New 'Ministry for Vulnerable Children' boss to lead culture change, Tolley says

Chris Skelton/FAIRFAX NZ

Soon to be Minister for Vulnerable Children Anne Tolley discusses the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children which will be set up from April next year.

Soon-to-be Minister for Vulnerable Children Anne Tolley admits the chief executive of the Government's new ministry will have a difficult task, but says the former aged-care boss has what it takes - because she has kids.

Grainne Moss has been appointed chief executive to start next month at the new agency 'Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki'. It will begin operating by April 2017.

At the Vulnerable Children's Hub in Auckland, current Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said she had faith Moss could do the job, addressing opposition criticism she had little experience with children.

Grainne Moss will head the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

Grainne Moss will head the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

"For a start she's a mum, she's got four children of her own so I always think that gives you really good experience understanding how children are different and how they behave," Tolley said.

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"She has good experience in change management and she's come from the health sector so is used to dealing with people who are in some sort of distress and understanding that, so I'm very confident she can do the job.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is to become the Minister for Vulnerable Children.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is to become the Minister for Vulnerable Children.

"I've made it very clear to the chief executive that her big job is to lead a culture change." 

Asked how the new ministry would be different to Child Youth and Family, which has been restructured 14 times since 1992, Tolley said the child-centred, stand-alone ministry would not operate by responding to crisis and would swing into action to prevent unnecessary tragedy. 

Moss would have a panel of youth who had been in state care among her advisors.

"It will have a completely new operating system, CYF was crisis management and that's when it came into children's lives, whereas the new ministry will focus on prevention right through to transition. It will have a slightly different focus in youth justice, trying to prevent offending and reoffending. So a much wider brief, but a different way of operating.

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"Some families are really dysfunctional and need a lot of help. The earlier we can get in, the more chance we have of keeping these families together."

The Ministry of Social Development and the new ministry would be interlinked. 

Staff at CYF would not have to reapply for their jobs, but would be offered jobs on the same terms and conditions, Tolley said. 

New skills and training would likely be required.

"There is a big piece of work being done on how we engage New Zealanders and by the time we launch that new ministry next year, there will be a plan that will go through that whole time of change, and work hard out in communities to make sure they know who to call, when to call, that there's a system that they get a response. 

"A lot of people say 'Oh I make a complaint and I don't hear any more and I don't know what's happened'. That's being developed as we speak.

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

"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."


The new name has been criticised as "stigmatising and labelling" by the Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft. 

In response to the announcement on Thursday, Becroft said he was "electing" to only use the Maori name "Oranga Tamariki" which meant the wellbeing of our children. He urged all New Zealanders do the same, as it was a much more hopeful and visionary.

"If we get behind that name, then the terribly and depressingly negative name of vulnerable children might wither."

The establishment of the new Ministry was overall an exciting "world-leading" venture and would bring about a "sea change" in how New Zealand dealt with abused and neglected children.

Prime Minister John Key said the Ministry's focus was "clearly spelt out". 

"If you don't call it what it is, then you run the risk that it loses it's focus and starts spending resources and time away from those most in need," Key said.

"So I'm confident that we're gonna get that right, we've got a good chief executive, we're gonna have a very good team that will be well-resourced."


Labour MP Jacinda Ardern says the Government's decision to keep the name means they are "sticking to to their agenda to take a very narrow focus" on child wellbeing. 

She said the name indicated the agency would not be looking at child poverty: "Nothing I've seen suggests to me that they'll be looking at issues beyond child protection."

However, Tolley said the new name makes it "crystal clear" that it exists to support and protect vulnerable children: "That is its only job. We cannot shy away from this. We can't hide it and dress it up as something else."

Ardern was also "surprised" at the appointment of Grainne Moss, and questioned whether she had the right experience as there hadn't been much transparency on the selection process. Becroft didn't know of Moss, but wished her well.

The State Services Commission said Moss's career spanned more than 25 years in both the public and private sectors across the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand. For the last nine years  Moss worked at Bupa Care Services NZ. Her most recent role was managing director, and before this she spent five years as the General Manager for their aged care and rehabilitation services. She has also spent the early part of her career in the UK and New Zealand public health systems.

The Green Party said the new Ministry was only going to help those at "the very bottom of the heap" and wanted a broader safety net.

"We need a Ministry for Children that focuses on improving the wellbeing of all children and families, rather than just some children who currently fit the Government's overly targeted modelling," Green MP Jan Logie said.


The creation of the agency follows the Government's recently announced overhaul of the state care system, and the replacement of the current Child Youth and Family (CYF) system with a new model.

The programme will be "supported" by $200 million in the Budget, alongside normal CYF operations which have received an extra $144 million for cost pressures.

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.

"The long-term outcomes for young people in the current system are simply atrocious," Tolley said.

"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.

The inclusion of the Maori name as part of the title reinforced much more needed to be done to address the fact that six out of 10 kids in care are Maori, Tolley said. 

 - Stuff

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