Oranga Tamariki $60 million sexual abuse programme so badly mismanaged it was shut down - review

Oranga Tamariki was given the job in late 2019 of making big changes to two types of services for children.
Oranga Tamariki was given the job in late 2019 of making big changes to two types of services for children. Photo credit: RNZ

Phil Pennington for RNZ

Changes to a $60 million programme to help sexually abused children have been badly mismanaged by Oranga Tamariki, an independent review has found.

A review released to RNZ shows its team doing the work to fill glaring gaps in services was so "dysfunctional", "inadequate" and "confused" it had to be shut down.

But all this happened behind closed doors, the public was told everything was OK and even getting hold of the review was difficult.

Oranga Tamariki was given the job in late 2019 of making big changes to two types of services for children, as part of a ten-agency government strategy to combat family and sexual violence - launched with fanfare publicly just last December.

The two types of service fund community providers, for either crisis support to, say, an abused child going through a court process; or for means to address harmful sexual behaviour that, say, a teacher spots in class.

Demand for such help is ramping up many times over, while services remain scarce and poorly funded

The Children's Ministry set up a special team to identify the gaps and deliver kaupapa Māori co-designed services, even as existing services continued, under new funding of $60m from 2019 for four years.

It has now been revealed that this went so badly the team was shut down 20 months later, in August last year.

Four months after that, in December 2021, when RNZ asked the Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes how it was going, he said he was satisfied the ministry was progressing the sexual violence programmes "as intended".

But it wasn't.

Independent assessors had scrutinised it in April 2021.

Their review, which it took RNZ two attempts under the OIA to get released by Oranga Tamariki, is damning.

It shows a speedo-type chart with the arrow fixed at the lowest, reddest point titled "PREPARE TO STOP".

The 39-page report not only describes a floundering, dysfunctional and poorly resourced team, obscured behind "optimistic" progress reports, but one with little grasp of what abused children needed.

"There is inadequate understanding and documentation of the current state of services delivered to the tamariki and rangatahi who need services," it said.

"What is not clear is Oranga Tamariki's current framework and its capacity to reach all children impacted by sexual violence, and how it will work with lwi and [government agency] partners to improve service co-design with delivery."

Reaching all children, not just those in care, was new to OT in 2019, picked up off the Ministry of Social Development.

The assessors did interviews in the OT team that revealed the most basic of data was missing:

"No one could give insight data on the age, ethnicity, location, iwi affiliation for tamariki who are victims of sexual violence, or tamariki and rangatahi who display harmful sexual behaviour [or] which tamariki is receiving what services, and any level of effectiveness or gaps in service delivery to be able to focus and prioritise co-design investment.

"The target service gaps identified in the project bids did not appear to have been sized as no one interviewed knew the baseline."

This void surrounded multi-million-dollars services depending on dozens of community providers.

The review looked in behind project risk registers that were "still reporting as green when it was amber, and amber when it was red":

  • "The projects have continued to run without sufficient resources, from both a capacity and capability perspective . As a result of this and the dysfunction in the Project Team, neither project is delivering sufficiently against the objectives and outcomes set for either sexual violence projects"

  • "The turnover of Project Managers and other Project Team members is a clear indicator of the level of dysfunction... The Business Lead and Project Manager roles have not been functional... [as] observed by nearly all interviewees."

  • "The project structure was non-standard and was confusing."

  • "There were significant gaps and delays in resourcing... The type and level of experience was under sourced for the complexity of the project."

  • "In August 2020, 4 milestones were missed by 2-4 months and reported as minor misses."

The team scored as 'poor' across seven out of ten measures.

OT told RNZ last week the sexual violence project was formally closed last August, and its work transferred into business-as-usual workstreams. Under that new regime, much more of the budget has been spent this year, than last.

The 2021 review urged a new independent quality assessment be done once these changes were made.

The team's failure, made public only now, has contributed to big delays.

Co-design of services was meant to start in October 2020, but last December the agency said it had had to reset, and work had only just begun.

Asked previously by RNZ why it underspent by almost 40 percent in 2020-21, the agency said this was "largely due to partnered nature of services" and suggested it was moving at the slower pace of Māori providers.

This was not what the review said.

"The underspend in the budget against plan is reflective of the delays in the project," it said.

"It is difficult to determine whether the actual spend is reflective of what has been delivered. There is no detailed breakdown of the budget against specific deliverables."

This meant team members "don't understand what funding is available" for iwi providers, not even to tell them what funding they can get for helping with co-design.

In the lead-up to being shut down in August, the team brought in more Māori advisors.

It also set up a pilot but "the pilot proceeded to near implementation without having appropriately engaged with Ngai Tahu and mana whenua".