Speech to Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference

Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 11:25
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 thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

I want to acknowledge your host, and my parliamentary colleague, Ron Mark, and the Chief Executive of Fostering Kids, Linda Surtees.

And indeed, everyone here who does so much for our most at-risk children and young people.

Foster Carers, Social Workers, NGOs, and CYF staff.

Thank you for everything you do to keep our young New Zealanders safe, and to give them the successful lives they deserve.

And a special thanks to Linda and Fostering Kids for the continuing role you are playing as we transform our care and protection system. Your input is vital.

The theme of your conference couldn’t be more topical. Making a difference for kids in care, past, present and future.

A lot has happened since I met with you a year ago, when I released the independent expert panel’s first report on the state of our care system.  (And Fostering Kids made a significant contribution to that, and to the final report)

You’ll remember the horrifying stats and the long-term life outcomes for kids, and that the panel found that while there are pockets of good practice, and a committed frontline workforce, the system is not delivering effectively for vulnerable children and young people.

Since then, Cabinet has acted on the recommendations contained in the panel’s multi-year detailed business case.  And remember, we are going to take years to rebuild the system, so we can get it right. It is far too important to simply announce a short-term sticking plaster.

Numerous reviews and restructures have not delivered the care system that young people need, or the comprehensive care that we all want for these kids. Only a detailed, long term approach is going to deliver better lives and better long term outcomes for these young people.

We have a once in a lifetime chance to make a lasting difference.

So from April next year we will have a new Ministry and a completely new operating model, no longer simply providing short-term crisis management, but providing a single point of accountability all the way through a young person’s life into adulthood and beyond.

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, will be squarely focused on children and young people in care or at risk of entering care, and will include prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending.

It will also have the ability to directly purchase vital services such as trauma counselling as soon as they are needed by children.

And given that 6 out of ten children in care are Maori, the new Ministry will have a strong focus on improving the lives of Maori children and their families – and indeed all children.

A dedicated work stream will bring together qualified academics, social service providers, iwi and Whanau Ora to enhance existing knowledge and supports, and to develop new ways of working effectively alongside building strategic partnerships with iwi groups.

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. The voice of young people is vital if we are to have a system that is truly child-centred. A youth advisory panel, made up of young people with experience of state care, advised me and was integral to the development of the long-term business plan, and will continue to have input as we transform the system.

We are also considering some kind of support for young people who have been in care after they turn eighteen and into their twenties, and you may be aware that Minister Adams and I have been investigating raising the youth justice age from 17 to 18. We will be taking a paper to Cabinet on this soon.

These are all major changes. And there are more to come.

The youth panel told me they want the state to stop experimenting with their lives.

They want a child’s first care placement to be the best, and to ensure it delivers a loving, long-term and stable home. The current system sees kids as young as seven having already had eight placements, and the resulting trauma can affect these young people for the rest of their lives. Wherever possible, we need to get it right first time for these kids.

And today I have announced that more legislation is to be introduced into Parliament by the end of the year which will better support children and young people in care or at risk of going into care, and will also increase support for families and caregivers.

It will underpin two important aspects of the new operating model - early intensive intervention and improved care support services, with the views of children an integral part of the process.

The legislation will propose new or amended principles to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 (CYPF Act), and includes:

  • Early intervention to improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people and address any risk of future harm, to include the voice of the young person in the process and where possible assist parents or guardians to provide a safe, stable home.
  • Where a child is removed and cannot be returned to immediate family, they must be placed with a safe, stable and loving family at the earliest opportunity, and the young person’s views and needs must be included in the planning process. Stability and continuity is important in the placement decisions and where practicable the young people should be placed with siblings, and consideration given to their links to the community.
  • Young people should be placed where they can develop a sense of belonging and attachment, while maintaining personal and cultural identity.
  • A set of National Care Standards which set out the rights and needs of children in care, the standard of care they can expect, and standards for caregiver training, monitoring and support, and
  • Financial support for caregivers is responsive to the changing needs of children.

So, yes there will be more caregivers, and there will be better support for this important group of families who open their homes to at-risk children.

Front line social workers will move over to the new model to ensure it is ready to go in April next year. They’ll also receive the necessary training, as we will need a different mix of skills. The new and amended principles will allow our staff to do the job we need them to do.

We’re also embarking on a massive culture change and that will also be a major piece of work to implement over the next few years.

Work is continuing on the new model, with a transformation team busy 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.

The transformation programme team has been engaging with cross sector and community stakeholders such as government agencies, NGOs, iwi, young people, families and caregivers, as part of service and co-design work. They have been 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.

And I’m delighted to say that Fostering Kids has been involved in this work.

Some key themes from the workshops have included enhanced and specialised caregiver training, better information on the training that is available and relationship-based support for caregivers that is easy to access.

We’re also looking at an improved 24/7 advice and helpline, a wider range of culturally responsive programmes, tools and resources, enhanced financial supports and services to support caregivers and help meet children’s needs, and opportunities to provide enhancements for pathways into caregiving.

We need a system that works for you, so you can better support children.

I want to finish by saying that over the past year and a half, the will and determination that I have seen right across the country, to change our care system into something that is world class for our young Kiwis, has been truly uplifting.

And anyone who claims this is a rebranding exercise is not aware of the facts, or is choosing to ignore the hard work and input from hundreds of dedicated people that has gone into the initial review, the detailed business case, and the current transformation programme.

This includes the independent expert panel, the Youth Advisory Panel, the Maori Reference Group, front line social workers, Vulnerable Children’s Board, government agencies, the Practice Reference Group, NGOs and, of course, caregivers.

Everyone has stepped up. And I want to assure you that I, and the government, appreciate everything you have done – and I want to thank you for everything that lies ahead.

The sheer size of the changes are huge. It isn’t, and cannot be, a quick political fix.

All of the detailed work so far has allowed us to understand the issues and come up with a sensible, detailed long-term plan for the decades ahead.

I know that the will is there to bring about lasting change for the children and young people who end up in care through no fault of their own.

They deserve the same chance to succeed as all young New Zealanders.

It is not going to be easy. If it was, it would have happened long ago.

We are all at the forefront of the biggest overhaul of care and protection that this country has ever seen.

There is the generosity of spirit and determination to give our young people the world-class system that they deserve.

Thank you again for being part of this.

There’s certainly much to discuss at your conference. My very best wishes for this event.