Should the voting age be lowered to 16?

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft has called on politicians to lead a nationwide discussion on lowering the voting age to 16.

Stuff:  Children’s Commissioner calls for discussion on lowering voting age to 16

Judge Andrew Becroft mooted the proposal at Parliament on Wednesday, when he appeared in front of the MPs on the Social Services Select Committee and said those teens would be “up for the responsibility”.

“I’m calling for a genuine discussion,” he said.

“All that I have seen about our democratic system, shows that those that are least involved and invested in it are our young. The lowest voting turnout is the 18-29 age group, we’ve got to do better.

I don’t know what effect lowering the voting age would have on the poor turnout of the 18-20 age group. Perhaps young people generally aren’t very interested in voting.

“I think provided it went hand-in-hand at good civics education, with a commitment to teach about the operation of Government, how kids can be involved, what voting means, everything I’ve seen indicates that 16 and 17-year-olds will be up for that responsibility.”

I presume that the civics education would be via schools – could teachers be relied on to teach children about politics impartially?

Becroft said a discussion was the best place to start.

“Something like [voting], which is fundamental to our way of doing, I’d rather it was done by a serious national discussion that was begun by MPs, community groups and school principals, and it would give everybody a chance to involve themselves.

“And of course there are disadvantages – 16 and 17-year-olds are still developing, there is much for them to learn. But they’re equally capable of expressing views and thinking about our future in encouraging and quite sophisticated ways.”

Becroft said children under 18 made up 23 per cent of New Zealand’s population however, but had no other way of influencing policy.

He isn’t proposing that that whole 23% of the population had the vote, just 3% of it.

“If they voted and had a lobby, I’m quite convinced that our policy for under 18-year-olds would significantly improve.

New Zealand led the world in how it cared for its aged population, with a universal superannuation scheme that was not means tested. However depravation rates between those under 18 and those over 65 were one of the worst in the world, according to OECD statistics.

“Some of that is because the elderly are deserving of our support and should be prioritised, but they have a vote and an influence as well.

“Children don’t have that. If 16 and 17-year-olds voted, you can guarantee there’d be a change.”

Yes, but what sort of a change?

Perhaps school children could lobby on improving schools and education – would teachers lobby against that?

I have no view on whether the voting age should be lowered to 16, or to 14, or at all, but having a discussion on it won’t do any harm.

Perhaps 16-18 year olds should be asked whether they want to be able to vote or not – they could vote on it.

The Nation – Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft

This morning  on The Nation – Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft “on child poverty, secure youth facilities, and should kids get more of a say in policy making”.

From the Office of  the Children’s Commissioner website:

Our Work: We advocate for the interests and well being of children and young people.

Children’s Rights: We provide advice to people who are concerned about a child or young person’s rights or wellbeing.


“We’ve had a problem for thirty years now, 70% of kids do well, 20% do badly and 10% do very badly”.

“I don’t think most NZers know how bad it is at the bad end”.

“We need a plan, we need targets, we need progress’.

We have a target to halve child poverty by 2030.

The Government says it is too hard to have a single measure but Becroft disagrees. He thinks we are in a muddle. We need as a country to make the target seriously, and that means setting other targets.

Says benefits should be indexed, much like Super.

Child poverty: “We could solve this issue… it’s within our ability if we had the will” Judge Becroft.

We don’t do enough to factor in children’s voices in decision making.

Should solo mums have their benefits docked if they don’t name the father? Becroft says it disadvantages kid.

Should 16 and 17 year olds be able to vote? Becroft says we should think about it.

Too many kids in the youth court had their brains scrambled by cannabis.

An inquiry into abuse in state care? Becroft hasn’t publicly supported this because his agency has been involved in the past. A key emphasis is on making things better in the future.

Interview:  Andrew Becroft

Transcript:  Lisa Owen interviews Andrew Becroft

Wills on CYFS and kids

Outgoing Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills has featured on Breakfast and Paul Henry this morning talking about what needs to be done to improve the care of children and the services of Child, Youth and Family.

NewsTalk ZB also covers this: Dr Russell Wills: Must listen to kids in CFYs care

The Children’s Commissioner said we need to know the meaning of “child-centred” if the new Child, Youth and Family system’s going to work.

Dr Russell Wills has today released his second New Zealand State of Care report – his final act in the role – it argues upcoming reforms don’t do enough to put children at the centre of CYF’s work.

