Ombudsman report – significant breaches by Oranga Tamariki ‘uplifting’ babies

Following revelations by Newsroom in June 2019 the Ombudsman investigated the Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), and in a report to Parliament “the ministry used its most extreme powers as a routine way to remove babies” from mothers.

Newsroom: An orchestrated litany of uplifts

The inquiry, by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the fourth following Newsroom’s revelations in June last year of an attempted ‘uplift’ by Oranga Tamariki of a newborn boy at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It looked back two years before that June 2019 case and in 74 of the 74 cases of baby removals it inspected, the ministry had applied to the Family Court for the draconian ‘without notice’ orders to take babies from parents. 

All 74 cases.

The ‘without notice’ provision is supposed to be the final option in cases of urgency where a baby is at serious risk and all other options have been tried.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report presents a litany of failure by Oranga Tamariki, saying in three quarters of the cases the ministry had more than 60 days to prepare for the baby’s arrival, hold meetings with whānau and iwi, seek ministry legal officer input, consult with hospitals and hold Family Group Conferences but did not do so.

He accepts applications were made because ministry staff had serious concerns for pēpi (babies), but it was essential staff understood and followed the law. Instead, OT failed its obligations under New Zealand and international law.

Boshier flatly declares the Oranga Tamariki decision making practices in the two years covered by his inquiry to be “unreasonable”.

“The evidence I have considered did not demonstrate that the ministry consistently met the objects and principles of the Act and the obligations under international law.”

From the report Foreword:

In May 2019, approximately halfway through the Ministry’s five-year transformation programme, Newsroom published a story about an attempt by the Ministry to remove a newborn pēpi from their young mother. The video documentary that later accompanied the original written article gave rise to public dismay and a questioning of the Ministry’s policies and practices.

The Government expressed confidence in the actions of the Ministry, yet media reports of further examples continued.

That confidence appears to have been misplaced.

My investigation found that the Ministry was usually aware of the pregnancy and reported concerns for a significant period before the birth of pēpi. In 77 percent of the cases I examined, the Ministry had 60 working days or more to assess and explore options, and to develop plans to ensure the safety of pēpi. However, the Ministry did not consistently utilise the available tools and mechanisms, such as hui ā-whānau and FGCs, to engage early with parents and whānau.

The Ministry also did not use that window of opportunity to plan early with professionals and external parties. In most of the cases, the Ministry did not meet the formal timeframe for completing its assessments. I also found variable use of the key checks and balances, such as referrals to Care and Protection Resource Panels, use of the Child and Family Consult, professionals meetings, completion of the Ministry’s assessment tool (Tuituia) and professional supervision.

The outcome is that in many cases decisions were being made late and without expert advice or independent scrutiny, and, most concerningly, without whānau involvement.

Key findings:

  • I found that urgency was created through the Ministry’s inaction and lack of capacity to follow processes in a timely and effective way. As a consequence, parents were disadvantaged—first, by not having an opportunity to respond to the allegations or challenge the information relied upon by the Ministry before their pēpi were removed, and second, by having to challenge orders after they were made, and when the parents were vulnerable because they were either heavily pregnant or had just given birth.
  • I found that the rights of disabled parents were not visible in either policy or practice. All the cases I reviewed required a disability rights-based response from the Ministry but this did not occur. That is a significant breach of the Disability Convention.
  • In terms of the Ministry’s practices relating to the physical removal of newborn pēpi, my investigation also found there was late or limited planning and engagement with parents and whānau and other external professionals.
  • I also found limited support was offered to mothers who wished to breastfeed.
  • Finally, I am not satisfied that, when the removal was executed by the Ministry, it provided parents and whānau with the opportunity for ngākau maharatanga me te ngākau aroha; a period of ‘quality time’ that reflects consideration, empathy, sympathy and love.
  • In addition, the Ministry did not ensure that the parents and whānau had their support people present. Nor did it provide them with clear information on next steps. There was also no support offered to parents and whānau to deal with the trauma and grief of child removal, or to help their healing.

This is strong criticism of Oranga Tamariki – Newsroom says the report is ‘scathing’ and is a ‘damning inquiry’.

In a Beehive media release Minister for Children – Subsequent children legislation to change – Tracey Martin downplayed the problems.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

Martin didn’t specifically mention the Ombudsman report, which I think is a remarkable avoidance, but did refer to “a review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau.”

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said.

