Cash not answer for vulnerable kids: Bennett

KATIE KENNY
Last updated 17:36 28/05/2014

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Vulnerable Kiwi kids were at the centre of today's Ministry of Social Development social service committee financial review.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said an overhaul of services was needed, rather than injections of cash.

Child Youth and Family (CYF) funding had increased 28 per cent since 2006 when it was consolidated into the Ministry of Social Development.

"It's not about money, it's about professionals and non-governmental organisations working completely differently from what they're doing now," Bennett said.

"People have different pieces of the puzzle, but no-one's putting them together to see the true hell some of these children are living in."

New Zealand's largest government department was questioned for more than an hour at the financial review.

Snarkiness was rife, with members of Parliament told early on by the chairwoman to "have some respect" for one another.

Bennett last week announced the establishment of children's teams throughout the country, designed to help vulnerable families before they got to a point where CYF should become involved.

That reform was her "hardest" to date, she said today.

The fundamental basis of the children's action plan was to encourage the right kind of information sharing between services.

"Police and nurses and social workers sit around arguing whether or not it's their duty to address [a child's] needs," Bennett said.

"Stand outside the house where the child is experiencing extreme domestic violence and then ask who should be dealing with it.

"If those kids aren't the ones they're putting first, we've got big problems."

She admitted there was a "real gap" for children just under the threshold for CYF.

Benefit numbers overall had decreased by 5 per cent in the last year. Sole support had dropped 10 per cent.

Boosted youth services meant there were fewer teen pregnancies and fewer teen parents on benefits.

In response to questions on finer details from Sue Moroney, Labour spokeswoman on social development, Bennett said: "We have substantially fewer people on benefit. I know you don't like it, but it's true."

National MP Mike Sabin asked about Maori youth offending, where "over-representation is an age-old problem".

Bennett said Te Kainga-based programmes, helped by an increased budget, had reinvented and "empowered" family group conferences.

Bennett described the Workload and Casework Review published yesterday, which involved more than 600 social workers, as "the most comprehensive review [CYF] has ever seen".

Its findings supported the need for overhaul of CYF and other children's services, she said.

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