'Horrifying' outcomes for CYF kids warrant a 'whole new model' - Tolley

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has released a major report into the workings of CYF. "Transformational change ...
BEN CURRAN/ FAIRFAX NZ

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has released a major report into the workings of CYF. "Transformational change is required," she says.

"Horrifying" statistics show children under the care of Child Youth and Family are struggling to break free from a cycle of continued abuse and re-victimisation, a major report has found.

A high-level interim report into the systems used by the state carer calls for a complete overhaul of the way it operates.

Children were not being put at the centre of care, and a "fragmented system" lacked common purpose or accountability.

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That left a "concerning level of re-abuse for children who have been in care". 

It's the report of an expert group appointed by Social Development Minster Anne Tolley to modernise CYF and enhance its governance.

Led by senior public servant Paula Rebstock, it was given a wide-ranging brief to consider all aspects of its operations.

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Tolley said the business case for change was "extremely compelling and concerning".

"It provides a vital overview which is being used to design our radical overhaul of the CYF system, which I have no doubt will require targeted additional investment and reprioritisation of resources to get the best possible results for our vulnerable young people."

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The report highlighted that while new notifications had been falling over the last few years, demand for CYF services had increased as a result of children re-entering the system on multiple occasions.  

In a speech to CYF and foster carers Tolley said it was "horrifying" to see the outcomes of children who end up in state care. 

"By the time children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to June 1991 had reached the age of 21; almost 90 per cent were on a benefit. Over 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child," she said.

"Almost 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2. More than 30 per cent had a youth justice referral by the age of 18, [and] almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence. almost 40 per cent had a community sentence.

"Overall, six out of every ten children in care are Maori children."

"This shows that the current system is not effective in intervening early to provide the support that these children deserve, so that they don't need to come back into contact with CYF," Tolley said.

The expert group found an increasing proportion of the children being referred to CYF each year were children who were already known to the agency.

Among the recommendations was an increase to the age limit of children that CYF care for, it did not recommend what the age should be. 

Currently at 17, the report said other comparable countries had age limits for care set between 18 and 21. 

The report also called for a national children's advocacy service for children, to be led by the philanthropic sector. 

It leaves the door open for the Government to continue its investment approach, and work with the private sector to deliver social outcomes. 

New "key areas" would underpin a new CYF model. They included a child-centred system, "where the voices and needs of children and young people are at the forefront of everything the agency does".

An investment approach would use data and evidence to target earlier intervention.

Staff had to be allowed to use their professional judgment and cultural competence to support children "based on clear principles, rather than rules, compliance and time-driven practice".

New Zealanders and communities also had to engage, and take action to support vulnerable children.

A feasibility study of an investment approach to improving outcomes for the children was being commissioned by MSD at the request of the panel, and the findings would inform the panel's final report, due in December. 

That would be a detailed business case including costings, timeframes and recommendations for legislative reform.

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY:

The report follows one done by the Children's Commissioner in August, the Government department was failing thousands of children. 

Commissioner Russell Wills has welcomed today's report, saying it set out a "promising platform" for reform.

"Children in the care and protection system have been let down. But this new report makes an important point: we all have a part to play in improving the outcomes of these children. It is not the responsibility of Child, Youth and Family alone."

While CYF social workers were "integral", they were only one part of these children's lives.

"Schools, families, communities, charities, businesses, health providers and other government agencies have the power to change the lives and outcomes for these children." he said.

"What Child, Youth and Family can and must do is listen to children and young people. They can make sure the child's voice is heard. They can communicate with the other services involved in a child's care. They can measure and publicly report on care and protection outcomes. They can plan to improve.

"And Government can invest in these children; in young people leaving care, in caregivers, in social workers and their leaders and the systems that support practice. That investment can't come soon enough," Wills said.

Labour's children spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said the report supported Wills' findings, but there were concerns. 

"The question marks for us are around the incentives, or the investment approach.

"From our perspective, what better incentive is there than the wellbeing of a child. If that is shorthand for social bonds, we have major concerns about how they distort outcomes and we've seen real issues overseas."

She said Labour welcomed any increase to the age of care. 

"For us anything above 17 would be better than what we've got now, because even that one-year gap between 17 and 18 is where children can fall through the gaps. 

"That's because they're not old enough for other forms of support." 

Public Service Association (PSA) national secretary Erin Polaczuk said she welcome the involvement of social workers in the overhaul, after "being shut out of the review".

But she said the report hinted at a move away from professional social workers "towards generic roles".

"Social workers are advocates for children and their wellbeing, and this must not be lost in any move away from specialised social work roles."

A HISTORY OF FAILING OUR CHILDREN:

Since it inception, Child, Youth and Family has been under review "almost continuously" and has been restructured at least 14 times. But, despite the massive changes, it has remained "ineffective" when it comes to caring for our children.

December, 2000 -  "The Brown Report", undertaken by then Principal Youth Court Judge Mick Brown, found CYF was under "extreme pressure" and change was urgently needed.

October, 2003 - Then Child, Youth and Family minister Ruth Dyson said a review of CFY had found "systemic" problems.

March, 2006 - A State Services Commission's review called for CYF to be merged into the Ministry of Social Development, which occured, describing it as dysfunctional with a culture resistant to change.

July, 2006 - A review finds that of the 38 children murdered over five years, most of them by family members, one in five families had prior contact with CYF.

December, 2011 - The Mel Smith report details failings of many agencies, including CYF, in the care of a nine-year-old girl who was repeatedly abused by her mother.  It led to changes in information sharing between agencies.

September, 2013 - Another review led by former police commissioner Howard Broad criticised the CYF complaints process, and the lack of well-funded independent oversight.

May, 2014 - Yet another review, this time internal, finds social workers need to spend more time with children and their families and less time behind their desks.

June, 2014 - The Glenn Inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence raised concerns about CYF, with complaints of inaccurate paperwork and "judgemental" staff.

April, 2015 - Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announces a "complete overhaul" of CYF.

August, 2015  - The Children's Commissioner releases a report finding CYF is failing dozens of children in their care, who suffer abuse and constant upheaval.

September, 2015 - An interim report into the CYF overhaul finds it is "ineffective" in caring children, who often drift repeatedly in and out of care. Tolley said the plight of some children was "heartbreaking" and a "radical overhaul" of the organisation needed.

 - Stuff

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