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

This from Stuff seems to have pre-empted the report, in part making excuses and downplaying the problems – Tracey Martin on uplift controversy: Oranga Tamariki ‘believed the child was in danger’:

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin is to scrap Children’s Teams, small task forces set up to stop at-risk children from falling into state care.

The move comes as the Government tries to wrestle back control of the narrative in an explosive debate over the number of Māori children taken into care.

Hundreds of protesters rallied at Parliament on Tuesday, calling for a halt to Government uplifts of Māori babies. Protests were also held in other cities.

Martin said the “emotive” language used by organisers Hands off our Tamariki wasn’t helpful.

I hope she finds the report from the Ombudsman a lot more helpful.

The full report from the Ombudsman:

A Matter of Urgency:

Investigation Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

Oranga Tamariki a scapegoat for serious societal problems – our problems

As a number of people have said, Oranga Tamariki is damned if they do  take babies from mothers, but they are also damned if babies are left in the care of at risk families and are seriously harmed or killed.

It may be found that Oranga Tamariki can improve procedures around the ‘uplifting’ of babies – taking a baby from a mother should only be done if there are no other safe options for the baby, a last resort.

The ‘uplifting baby’ issue is an unfortunate symptom of serious societal problems.

A family lawyer writes:  The other side of the Oranga Tamariki baby uplift story

It’s hard watching, but it didn’t leave me wondering how Oranga Tamariki could be so cruel, or how the social worker could have made such an error of judgment, or why the family wasn’t given a chance to try, or how our legal system could allow such an injustice to happen.

I didn’t wonder, because I’m a family lawyer. Everyday I spend my 8.30 till 5  – but usually longer – dealing with the effects that drugs and alcohol, child abuse, domestic violence, neglect and poor choices have on our tamariki. I knew there’d be another side to that story, one the public won’t hear because everyone who could tell it is bound by court confidentiality.

New Zealand has the highest rates of reported domestic violence in the OECD, and Hawke’s Bay has the highest rates in New Zealand. Our rates of child abuse also leave us as an outlier among our OECD friends.

Domestic violence impacts either directly or indirectly on babies and children, and is a far bigger problem than uplifting babies (which is done to try to prevent harm).

Protection orders and domestic violence are the family lawyer’s bread and butter. There are few cases in which methamphetamine or violence isn’t an issue. We attempt to get parents to engage, and address the issues placing their children at risk. We fight every day for the children who do not get a say in their own welfare. Oranga Tamariki does this too.

The decision to uplift is never made by one person acting alone, or without professional consultation. It’s never made without genuine care and protection concerns.

Social workers and Oranga Tamariki almost certainly almost always have genuine care and protection concerns when mking decisions on the safety of babies.

Children must first come to the attention of Oranga Tamariki via a report of concern – schools, doctors, or people within the community are making these reports, which social workers are tasked with investigating. Attempts are made to engage with families. But if families refuse to engage, and concerns are substantiated, little choice is left for Oranga Tamariki.

In serious cases, a “without notice” application is made to the Family Court, for a decision on an uplift before the parents have a chance to be heard by the judge. An order without notice has to reach a very high threshold, so many things have to happen before that point.

I’d rather open the newspaper and read an article slamming Oranga Tamariki for getting it wrong than read yet again about a child being killed at the hands of the person tasked with keeping them safe. They’re the decisions Oranga Tamariki has to make on a daily basis – and they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

The current focus is on the procedures used by Oranga Tamariki in uplifting some babies, but…

The blame sits on all of our shoulders.

Oranga Tamariki has the job no-one else wants.

We should be asking ourselves what we can do to help address domestic violence, drugs and alcohol, and child abuse – regardless of a child’s bloodlines. If you are lucky enough to not be faced with these issues, you are privileged and you have a duty to use that privilege to help those without.

Drug reform? More supportive live-in facilities for new parents? More stopping violence education? Further Māori education? I don’t know the magic answer, but I urge you: instead of jumping on the  “Oranga Tamariki is wrong” bandwagon, have a think about how you can become an ally to improve our culture for the sake of our children.

A culture is created on the actions and intentions of a society. A society creates a culture, and a society can therefore recreate it.

It’s easy to sit back and criticise others, and too think that domestic violence, all violence in society, isn’t our problem, it’s something we can blame on others.

But uplifting babies, and babies being hurt and killed, is just one of the worst aspects of a sick society that we are all a part of.

