. Tolley’s plan is to have a better-equipped ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. It’s not that it is not needed, of course, clearly it is, but the issues go a lot deeper and eventually someone is going to have to look at these root causes. I do not think, however, that this government has the balls to do it.

      • DaveG

         /  27th September 2015

        I agree with you they don’t have the testicular fortitude, but they have had some other good reform, Paula B has managed to stem excessive welfare spending and clamp down in many areas. That said, Labour will never look at the root causes, they might tinker with the ambulance, but No real reform. How I wish a real strategist could change the entire model, reverse the situation where CYFS is even needed and work in the community to change attitudes, expectations, and have a rapid response service to nip any issues in the bud.


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