He said child-centred literally means listening to the child – because that’s the only way we’ll ever actually meet their needs.

“The key thing that we want to see from Child Youth and Family for children in care is a much clearer idea – from the national office right the way down to the coalface – about what it means to be child-centred when looking after these children in care.”

He’s made three recommendations in the report, including getting a plan in place to reduce the risk of a dip in performance during the transition to the new Child, Youth and Family system.

“60,000 kids are going to come into contact with CYFs this year. These are the most vulnerable kids in our country, and we can’t afford a dip in performance for those kids.”

More people on the frontline of social work is being put forward as the solution to a possible drop in Child Youth and Family’s work.

From

“We have seen real change. I think the team have done a really good job [over the last 5 years]” Dr Russell Wills, Children’s Commissioner

Wide support for new Children’s Commissioner

Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft has been appointed as the new Children’s Commissioner.

NZ Herald: Outspoken child advocate overcame doubters

Mr Becroft, now 58, has been Principal Youth Court Judge for 15 years. He is an active member of the Karori Baptist Church and chairs the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship.

“Most of the serious young offenders are really struggling with neurodisability disorders including fetal alcohol syndrome, traumatic brain injury, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia and communication disorders,” he said.

This appointment has support across the political spectrum.

His appointment as Children’s Commissioner was welcomed yesterday across the political spectrum. Labour MP Jacinda Ardern, who was consulted on potential candidates, said Mr Becroft would be “fantastic”.

Green co-leader Metiria Turei said the decision was “exciting”.

Good to see that Ardern was consulted and that she and Turei strongly support Becroft.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said Judge Becroft would be seconded to the role for two years in what Ms Ardern described as a “change-manager” role to monitor CYF’s transformation into a new agency with a huge $1.3 billion annual budget to buy extra education, health, employment and social services for the families of about one in every five New Zealand children.

Judge Becroft said the proposed changes were a “visionary” approach to tackle the nation’s “utterly unacceptable child abuse and neglect record”.

“I hope there is an opportunity for even more of that vigorous debate to say this cannot continue and how is it that it is happening,” he said.

The CYF transformation and Becroft’s appointment will hopefully ensure ensure big steps forward in the State care of children.

More children “in poverty”

The Children’s Commissioner’s says that Nearly one third of children live in poverty – report.

Child poverty rates are on the up and nearly 30 percent of children now live without the basics, according to a new report by the Children’s Commissioner.

305,000 New Zealand children now live in poverty – 45,000 more than a year ago.

Sadly that’s more likely to invoke shrugs of indifference rather than outrage.

A major problem is that this is a statistical measure. While it points to real and serious issues most people’s perception of poverty is quite different to how they see New Zealand standards of living.

The report says nearly one in three children now live in poverty – defined as being in a household earning less than 60 percent of the median income after housing costs. Fifteen percent live in a cold house, lack decent clothing and go without fruit and vegetables.

By all those measures but one I grew up in poverty. I had plenty of fruit and more vegetables than I wanted, because we grew our own and swapped with neighbours. But money, lack of clothes and footwear and a cold house were a way of life for me.

Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills said the report was not aimed at policy makers.

“The public of New Zealand needs to understand the impact of poverty on children,” he said.

“The better our collective understanding and the more support there is to invest in these kids, the more support governments will have to invest in these children. So that’s the change we want to see.”

Dr Wills said the government was making some good moves, like insulating more homes and increasing benefits.

While the report did not make any formal recommendations, he said the government needed a more overarching plan to deal with child poverty.

“Each of these ad hoc things the government does doesn’t add up to a greater whole, and that’s why we need a plan.

“We need to set targets to reduce the number of children living in poverty.”

The Commissioner’s report also pushed the blame for child poverty off individual parents.

Lack of money and poor standards of living are real problems for many people.

But the poverty issue as framed is unlikely to outrage or prompt pressure to do much about it.

Most people don’t liken New Zealand poverty to international poverty.

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.

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

Children’s Commissioner wants ‘conversation’ on targeted welfare

Following on from How many children ‘in poverty’? is this report from NZ Herald that suggests that the Green Party approach to poverty is at odds with the Children’s Commissioner – Universal benefits challenged.

The Children’s Commissioner wants a rethink of universal services such as pensions and free children’s healthcare so more public spending can go to the neediest families.

The commissioner, Hastings children’s doctor Russell Wills, wants tomorrow’s Budget to start a national “conversation” about how to use limited public spending to best effect.