Domestic violence can be physical, and it can also be verbal (thee two are usually associated).

Online violence is ‘just’ verbal – but there is a lot of verbal abuse on online forums, there are frequent personal attacks. There is a lot of vile and violent behaviour online. This can normalise abuse and violence, that can affect the use of violence in the physical world.

Confronting online abuse and violence must play a part in confronting societal abuse and violence – but it can be bloody difficult. Online abusers tend to react badly to having their behaviour challenged and criticised. They tend to attack anyone who questions their behaviour – I know this from ten years of experience confronting online abuse.

And when other people see this happening I’m sure it deters them from doing likewise and challenging abusive behaviour.

This also happens in the offline world.

It’s easier to lash out and blame social workers and Oranga Tamariki.

Uplifting babies and interfering in families can be a very emotional issue – but so is domestic abuse and violence, for many more babies and children.

Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, violence – these are the core problems that lead to many other societal problems.

Societal problems need society solutions. Blaming others is not a solution. We all have to take some responsibility. Society is made up of many attitudes and actions, which we all contribute to.

I’m not a violent person, but I feel a responsibility to do something about violent and abusive behaviour.  I think we should all be thinking about how we can make our society safer for babies, for children, for all of us.

The famaiy lawyer says:

I don’t know the magic answer, but I urge you: instead of jumping on the  “Oranga Tamariki is wrong” bandwagon, have a think about how you can become an ally to improve our culture for the sake of our children.

Oranga Tamariki under pressure on taking babies from parents

The story about Oranga Tamariki  taking babies from parents continues to look troubling. Oranga Tamariki  has tried to legally suppress Newsroom coverage but has failed.

The original story: NZ’s own ‘taken generation’

Today we launch a powerful new video story by Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid into the attempted ‘uplift’ of a newborn baby from its mother at a maternity ward by the children’s agency Oranga Tamariki.

For the first time, the process involved in taking a baby from its mother is laid bare. The filming, carried out in the hospital room, shows the pressure a young Māori mother is subjected to as she tries to keep her seven-day-old baby.

The case, which Newsroom reported here and here, has iwi leaders calling for a new national approach to resolve the high incidence of Māori parents losing their babies through Oranga Tamariki applications to the Family Court.

All those spoken to by Newsroom accepted intervention could be needed in cases where clear risks arose to a child’s safety – but they argue there is strong whānau support for the mother and child in this case and similar examples exist of Oranga Tamariki refusing to revise its decisions to take children.

Three Māori babies a week are being ‘uplifted’ from their mothers and of 283 babies taken into care last year, more than 70 percent were Māori or Pasifika.

Increasingly, those aware of the level of removals of Māori babies are discussing the term ‘Stolen Generation’, reflecting the systematic policy in Australia of taking indigenous children from their communities.

The documentary, which can be viewed above, contains detailed footage from inside the mother’s hospital room as officials repeatedly attempt to persuade her to give up the child. At one point Oranga Tamariki officials arrived at night after her whānau had left her alone with her week-old baby in the room and did not relent until a 2am intervention by a tribal leader and police commander.

Newsroom: Judge declines OT action vs Newsroom

A Family Court judge has declined a bid by children’s agency Oranga Tamariki to force changes to a Newsroom video story about its attempt to take a newborn baby from its teenage mother.

The agency wanted the court to make Newsroom – and Stuff.co.nz which also published the documentary – remove details from the story but Judge Max Courtney said it wasn’t for him to rule on – either the law had been breached or it hadn’t and if so Oranga Tamariki could report Newsroom to the police.

Oranga Tamariki’s action, following an attempted complaint to the Media Council over earlier stories on the case, was lodged by lawyer Linda Clark for her firm Kensington Swan as an urgent memorandum to the court.

Lawyers for Newsroom, and website Stuff.co.nz which also published the Newsroom story, told the court they rejected Oranga Tamariki’s claims about alleged breaches of the Family Court Act and would oppose their bid for orders to have changes made to the video story.

The video showed a case at Hawke’s Bay Hospital in which three Oranga Tamariki social workers, with police support, tried over two days to take a week-old baby boy from his mother after persuading the Family Court to provide them with an uplift order, citing the safety of the child.

The whānau and the woman’s midwives say the young mother is being blamed by association with her and her partner’s wider family’s background and has strong, caring support.

