CYF to get 'complete overhaul'

  • 07/04/2016
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (Simon Wong / Newshub.)
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley (Simon Wong / Newshub.)

The Children's Commissioner says the Government's planned wholesale changes to Child Youth and Family could save the lives of many vulnerable children.

A range of recommendations make CYF more child-focused has been released in a report by a panel led by Dame Paula Rebstock and outlined by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley this morning.

"The whole system needs to be transformed if we are to give these young people the protection and life opportunities they deserve," says Ms Tolley.

The report sets out "bold" recommendations for a new child-centred system, which will be in place by the end of March 2017.

The overhaul is expected to take five years to be fully implemented, and will include:

Ms Tolley says the change is a "fantastic opportunity" to make lasting change to vulnerable children.

"This is only the beginning."

A total of 81 recommendations were made, with today's announcement just the Government's initial response.

Ms Tolley says young people "don't want the system to experiment with their lives".

"They should not have had eight different placements by the age of seven, with all of the associated trauma which comes from each move."

There'll also be a focus on training staff to better prevent harm and trauma with a move to spending less time on administration.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills says the radical changes, if resourced well and implemented could it could leave the country with a world-leading system "and something to be very proud of".

"It’s not an exaggeration to say that this piece of work is visionary and has potential to change the lives of many vulnerable children."

The system doesn't consistently put children at the centre, so Dr Wills is pleased to see the "genuine desire" to do so in the new regime.

Ms Tolley admits such a major change will need more money.

As more work on the operating model is done, just how to fund it will be considered, including how much money -- if any -- can be reallocated from other departments with the introduction of direct purchasing.

It'll cost more than $3 billion to roll out over four years, and of that $1.3 billion is new spending.

The Government says much of the new cost will be reappropriated from existing baselines -- but there'll still be a shortfall of nearly $400 million.

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern says while the some of the recommendations are useful, they'll only succeed if the Government "pays more than lip service".

"We supported the Government undertaking this work, and there are certainly elements we support. Labour has long advocated for a children's ministry, which is what the new entity talked about in the report should become.

"The devil, as always, will be in the detail and in whether the funding and resourcing goes to where it's most needed -- early intervention. The last estimate of the cost of child abuse and neglect in New Zealand came in at $2 billion per annum. That is surely evidence of the need to invest early."

Ms Ardern says raising the maximum age of state care is a welcome move, but should have gone together with raising the age of the juvenile court jurisdiction.

"The Government's response has left plenty of wriggle room. Talk of funding reallocation in the future raises some major flags -- taking from other areas, such as health where there is already significant underfunding, is playing with fire."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei says the changes are promising, but the Government shouldn't forget there is urgent need now.

"There aren't enough social workers, they don't have enough time, the carers need support, and families are waiting.

"Low income, poor housing and barriers to education also exacerbate the need for state intervention."

UNICEF believes genuine attempts to prevent vulnerability will make sure all families have all the resources they need to nurture their children and babies.

"While there is still some detail to come, the recommendations in the report hold the promise of a system that will maintain a focus on the needs of each child and provide what they need in a timely manner," national advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers says.

As part of its work, the panel looked at the current system and the long-term outcome for vulnerable young people.

A study found that by the age of 21, for children with a care placement born in the 12 months to June 1991:

Final Report into Child Youth and Family