“We need all taxpayers’ funds to make the biggest difference they possibly can,” he said.

And that can only be done by targeting rather than blanket benefits.

“That might mean further targeting of some of those benefits that are currently universal.

“There are lots of examples of that, such as free healthcare under 13 for everybody, free early childhood education for everybody.

“It may be that very structured investment, if spent differently, could make more of a difference to health and education outcomes than it currently does.”

Dr Wills said elderly people would be willing to see more targeted pensions if the savings went to needy children.

Some would be willing, others would probably resent it.

It should be simple to allow pensioners to choose to divert some or all of their pension into a poverty fund.

He also nominated Working for Families as a programme that was “not as targeted as you think”.

A family with four children can get abated tax credits on incomes of up to $120,000 a year.

That doesn’t make sense – upper middle class welfare.

A report last week said 74 per cent of beneficiaries under age 25 came from intergenerational welfare families where their parents were also on benefits.

The report recommended giving priority to parents with children for intensive case management to break that cycle.

Just handing out more money to cement in a welfare class is nuts.

Dr Russel Wills’ call to men for less violence

Children’s Commissioner Dr Russel Wills has published an open letter marking White Ribbon anti-violence day.

To those it concerns,

Do your children see you get angry and shout? Have they watched you lash out at their mum? Do they cower in the corner when you enter a room? Are they frightened of you?

It doesn’t have to be like this for your children. It shouldn’t be like this.

When you are violent it always affects your kids. It changes their development and it changes how well they’ll do in life. When they grow up they are more likely to be violent themselves, or be victims of violence. They are more likely to have major mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems and physical problems.

As a pediatrician – I’ve seen your kids in my clinic. Kids like the four-year-old girl with a developmental age of two. And like the little boy who wasn’t learning at school; not because of ADHD (like everyone thought) but because he was terrified that when he got home mum would be hurt or dead.

Your kids still love you but they want you to change. I think you love your kids too. I think you want your kids’ lives to be better than yours. I’ve seen dads turn their lives around because they love their kids and they love their kids’ mum. You can too.

It’s not too late. I’m asking you to step up and get help right now. I know this is not easy but take a positive step for the sake of your kids.

You could start by taking the White Ribbon pledge to promise to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence towards women. You could talk to someone you trust about your behaviour and ask for help. You could call the Family Violence Information Line on 0800 456 450.

Be the kind of dad your kids would love you to be. They want you to walk into a room and give them a cuddle, or play with them or talk about their day. They want to be happy to see you.

Most men in New Zealand are not violent. Become one of them.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Russell Wills

 

Back the new Children’s Commissioner

Government agencies are dissed a bit. Sometimes they are dissed a lot. Lay off the new Child Commissioner – I think he’s a great person to be heading an agency that addresses one of the biggest problems we have in New Zealand.

New Children’s Commissioner announced  (TVNZ)
Tuesday May 03, 2011

The Head of Paediatrics at Hawke’s Bay District Health Board Dr Russell Wills is to be New Zealand’s new Children’s Commissioner.

Wills said he was “honoured and pleased” to be appointed to the role and believed his experience as a paediatrician would bring integrity to the job as he worked with many families on a daily basis who struggled with day-to-day life.

“In Hawke’s Bay over the past five years, <strong>we have halved non-accidental admissions to hospital of children</strong>, through our family violence programmes – we are all learning and there is every reason to be hopeful that by bringing together clinical networks and policy makers we will make a difference,” Wills said.

Dr Wills was interviewed on Marae Investigates this morning – if you didn’t see it I encourage you to have a look. Dr Wills is leading an approach to address a critical area of society that has been neglected – vulnerable families and vulnerable babies and infants.

The first five years is critical in influencing the outcomes for our kids. One of the best investments of public funds should be directed  at the most in need.

This doesn’t mean just increasing Early Childhood Education budgets. It means targeting the families that are less likely to get care and good education for their kids.

Maori and PI kids and families are over represented in bad statistics of health, abuse, illiteracy and eventual crime. It doesn’t mean “giving more money to Maori”. It means targeting the worst of the problem.

This is a long term problem with no quick easy fixes to tie in with an election cycle. But I think this is one of the best things we can invest public money in – the payback will good for the country as a whole.

It will mean children of desperation can be assisted into becoming children with a decent future, so our society can have a more decent future.

Support the Children’s Commissioner. Dr Russell Wills deserves all the support we can give him.