After strident opposition from the mother and father, their two mothers and whānau, and two midwives and iwi representatives, Oranga Tamariki said it would not try to take the baby but returned at night, when the mother was on her own and tried until the early hours to persuade her to hand over the child. Her midwife and family were barred by the hospital, security and police from entering the hospital to be with her.

Finally she was allowed to stay with the baby and leave the hospital with the boy and stay at a care facility. A further court hearing on the bid to remove the child is set for next week, but the children’s agency has said in a statement that the mother and child have done well and it is ‘supporting’ them.

Oranga Tamariki attempted the court action against Newsroom on the basis this site had identified the child and mother, which Newsroom and Stuff reject.

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Gráinne Moss defended her agency’s actions around uplifts to Parliament’s social services committee on Wednesday morning, saying 98.5 percent of Māori children were not in care.

“It’s one of the hardest things, if not the hardest thing, that a social worker ever does – but they do not do that alone, they do that with other professionals, they also do that with the Family Court, they’ve often worked extensively for a long period of time.”

This is a very difficult thing to deal with. Oranga Tamariki are damned if they don’t intervene enough, and damned if they do.  But this situation looks bad, and finding better ways of dealing with it should be a priority.

Minister for Children Tracey Martin on Oranga Tamariki taking newborn babies from mothers

Minister for Children Tracey Martin was interviewed on Newshub Nation this morning, and was asked about the jump in the number of newborn Maori babies being taken from their parents by Oranga Tamariki in the last three years.

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Minister for Children Tracey Martin

Simon Shepherd: Minister for Children Tracey Martin, Thanks for your time this morning. So, we’ve seen this jump in the number of newborn Maori babies being taken from their parents in the last three years. Is that because it’s a directive from Oranga Tamariki to get involved earlier?

Tracey Martin: First of all – two things – between 2015 and 2017, certainly, there was an increase in the uplift of babies. Between 2017 and 2018, there’s been a decrease. In the Waikato, there’s been a decrease; in the Hawke’s Bay, there’s been an increase. So none of this is just a standard ‘we’re going in and picking up babies’, which is a little bit what is being portrayed across the media at the moment.

Okay. But there has been— I mean, let’s just talk about those figures. Maori babies in the first seven days, between 2015 and 2016 – 164 in those two years. Bring it forward, 2017, 2018 – 230. And that’s in the first seven days of a newborn. And in the first three months, there’s been a 33% increase.

Sure. And I would think that some of this is around the ‘subsequent baby’ situation, which was a piece inside the Oranga Tamariki legislation put in by the previous government. I believe that the intent of that insertion was appropriate – which means that what we’re talking about here is that the mum, the parents, have already had a child that has been removed due to neglect or violence or other issues, and then they now have another baby coming. So what the intent of that legislation was was – is the second child, the subsequent child, safe?

Okay. You talk about measurable outcomes in this legislation. So what are these measurable outcomes? Are you going to put targets in place to reduce the number of Maori in care?

I don’t like targets; that’s the first thing.

So that’s a no?

Yeah, because that says that there’s an acceptable level. I want to see a reduction of— And actually, something like 80% of the Maori children who are in the care of the Oranga Tamariki are living in whanau placements. So they’re not inside care and protection areas or anything like that. They are with whanau, but the CE still technically has legal guardianship rights over them.

Well, if you look at the statistics, 59% of children in care are Maori, and yet Maori are 15% of the population.

That’s right.

Would it not be a goal to say it would be actually representative of the population?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a wonderful goal for it to be representative of the population. But let’s be clear –Oranga Tamariki cannot change all the social ills; Oranga Tamariki’s job is to protect children.

Okay, so, that case has been in the headlines, but I’ve talked to other social agencies, and they’ve given me an example of a 17-year-old who had a baby, went to have a shower after three hours and came back, and the baby had been taken.

Is that in Oranga Tamariki’s time?

Yeah. In the last year, yeah.

Right. So I would be very interested if people— In the same way that I have made the offer to Jean through the MP Meka Whaitiri, I would be very interested for them to actually email me specifically about those cases.

Okay. You talk about measurable outcomes in this legislation. So what are these measurable outcomes? Are you going to put targets in place to reduce the number of Maori in care?

I don’t like targets; that’s the first thing.

So that’s a no?

Yeah, because that says that there’s an acceptable level. I want to see a reduction of— And actually, something like 80% of the Maori children who are in the care of the Oranga Tamariki are living in whanau placements. So they’re not inside care and protection areas or anything like that. They are with whanau, but the CE still technically has legal guardianship rights over them.

