'Massive culture change' needed in CYF - Tolley

Anne Tolley (Getty)
Anne Tolley (Getty)

Anne Tolley has compared her planned overhaul of Child, Youth and Family to changes the police force recently went through.

Policing Excellence, launched in 2009, aimed to change their focus from catching criminals to stopping them committing crimes in the first place.

"To get that, embed that in our police service, it took four years," the Minister for Social Development told Paul Henry this morning.

CYF on the other hand is expected to take five years to fix.

"We're all impatient to see changes, for the outcomes for those kids. But what is very clear is we need a massive culture change," says Ms Tolley.

"This new system is going to manage from prevention, from early intervention with vulnerable children and families, right through to transition. That transition, although we're going up to 18, we're looking at what can be provided up to 25. So this is a big project, and it's going to be a big culture change for the staff."

Priorities under the new regime, which kicks in at the end of March next year, will be reducing the over-representation of Maori children in CYF care -- currently six in 10 -- and keeping track of kids' progress, no matter what agencies are involved.

"If CYF does go in and decides that the child is reasonably safe but the family does need some support, [it will] contract someone like Barnardos to go and work with the family. The way the system is now, CYF crosses them off the books and they don't have anything more to do with them -- no one follows up until they come back to CYF. That's ridiculous."

Labour's Annette King, who was on the select committee which ultimately produced the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act in 1989, says Ms Tolley appears to be taking CYF back to its roots.

"It was meant to have the child at the centre of what we do with children, but over time that just moved," she says.

"I think putting the child back in the centre is so important if this is going to work."

Upper Harbour MP Paula Bennett says Ms Tolley is building off the groundwork she laid down during her time as a Minister of Social Development.

"You couldn't have done this report five or six years ago because it almost would have killed CYF, and as a consequence that risk for children would have been really, really high.

"I think it's absolutely what's needed. She's right, she has the full support of Cabinet, of all of her colleagues, she's not on her own."

With the overhaul expected to cost $1.3 billion on top of the existing funding, Ms Tolley will need her colleagues' support -- the Government says much of the cost will be "reappropriated from existing baselines". Even then, there's still a $400 million hole that needs to be filled somewhere along the way.

"Will the money actually be there?" asks Ms King. "It's a big price ticket. It has to go in behind it to make it work. And obviously, the devil's in the detail."

"It's got to work," says Ms Tolley.

"Cabinet has approved that, we will go down the track of doing the valuation, of assessing what finance we will take from the existing agencies."