Oranga Tamariki defends itself despite new report showing it's failing to reach minimum standards

By Ashleigh McCaull RNZ

Oranga Tamariki is defending its care of children despite a new report showing it is failing to reach some minimum standards.

The latest Independent Children's Monitor report shows that in two years the Ministry has made barely any improvements.

Orangai Tamariki has custody of more than 6000 children and is supposed to meet minimum standards of care that came into force in 2019.

The Independent Children's Monitor is the watch dog and executive director Arran Jones said the report covering the last two years is a chance to see if the quality of care has improved since its first check in 2020.

He said there had been no meaningful improvement and the agency was still failing to meet the basics.

"With that gap that there is still to close, I don't expect those minimum standards to be met this time next year. What I want to see and what we all hope to see is that there's improvement and then for us to try and understand why that improvements occurring," Jones said.

One of the seven key findings includes social workers needing to spend more time with tamariki, caregivers and their whānau.

Only 65 percent of children were visited by a social worker in the last year.

Reasons for low visit rates include workload, staff turnover and availability of resources and leadership.

Children's Advocate group VOYCE Whakarongo Mai's chief executive, Tracie Shipton, said that was no excuse.

"We are facing a crisis in New Zealand around employment and retaining workers everywhere so I can see it's an issue but you cannot remove a child from a situation to place in a safe environment and then not check that it's safe and in some cases not have it assessed.

Around a third of children were placed in a home before socials workers had fully assessed or approved the caregiver.

Tracie Shipton is astonished.

"That's never going to be ok because the caregiving situation is so important to young peoples safety and if you haven't actually finished some of the assessments and insuring that caregivers have the right information that's part of it, making sure that caregivers are well supported, then it is just a recipe for disaster," Shipton said.

In a statement the Children's Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers said in some areas Oranga Tamariki appears to be getting worse.

She cited the case of Malachi Subecz. He was not under the agency's care when he was killed but it failed to act when family members raised concerns about his treatment.

Oranga Tamariki acknowledged there were failures but said it was making significant progress.

Deputy chief executive Nicolette Dickson is adamant the agency will eventually meet the minimum standards.

"I agree with the monitor that we can't continue to except that as being the case and where we see those assessments taking longer we need to take action to improve that but can't guarantee that it'll never happen but I can absolutely be clear that we have made progress," Dickson said.

The report also says the agency can't even identify whether children's education and health needs are being met.

It found the number of tamariki registered with a GP had dropped from 60 to 53 percent.

The National Urban Māori Authority Chair, Lady Tureiti Moxon, said tamariki and rangatahi were being set up for failure.

"They're basically put in a whare, a house and left there to their own devices. You might be lucky and have some Māori provider providing some form of care but in the main, they're actually not prepared to be able to exist in society," Lady Moxon said.

She isn't convinced anything will change for the better and continues to call for Oranga Tamariki to be dismantled.