Well, if you look at the statistics, 59% of children in care are Maori, and yet Maori are 15% of the population.

That’s right.

Would it not be a goal to say it would be actually representative of the population?

Oh, absolutely. It’s a wonderful goal for it to be representative of the population. But let’s be clear –Oranga Tamariki cannot change all the social ills; Oranga Tamariki’s job is to protect children.

Full transcript: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1905/S00273/the-nation-minister-for-children-tracey-martin.htm

30% pay increase for social workers

Oranga Tamariki social workers will get an average pay boost of 30% spread over two years. This has been called  achieving pay equity, but that’s a vague claim. Nevertheless, I think that social work is demanding, very important, and had been grossly underpaid, so this is a meaningful adjustment.


Pay equity near for Oranga Tamariki social workers

Cabinet has agreed to fund a pay equity settlement for Oranga Tamariki social workers, Minister for Children Tracey Martin announced today.

The Minister said that an agreement in principle has been reached between Oranga Tamariki and the PSA on a settlement worth $114.6m over five years.

“I want to acknowledge the efforts of both the Oranga Tamariki and the PSA, who have worked together in good faith to examine the claim and reach agreement.

“This is another demonstration of this Government’s commitment to pay equity for all women in New Zealand. Just a week after we celebrated 125 years of women’s suffrage, this decision recognises a historic gender-based undervaluation of Oranga Tamariki social workers, who perform vital work in keeping children and families safe.”

The pay equity settlement applies to more than 1300 Oranga Tamariki social workers and will see an average lift in their salaries of 30.6% over a two year period.

Oranga Tamariki and PSA will jointly present the settlement to those in scope of the claim, at a series of meetings around New Zealand over the two weeks from October 8.

Oranga Tamariki social workers, who are PSA members, will then vote on whether to accept it.


From a report on 1 News showing social workers and union officials celebrating it seems like it’s a done deal.

PayScale says that the range of current salaries for social workers is NZ$39,580 – NZ$66,440 with a median of $49,853. That isn’t much for a job requiring special skills working in a very demanding field.

The Oranga Tamariki and PSA Pay Equity Working Group has worked closely together since April 2017 to assess the Social Worker pay equity claim and apply the principles agreed by the Joint Working Group in 2015.

So this process of reassessment of wage levels began under the last government and has been completed this term. That’s a common cross-term process.

It is an increase of government expenditure on top of significant increases for nurses, with teachers, police and other sectors also lining up.

I think it is likely to put pressure on private sector social worker employers who will either have to match the increases or risk not attracting and retaining staff. They are mostly taxpayer funded organisations so the Government may have to come to the party there too.

But I think it’s hard to argue with a decent increase for the workers.

 

 

Nation: Minister of Children on Oranga Tamariki changes

Minister of Children Tracey Martin will be interviewed on Newshub’s Nation this morning:

2017’s launch of Oranga Tamariki signaled hope for New Zealand’s most vulnerable children. Lisa Owen asks Minister for Children Tracey Martin how much has changed under the revamped organisation – and whether life is really better for our kids in care.

Progress will be difficult to measure and it may be too soon to tell whether things have improved appreciably. This is a very challenging portfolio.

Tracey Martin says only 150 caregivers have been recruited since Oranga Tamariki’s formation. The target is 1000.

Newshub Nation has learnt that children in state care are being kept in motel rooms because there are not enough caregivers for them – Tracey Martin says that is a major concern.

…says Oranga Tamariki is not fulfilling its promise to kids they took out of their homes

One caregiver told Newshub Nation that a social worker didn’t meet their child for eight months, others say they are fearful of the Ministry’s direction. Tracey Martin said thats “interesting”.

Social workers and carers have told Newshub Nation that they are on the verge of revolt.

Martin says she wasn’t aware of this level of concern and says she has had good feedback from meetings she has had.

It could be that progress (or lack of) varies in different parts of the country.

Record number of children in state care

There is a record number of children in state care, in part because the eligible age rising from 17 to 18 last year. This could be good or bad news, or both.

If an increasing number of children need state care for their safety and well being it is good that they are being cared for, but it must be a concern at the number requiring care.

RNZ: Record number of children in state care – more than 6000

There are now more than 6000 children in state care – an all-time record high.

Oranga Tamariki said about half of that increase was due to the age of state care rising from 17 to 18 last year.

Up from 5600 a year ago.

