Govt to 'no longer turn its back' on children in state care, raising the age to 21

CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says a planned overhaul of CYF can only do part of the job in caring for vulnerable children - parents, communities and New Zealanders also need to take responsibility.

Children in state care will have the option of remaining in full state care until they turn 21, and can opt for ongoing Government support until they turn 25. 

It's a significant announcement made by the Government today, as part of its ongoing overhaul of the way vulnerable children are cared for when they are taken from their parents. 

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said the Government could no longer abandon vulnerable children once they "aged out of care". 

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley says raising the age of state care if a child wants it reflects both an ...

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley says raising the age of state care if a child wants it reflects both an evidence-based approach and the normal journey of a young person venturing on to life on their own.

The move has been welcomed by MPs across the divide, but both Labour and the Greens have said it needed to be supported with enough money and resources.

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The changes come after the Government announced it was also raising the minimum age of care to 18, which would come into effect in April next year. 

Fairfax NZ

Some of the members of a CYF Youth Panel, which advised Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, talk about the care they needed, but often didn't get from CYF. Stuff spoke with Karlee Symonds, Monique Goodhew, Shine Thompson, Tupua Urlich and Zak Quor for the Faces of Innocents project.

Under the new legislation, young people could either remain in, or return to care up to the age of 21, either with an existing or former caregiver, or an alternative caregiver

Cabinet has also agreed to provide financial assistance to the caregivers, which would take into account the young person's individual circumstances, and could include a contribution from any income that the young person has.

The caregiver was expected to provide pastoral care for the young person so they could gradually become more independent, and the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children would monitor living arrangements against specific care standards.

Transition advice and support would be available up to the age of 25 for young people who had been in care, focusing on those with higher and more complex needs.

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"As the guardian of young people in care we can no longer turn our back on them when they turn 17. No responsible parent would do that," Tolley said. 

Many had suffered significant trauma in their short lives, and some were not ready to live independently.

"So that's really why we're saying there's good evidence to support this, and it makes sense from a social investment point of view because you know the outcomes that these kids face. 

"It is going to cost us, but it's a good investment to make in these young people," she said.

"Because if we can help them get on and get some good qualifications and get into employment, they're going to live a better life and in the long-term it saves the taxpayers' money."

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern said it was a welcome move. 

"For too many young people, the State is sadly their parent, but it certainly hasn't acted like one.  No parent cuts off their child at a particular age, completely closing the door to any ongoing support.

"This announcement will give young people the option to return for assistance or support at the age they need it."

She hoped it would be paired with an announcement soon to raise the Youth Justice Age to 18. 

"As the Children's Commissioner and past Youth Court Judge Andrew Beecroft pointed out 'The change half-step, and not full step, to include youth justice seems to us to be burdensome."

Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said it was a good step, but would need significant financial resourcing.

"Young people in care need extra support during a sometimes tricky transition to adulthood, but that promise needs to be backed up with enough resources to make it work." 

Tolley agreed it would cost "millions". 

"But this is a good investment to make."

The changes are part of sweeping reforms that include the disestablishment of Child, Youth and Family to be replaced with a new Ministry for Vulnerable Children. 

A high-level panel appointed by Tolley last year produced findings that painted a dismal picture for young New Zealanders growing up in state care. 

It found that for children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to June 1991, nearly 90 per cent ended up on a benefit, about 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child and nearly 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2.

Tolley said she had "real high hopes" that this would help lift children out of dire circumstances. 

Raising the age of care and support to 21 would provide stability and a "loving home" to those young people, while removing the barriers they encountered to complete education and find employment.

Cabinet had agreed to the changes, but the Minister has yet to report back to her colleagues on the shape of the financial package and how the changes would be phased in. 

The new changes were not expected to come into effect until 2018. 

 - Stuff

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