Speeches

Launch of children’s workforce guidelines

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 10:56
Social Development

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today as we celebrate an important milestone in progressing the Government’s Children’s Action plan with the launch of two new guidelines for people working with children. 

Safer Recruitment, Safer Children will help organisations choose safe people to work with children, and Safer Organisations, Safer Children will help organisations develop child protection policies.

Every child has the right to be free from abuse and neglect.  The sad truth is some children don’t feel safe and are subject to abuse and/or neglect, sometimes by the very people are employed and trusted to keep them safe. 

These guidelines will help the children’s workforce to keep vulnerable children safe and support all New Zealand children to thrive, achieve and belong.

One of this Government’s top priorities is to reduce child abuse through:

  • better screening of children for vulnerability
  • full assessments of the needs of vulnerable children,
  • more support for frontline workers and communities
  • better results for our vulnerable children and their families.

Guidelines: Child Protection Policy – Safer Organisations

Children’s workers and their employers are absolutely vital to strengthening our safety net around vulnerable children.

Over the coming years, the children’s workforce changes signalled in the Children’s Action Plan and the Vulnerable Children’s Act will affect about 370,000 people working with children in this country.

Children’s workers do a good job addressing the needs of some vulnerable children, but they don’t always do this in a consistent or connected way. And whilst the vast majority of our children’s workers are safe and conscientious, we know that predators will seek to work and be around children and we must have robust safeguards in our workforce. 

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 requires certain state sector agencies and government funded organisations to have child protection policies that to identify and respond to child vulnerability, including possible abuse and neglect.

These government agencies are already working with their sectors to implement this new child protection legislation and policies.  The new guidelines I’m pleased to launch here today form a crucial part of that effort.

Congratulations to everyone who has helped to develop Safer Organisations, Safer Children – It has been a huge collaborative effort from government agencies and community.

In addition to providing advice on the basic legislative requirements for a policy (identifying and responding to abuse and neglect), the guidelines recommend other things to include, for example:

  • putting the needs of the child at the centre, and being proactive in identifying and responding to vulnerability
  • creating cultures of child protection, including specific advice on inspiring organisational change
  • responding to allegations against staff
  • professional development, information sharing and other components of effective working with children.

Safety checking guidelines – safer recruitment

We are also working towards implementing the first phase of the new safety checking regulations for all roles that involve contact with children.  All new workers entering the children’s workforce will need to be safety checked.  This involves gathering enough information including police checks to gain a complete picture of the candidate, while also evaluating whether the person is suitable for the role.

Workers currently employed will be phased in over a three year period after that.

The workforce restriction will be implemented at the same time, prohibiting convicted child abusers and other serious offenders from being in charge of or working alone with children.

We all want a children’s workforce with a shared culture of child protection that works well together and with family/whānau to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our children.

Our work on safer recruitment practices, including safety checking, goes wider than the regulated workforce. And so I am delighted to also launch today the Safer Recruitment, Safer Children guidelines.

I want to especially acknowledge the key role Anthea Simcock and her Child Matters team played in contributing to these safety checking guidelines.

Since late 2013, the Ministry of Education, on behalf of the Children’s Action Plan, has worked with Child Matters to develop these best practice guidelines to help all organisations recruit safe staff to work with children.

Although many organisations have checks to ensure unsuitable people do not work with children, there is no consistent safety checking approach and there are a number of gaps.  Some of these gaps have been publicly exposed in recent times, but some have not.

The guidelines give a cross-sector approach to good practice in safety checking - from sports clubs to voluntary homework clubs and cultural groups.

Writing these guidelines has been an innovative and collaborative partnership between a government agency and a not-for-profit - Child Matters.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the Safer Recruitment, Safer Children guidelines are now available online (together with the child protection policy guidelines), with a wealth of new information about the wider safe and competent workforce programme. 

Thanks Anthea and your team for your excellent work on these important guidelines.

Child Matters continues to play a valuable role in the Government’s community partnership to implement the Children’s Action Plan.

Children’s Action Plan programme

As part of the Government’s overall drive for Better Public Services, agencies are working together on four BPS results to support vulnerable children.

