Prime Minister John Key is playing down the prospect of Child, Youth and Family outsourcing some of its work to the private sector.
Yesterday he said he wasn't ruling it out, which prompted criticism from Labour and the Public Service Association.
Labour leader Andrew Little said it was "a terrifying thought" and he believed the Government was softening up the public for the privatisation of at least part of CYF.
The PSA said it was "dangerous and unacceptable" to suggest the care of vulnerable children could be contracted out to private corporations.
Mr Key yesterday said the point he had been making in a radio interview was that CYF already outsourced some contracts to the private sector.
"I think last year it was worth $81 million so I can't say there's no involvement with the private sector," he said at his post-cabinet press conference.
"I'm not saying there will be wholesale outsourcing to the private sector.
"In fact, my view is that there's not likely to be much but there's already some so I can't rule out there will be some in future."
Opposition parties expressed privatisation fears after Children's Commissioner Russell Wills last week released a damning report on the department.
He said it didn't even know whether children were better off in its care.
"Generally speaking, the longer a child spends in CYF care, the more likely they are to experience harmful consequences," he said.
The Greens said they were afraid the report would be used as an excuse for privatisation.