But Oranga Tamariki, the ministry that replaced Child, Youth and Family a year ago, is struggling to recruitenough caregivers to keep up with the increasing demand on its services.

Figures provided by the ministry show that at the end of February, Oranga Tamariki had about 3800 caregivers on its books.

It can be a difficult job to do.

The ministry’s general manager of caregiver recruitment and support, Janet Smart, said there was a caregiver shortfall.

For every extra child in state care, ideally there would be an extra caregiver, Ms Smart said.

Jonelle McNeill from Barnardos, which is contracted by Oranga Tamariki to provide foster carers, said there was a large unmet need for caregivers.

“I understand for Auckland, at any given time, there is a shortfall of up to 20 caregivers, particularly for children who have got challenging behaviours.”

Looking after some of society’s most vulnerable children was not easy, Ms McNeill said.

“It’s a really tough job … but not just anybody can be a caregiver.”

Oranga Tamariki said it had piloted a 24-7 caregiver support line, which would be rolled out nationally in the first half of this year.

A hot-line already in use is busy – RNZ: Child abuse hotline overwhelmed by calls

A pre-school manager trying to report an at-risk child to Oranga Tamariki was on hold for over half an hour with no answer, then again for 20 minutes, she says.

The incident yesterday left the manager, Jane*, worried that ordinary members of the public having to wait this long may give up and that cases of child abuse may go unreported.

Set up last year as the replacement for Child, Youth and Family, one of Oranga Tamariki’s main stated objectives is to put the safety of children first.

Those wanting to report cases of abuse or neglect are directed to the agency’s website to call a special toll free number.

Jane said she had gone to do so after being told about an incident involving a child and a parent.

“The child, I perceived, was at risk. There was certainly an erratic, aggressive parent involved and other issues that I had just learned of that day. Certainly the child could be at risk.”

After getting through to Oranga Tamariki’s Auckland call centre and providing some details of what had happened, Jane was told she would be put through to a social worker.

But after waiting for 31 minutes on hold, Jane gave up.

Help lines, and care giving, need to be properly resourced to meet demand. As well as being necessary regardless of cost, it is likely to save money in the long run.

 

8 improvements for Oranga Tamariki

CYF (Child, Youth, Family) have a controversial record. They ceased to exist at the end of March, and have been replaced by the Controversially named Minister for Vulnerable Children, known less cringingly as Oranga Tamariki.

Stacey Kirk suggests there are Eight things the new Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Vulnerable Children must do better than CYF.

It’s carrying the weight of a record number of children placed in CYF care in the past year, and Government expects the ministry to usher in a new era of child care and support.

Here are 8 things it must do better, if it’s to be a success:

1. Children must be heard

A panel of former CYF kids has advised on nearly every facet of setting up the new system. Above all, they told Minister Anne Tolley and a panel of experts leading the overhaul that they only ever wanted to be in a safe, stable and loving home.

That may or may not be with their parents, but a child knows where they feel the most comfortable to thrive and often, it will be with family. Wherever possible, the children’s voice can’t just be heard but listened to.

Not just listened to but given priority to, except in exceptional circumstances.

2. All rates, (but in particular Maori rates), of re-abuse must come down

Rates of re-abuse among Maori children, once they leave the care of Child, Youth and Family, are startling.

It’s a given that abuse and especially re-abuse rates have to come down. It’s not just up to Oranga Tamariki but they will be an essential part of many solutions.

3. Children cannot be passed around 

Ministry research shows that countless numbers of children in state care said they wanted to stay in the same place. They wanted stability.

Taking a child away from their family is traumatic, but in some case the act of moving them back again multiple times can be just as harrowing.

After safety stability is important, but it can be difficult to achieve. There have to be enough stable alternatives to family.

4. Resources must be adequate

This new system will change the emphasis to working with families at the earliest opportunity, to make sure children don’t have to be removed.

For that, resources need to be bolstered and used far more efficiently than they are now.

If significant funding increases aren’t in next month’s budget then it will be an ongoing struggle to make any progress. Investing more money now should save it in the longer term.

5. Information sharing

Information between agencies like social workers and health professionals and police is very contentious, but kids have fallen through some very big cracks due to a lack of information being available to the right people.

6. Cutting down the paperwork

Many cry out for more social workers – they of course, would be helpful. But hiring more social workers is a wasted exercise if they’re still having to spend more than 50 per cent of their time on paperwork.

