Speeches

New ministry to focus solely on vulnerable children

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 10:12
Social Development

E nga mana, e nga reo, e te iwi o te motu, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

Good morning everyone and can I thank you for the invitation to be here today. I’d like to acknowledge:

  • Brendan Boyle, MSD Chief Executive
  • Sue Mackwell, National Children’s Director
  • Murray Edridge, Acting Deputy Chief Executive, Child, Youth and Family
  • Greg Versalko, Sarah Parker and the Hub team
  • Liz Thomas, Counties Manukau Children’s Team Director
  • Kathleen Atkins, acting Hamilton Children's Team Director 

And, of course, all of our hard-working staff who devote every day to keeping our children safe.

It is a real pleasure to be here with you today as we celebrate the first anniversary of the Vulnerable Children’s Hub.

Many of you will be aware that one of the themes that came out of the public submissions on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children was that people were cautious about calling CYF when they had concerns about a child or young person’s safety.

Contacting the authorities was seen as a serious step, if someone couldn’t be absolutely sure that some form of abuse was taking place.

But people need to be encouraged to come forward if they suspect a child could be at risk.

The idea for the Hub came from this. It acts as a kind of triage system, directing the concerns to the most appropriate agency or service, based on the level of support a family needs.

At this stage, it is available for professionals to use and is linked to the three Children’s Teams using the Vulnerable Kids Information System, or ViKI.

This means that if a teacher, a doctor or a school social worker has concerns about a child or young person they can contact the Hub and the decision is made in the Hub whether Child, Youth and Family, the Children’s Team or an NGO is best placed to help this family.

In the last year, the Hub has accepted referrals for 1071 children and taken 1397 contacts and calls from professionals in Hamilton, Christchurch and Counties Manukau.

985 of these children and young people were referred to a Children’s Team, where all of the professionals involved in a child’s life contribute to a single plan, and a single lead professional ensures that plan is carried out so that they don’t go on to need statutory intervention.

I want to thank everyone involved for their efforts so far. You are making a real difference in keeping our children safe. So congratulations and happy birthday to the Hub.

And this is an important day for care and protection. Because today I am announcing that from April 2017 a new, dedicated child-centred Ministry will be in place to focus on the safety and long-term well-being of our most at-risk children and young people.

Cabinet has agreed with the advice we have received, which found that given the significance and scale of the proposed reforms to state care and protection, a stand-alone ministry is most likely to provide a single point of accountability, clear organisational focus and the ability to attract strong leadership.

It will also have a new Chief Executive. The State Services Commissioner has today announced that Grainne Moss will take up this vital role next month.

And as the panel stated, strong leadership is going to be key to the successful delivery of a bold, new model to better serve our children and young people.

Grainne, who will sit on the Vulnerable Children’s Board, will also need to lead a huge culture change but she’ll be well served by her previous public and private sector experience.

It’s almost a year and a half since I appointed an independent expert panel, and a youth advisory group, to advise me on a complete overhaul of our care and protection system.

The panel’s first report concluded that the whole system needed to change to better support children and to better support staff to do their job, instead of spending over fifty per cent of their time on admin.

The panel found that CYF was not effective in intervening early to provide the support that these children and young people deserve, and that subsequently demand for CYF services has increased as a result of children re-entering the system on multiple occasions.  

The average age of children placed with family is 7 to 8 years old and they have already had an average of 7 to 8 care placements by this stage. The trauma these children face with each new placement is unthinkable.

And we must not forget the shocking study which found that by the age of 21, for children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to June 1991:

  • Almost 90 per cent are on a benefit
  • Around 25 per cent are on a benefit with a child
  • Almost 80 per cent do not have NCEA Level 2
  • More than 30 per cent have a Youth Justice referral by age 18
  • Almost 20 per cent have had a custodial sentence
  • Almost 40 per cent have had a community sentence

We can’t go on like this. Staff don’t need me to tell them that there have been numerous well-meaning restructures and quick-fixes over the years.

It hasn’t made any difference. The system is not working for children. And they are the only thing that matter.

So, following the delivery of a detailed business case from the panel, Cabinet agreed to a long-term radical overhaul of our care and protection system. 

This is no knee-jerk reaction. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a real and lasting difference. We are determined that it will succeed. It won’t happen overnight. It will take years. But it must be done.

The new system will address the short and long-term wellbeing of at-risk children and support their transition into adulthood. It will no longer focus solely on crisis management.

It 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. There will be more high-quality caregivers, and better support for these families who open their homes to our most vulnerable children.

The new Ministry will be responsible for statutory care and protection, youth justice services, adoption services, the Children’s Action Plan directorate and Children’s Teams, Community Investment relating to funding and contracting for vulnerable children services, family and sexual violence services relating to child victims or perpetrators, current complaint services and policy advice. 