  • increase participation in early childhood education – we currently have just over 96 percent participation and we want to get that to 98 percent.
  • increase infant immunisation rates – national coverage for eight month olds is currently 93.5 percent and we are aiming for 95 percent by the end of 2015.
  • decrease incidences of rheumatic fever  - there’s been a 24 percent decrease in first episode rheumatic fever hospitalisations compared to 2013.  But we still have a long way to go in reducing it by two thirds down to 1.4 cases per 100,000 by 2017.  Rates are currently 3.4 per 100,000.
  • and reduce the number of physical assaults on children – we have seen a 5.6 percent drop in physical abuse in the year to September 2014 – its early days but we are working towards a 5 percent reduction in numbers by 2017.

All vulnerable kids need help and their families need support - but they don’t all need the legal intervention and intensive attention of the state. They need help that comes from a connected community of government agency and NGO professionals, family/whānau and concerned individuals.

It isn’t easy or simple, and more money is not the answer. We must work together in a fundamentally different way to better identify, support and protect vulnerable children.

That’s what Children’s Teams will do.  Locally led teams of professionals and practitioners will be doing their collective best for their community’s vulnerable children. 

Children’s Teams establish a fundamentally new way of working that delivers an individual support plan for each vulnerable child, overseen and closely monitored by professionals, cooperatively working with family/whānau to ensure services are tailored to meet the child’s needs.

We know from our experiences in Rotorua, Whangarei – and increasingly from our two new Children’s Teams in Horowhenua/Otaki and Marlborough that better targeted and integrated services at the frontline ensure government funding gets to children in the right way and at the right time. 

Lead Professionals

Given our target group of vulnerable children numbers around 20,000 we require a considerable number of frontline practitioners and professionals to be involved as the Lead Professionals. 

These decision-makers have a pivotal role in the Children’s Team approach.  They are the ones who have the critical face to face relationship with the child and his or her family. They organise the tailored Child Action Team for each child and are responsible for creating each child’s individual support plan. They ensure that plan is carried out by the various services that need to be involved.

Lead Professionals come from the full range of government and non-government social services and health and disability providers.  This includes nurses, social workers and specialist teachers who support students with learning and behaviour difficulties.

Hamilton

It should be no surprise that we are announcing the publication of important child safety guidelines in Hamilton –Hamilton is a regional leader in child protection and the strong community sector here makes it an ideal location to undertake a number of important firsts. 

The Hamilton Children’s Team will be the first large urban Children’s Team established in the country.  Director Cathy Holland and her staff have already made a great start in establishing the Team - thank you.

Hamilton will provide us with the opportunity to investigate what it takes to go to scale with this model – delivering support for an estimated 1,400 vulnerable children in this region.

Contracting

As we roll out the Children’s Teams it is increasingly clear that government contracting will need to change.  Lead professionals need flexibility to prioritise services for the children they are working with.  Organisations must be able to support these Children’s Team referrals in a timely manner recognising they have been funded already for these very children.

We also need to overcome duplication of services in some areas and service gaps in others.  Change is coming for the NGO sector.

The CAP Directorate and funding agencies will be supporting you to work through what that new model of contracting and funding might look like.

Information Sharing and Triaging

Finally I can’t go without mentioning information sharing.  Appropriate, secure, and professional information sharing – with the child and family’s consent, is vital in fully understanding a child’s and family’s situation so the right tailored support is planned and provided for. 

We are developing an Approved Information Sharing Agreement to enable the Teams to share information securely and confidently.  In another first, we will also trial in Hamilton the Vulnerable Kids Information system (Viki).

And we are also piloting the vulnerable children’s Hub triage process which will start by supporting the Hamilton Children’s Team.

So to sum up today’s firsts:

  1. Publication of new child safety guidelines for recruiting staff
  2. New safety guidelines for organisations working with children
  3. The establishment of the country’s first large urban Children’s Team
  4. Trialling Viki – a new information sharing system
  5. Trialling new hub triage processes

I am excited about what we can achieve with the Children’s Action Plan here in Hamilton.  Working together with this committed and child focused community we have a real opportunity to make important advances in redesigning and expanding New Zealand’s child protection system. 

I wish the agencies and organisations, frontline practitioners and the vulnerable children and their families about to be involved in the emerging Hamilton Children’s Team all the very best. 

Together we can turn around the lives of children and young people at risk of abuse and neglect.  We must be ambitious in supporting them and their families to have happy safe and fulfilling lives.  There is no more important job and I thank you in advance for the contribution each and every one of you will make to that.

Thank you.