Tolley says work is being done by the new Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss to cut down KPIs – or targets – from more than 200, to 60.

Good paperwork is essential, but too much paperwork takes too much time and there is a risk of information overload that detracts from effective care.

7. Reduce the number of children going into care

Tolley has set a lofty target here herself: “That within a generation of care we’re talking hundreds of children in care, rather than thousands.

The latest figures showed a record high of nearly 5500 children in CYF care at the year to December, 2016. Taking that down to the hundreds within a generation is a target many would be happy to hold the Government to.

That’s a huge improvement – if it can be achieved. It won’t be easy.

8. Support families to help themselves

The biggest measure of success surely has to be a country of families in which CYF does not need to have a presence.

There will always be some who need help. But if this work is a success, within that same generation it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a circuit breaker where New Zealand families thrive together and don’t abuse or neglect their children at all.

Abuse and neglect can’t be eliminated altogether, but it has to be significantly reduced. Massively reduced.

Oranga Tamariki

Yesterday a new Ministry was announced dedicated for the care and protection of children.

Like the Children’s Commissioner and many others I really don’t like the English name of the new Ministry so it may be better known by the Maori version – Oranga Tamariki.

Tamariki is well known as being young people, children.

oranga

1. (noun) survivor, food, livelihood, welfare, health, living.

So Oranga Tamariki looks appropriate enough.


New ministry dedicated to care and protection

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says that a new child-centred, stand-alone ministry with a new Chief Executive is to be established to focus on the care and protection of vulnerable children and young people.

Cross-agency advice from the State Services Commission, Treasury and MSD has recommended that, given the significance and scale of the proposed reforms to state care and protection, a stand-alone department is most likely to provide a single point of accountability, clear organisational focus and the ability to attract strong leadership. This reflects the advice given by the Minister’s independent expert panel, and has been agreed by Cabinet.

The new department, named the Ministry for Oranga Tamariki will begin operating by April 2017.

“The new ministry, new name and completely new operating model reflects our determination to remain absolutely focused on the individual needs of each child,” says Mrs Tolley.

“The inclusion of an aspirational Maori name as part of the title reinforces our clear expectation that much more needs to be done to address the fact that 6 out of ten kids in care are Maori.

“This is not a rebranding exercise. It is how this ministry performs, rather than its name, which will make a difference for vulnerable young people. It will also require strong leadership to implement the massive changes required over the next 4-5 years, as well as embed the necessary culture change within staff.”

Following an in-depth analysis and a detailed business case from the expert panel, the Minister recently announced wide-ranging state care reforms as part of a radical long-term overhaul, which will see the current crisis-management CYF system replaced by a completely new model which addresses the short and long-term wellbeing of at-risk children and supports their transition into adulthood.

This new ministry will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending, and will have the ability to directly purchase vital services such as trauma counselling as soon as they are needed by children.

A major transformation programme is underway at the moment, supported by $200 million of initial new investment in Budget 2016, and this is taking place alongside normal CYF operations which have received an extra $144 million for cost pressures.

Legislation is currently going through Parliament which will raise the age of state care and protection to a young person’s 18th birthday, ensure that children’s voices are heard in decisions which affect them, and establish an independent youth advocacy service.

“The long-term outcomes for young people in the current system are simply atrocious,” says Mrs Tolley.

“When we started this process nearly a year and a half ago, I promised that there would be no more tinkering around the edges. Fourteen reviews and numerous reorganisations have not improved the outcomes for children.

“A detailed, long-term plan over a number of years is required.

“Too many kids who come into contact with CYF end up on a benefit, or in prison, or with few qualifications. This has to stop. They deserve better than this, and the new operating model will put the needs of children first, above everything else, so that they can have the opportunity to live happy and successful lives.

“I’m also pleased to announce that a new Youth Advisory Panel comprised of young people in state care or with experience of state care will advise me and the transformation team as the new system is developed over the next few months.

“For too long the needs and opinions of children and young people in the care system have been ignored. The Youth Advisory Panel, the independent youth advocacy service, and legislation requiring that children’s voices must be heard in decisions affecting them, will mean that the new system is truly child-centred.”

The new Ministry will be reviewed after two years to ensure that it is working as it should and that it is delivering the expected results for children and young people.

Cabinet papers relevant to the overhaul of care and protection are available at:

http://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/investing-in-children/index.html

Related speech from Anne Tolley: New ministry to focus solely on vulnerable children