It will be reviewed after two years, during which time it will share some corporate services with MSD, to allow the new department to focus on operational issues.

As I’ve said before, it won’t need fewer staff – quite the opposite. We will need more people with specialised skills. The new Chief Executive will put a leadership team and management structure in place. The new way of working, and the culture change required, will need strong leadership and management.

Meanwhile front line social workers will move over to the new model to ensure it is ready to go on day one in April next year. As the new operating framework is rolled out over the following 4-5 years, staff will need a different mix of skills and will receive the necessary training. It is not simply CYF under a new name.  

And it will have a new name. It is a completely new Ministry. This sends a message that we are serious, it is not the same as CYF and has a very different way of working. But the new name won’t help a single child – it is how the agency operates which will make a difference for children.

The new department will be called the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki.

Oranga Tamariki for the health or wellbeing of children. And it is significant that this aspirational te reo is included in the name. 6 out of ten children in care are Maori and the new Ministry will have a strong focus on improving the lives of Maori children and their families – and indeed all children.

Meanwhile the other part of the name reflects the fact that we have had a green paper for Vulnerable Children, a white paper for Vulnerable Children, we have a Vulnerable Children’s Act, a Vulnerable Children’s Board, and of course we are here today at the Vulnerable Children’s Hub.

One of the issues with CYF was that its core business was sometimes blurred.

This 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. We are determined to tackle this head on.

And I’ve heard a lot about stigma. Well, stigma comes when you’ve been in care and end up in prison, or on a benefit, or don’t have any qualifications. And too many young people who leave our care system end up in that position. We are going to change that. Other people can focus on the name – I’m going to focus on producing a system that gives our children the lives they deserve.

Work is continuing apace on the new model, with a transformation team working on its introduction, supported by $200 million of initial new investment in Budget 2016, and taking place alongside normal CYF operations which have received an extra $144 million for cost pressures.

This includes the transformation programme team engaging with cross sector and community stakeholders over the next two months, such as government agencies, NGOs, iwi, young people, families and caregivers, as part of service and co-design work. They’ll be focusing on national care standards for caregivers, early enhancements to care, transition support services to help young people into independence once they leave care, and the practice framework for the new operating model.

I’m expecting to receive options within the next couple of months on the shape of the new independent youth advocacy service, and I want to thank the young people, NGOs and our philanthropic partners who have been involved in the design work so far.

The strategy to engage all New Zealanders so that communities can get more involved in the support of vulnerable children continues to be developed, while the second tranche of legislation to support the overhaul is being prepared.

Significant legislative changes are currently going through Parliament which will raise the age of state care and protection to a young person’s 18th birthday, ensure that children’s voices are heard in decisions which affect them, and which will establish an independent youth advocacy service.

For too long the needs and opinions of children and young people in the care system have been ignored. The new Ministry needs to be totally child-centred – and to do that it must include the voices of children. And I’m delighted to say that I have appointed a new Youth Advisory Panel, made up of young people who are in or who have experience of state care, to advise me and the transformation team in the months ahead as we design the new system. The original Youth Panel provided very valuable input while we developed the case for change and the detailed plan for the years ahead.

And there are other significant decisions that have to be made if we are truly serious about keeping children safe.

One of those is around information-sharing, so that the new Ministry can be well informed of any factors that affect a child’s welfare.

We will continue to ask communities to be vigilant and to make authorities aware if they suspect that something is not right within a household.

And of equal importance – agencies, NGOs, DHBs, and professionals must share information if they have knowledge which can stop a child from being abused.

I know that privacy can be a major concern for professionals. But I make no apologies for believing that a child’s safety comes first every single time.

At the moment, many professionals are unclear about what information they can and can’t share, and with whom. Sharing information is optional. It’s at their discretion.

If the default position is not to share, then there could be serious consequences for a child. There have been too many cases in the past where a child has suffered because many different agencies or professionals have had little bits of information that no one has shared or put together, which could have made a difference.

We need to be more proactive. Everyone involved needs a clear legal framework which sets expectations about sharing information concerning the safety and welfare of a child – and only this information – and which gives them the confidence and protection to do so.

I believe the default position needs to be that any information concerning a current or future possible danger to a child needs to be shared.

Children must always come first.

Minister Adams and I have had initial advice on what this framework could look like and which organisations and individuals would be involved. The next step will be to take a paper to Cabinet.

So there are many big changes and huge challenges ahead over the next few years. And yes, it will take years.

That shouldn’t frighten us. We need to embrace this. It is a wonderful opportunity to do the very best we can for vulnerable children and young people.

We all have a role to play. And we must get it right this time.

Congratulations again and thank you for all the work you do to keep our children safe.