Children's Commissioner: Moko's death will haunt me

Moko Rangitoheriri
Moko Rangitoheriri

Outgoing Children's Commissioner Russell Wills says his five years in the job has seen him question humanity, and he'll be forever haunted by the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri.

Despite that, he says things are getting better for New Zealand's at-risk young, with Child, Youth and Family (CYF) residences "heading in the right direction" and hospital admissions for assaults on children declining.

His office's latest State of Care report has warned the care of 5000 children currently being looked after by CYF could be impacted by the agency's five-year overhaul.

"In this year coming there will be 60,000 children who will come to the attention of Child, Youth and Family -- so we need to look after those kids while the organisation's going through that major change process," he told Paul Henry on Monday.

"When big organisations go through big transitions, there's a change in performance -- training stops happening, people aren't replaced and investment doesn't occur. We can't afford that with these kids, so we need to plan, we need to invest in these kids and we need to monitor the performance indicators that tell us that things aren't working, so we can keep on top of this."

Labour social development spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says the Government needs to take Dr Wills' warning seriously, and that she has "no faith" it will.

"A plan to prevent harm for the thousands of children already in care surely means robust oversight. But the Commissioner himself is not even properly supported to do that job, with a budget that has been frozen since 2010.

"At select committee this year, Dr Wills told Parliament he was no longer able to inspect care and protection facilities every 12 months, and had instead reduced visits down to every 18 months. He was very clear that this was a risk, and that he had informed the minister. For this not to have been addressed in the Budget is appalling."

Dr Wills on the other hand says he has confidence in Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, and that she "cares very deeply" and has worked hard to get the resources required to give vulnerable kids the help they need.

But with Kiwi kids still regularly turning up in hospital beaten or dead at the hands of their own family, Dr Wills says there's only so much the Government can do.

"In the end, good services can only make so much of a difference -- while we still have tolerance of violence towards women and children in our country, we're only going to make so much of a difference."

The three main recommendations in the State of Care report are:

Before becoming Children's Commissioner five years ago, Dr Wills was a paediatrician.

"I've been there when children have been brought in dead. I've had to turn a child off a ventilator. It's hard, it's really, really hard."

His successor will be Andrew Becroft, a former Youth Court judge.

The full State of Care report can be found on the Children's Commissioner website.