Transcript: Anne Tolley

  • 26/09/2015
Transcript: Anne Tolley

Lisa Owen: Good morning, Minister.

Anne Tolley: Good morning, Lisa.

You've talked repeatedly about how radical this is, so is it a major shift to focus on children at risk and to integrate services better?

Yeah. So, you know, as you say, we've had 14 different restructures of CYF over the years, and the reality is not much has changed for the children that come through that system. So what we're going to do is we're going to take the system completely apart, and we're going to put it back together, but this time it's going to be absolutely focused on the needs of those children.

You say 'this time', but the thing is, in that question, I was quoting from your predecessor Roger Sowry from a press release in 1998. And then in this bundle here, there's ones from Steve Maharey, all of them talking about charting a new direction, quality outcomes for children. So why should anyone have any confidence that you're going to deliver something that's better?

Well, we are. We simply have to. And when you look at the results that the system is getting for those children that we take into our care, we should be ashamed of those results. And all of us have a role to play in that. So the chief executive and I are absolutely determined that this time all the recommendations are going to be implemented. And when you go back and look at the previous reviews and restructurings, not all of those have been put into place. We've done a little bit here and a little bit there, and often responding to crisis and putting more into managing crisis.

But that's the problem, isn't it? Because everybody sets out with the best intentions, but this is your seventh year in power, so why are you just acting now?

I think when you look at what we've been doing with work around vulnerable children, we started and there was the Green Paper and the White Paper, which culminated in the Vulnerable Children's Act, so my predecessor Paula Bennett started with that wider group of children who are in vulnerable circumstances – about 100,000 at any one time. That's all in place. We've got children's teams; we've got the community; the $330 million that MSD invests each year, that's been redeveloped and refocused. And so now we've got the very tip of the iceberg, which is the top of that triangle.

I understand that, but some of the figures that you referred to this week that you said you were horrified and embarrassed about; one in particular was from 2010 showing that 23 percent of kids that go back to their biological families are revictimised, reabused. But those figures, as I said, from 2010. So why wasn't something done about that in the past five years?

So, it was at the time. It fed into a review which made some recommendations, and some things were done. What's clear—

Another review, other recommendations, more paperwork.

But what's clear is that no one has ever gone back and monitored and checked and evaluated if what they were doing is actually working. You know the old adage – if you keep doing the same things the same way, you'll get the same results. And so that's very clear from the expert panel's review. They've got underneath all that data. For years we've heard how the notifications were increasing. We've put more money into more social workers, because they were overworked and overstretched. What the review panel has found is that now almost two-thirds of those children are now known to CYF already, and they've been churning back through the system, so we've been creating that extra workload by not dealing with those children well and their families in the first place.

Let's look at—

It's stuff like that that the panel's got underneath for the first time.

Let's look at the panel's report, then, and look at some of the things they have identified. Front-line social workers have spent more than half their time shuffling paperwork. Why?

That's because this is a system that has responded. Every time there's a crisis and another child is horrifically abused and killed, there's been another layer put in there to deal with that response, there's been another review done, part of the recommendations have been taken up, and small changes have been made, which is why I'm saying I'm not going to be rushed into making a patch-up job. We have got to take this system apart and rebuild it, centred on the needs of those children.

Because you've just identified what is the system's fault here. But when The Nation has talked to social workers this week, we hear that they're flat out finding emergency placements; they're ferrying, they're like a taxi service for kids, taking them to school, taking them to other appointments; they're working on paperwork, at the expense of long-term care that you want and they want.

And the system has demanded that of them.

I just want to finish this, Minister, because you've said, despite all those pressures on them, you've said that we shouldn't expect a massive change in the numbers of staff.

Well, what I've said is when I've been asked, 'Will social workers lose their jobs?' We need those social workers. I can't see that we would need viewer social workers. But actually, the report tells you only about 25 percent of the workforce are actually working directly with children. We've got lots of managers and supervisors and people who are filling in forms.

But isn't that because there's not enough of them?

Well, there's 3000-odd staff, but only 25 percent of them are actually working with children. And of that 25 percent, they're only spending 15 percent of their time actually with children.

So are you telling me that we need more back-room staff to allow those people to get on to the front line and deal with the kids?

What we need is a system that is designed to look after those children when they first come to our attention, we need good interventions with them and their families, and we need to free up the front-line social workers to do the work they come in every day to do which is to work with children, not a system that's built on layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration, which is what we've got now.

But, Minister, you talk about the research and the reviews and evidence based… going ahead with evidence. But some evidence that was provided last year was the case-load review, which said that you were 350 social workers short. So can we expect more social workers?

We may well. We may also expect, and you talked to front-line—

But 'may well' is not a definitive answer, is it, Minister? So yes or no? Will we get more?

I don't know, because the final system proposal will come to me in December, so I'm not going to pre-empt what the panel's coming up with. What they've done in this interim report is give us the building blocks. They will come to me in December with the final system design and the costings for that. So there may well be more social workers. What there will be is a different mix. Because you talk to front-line social workers with the increasingly complex family dysfunction that they're seeing and some of the complex needs of these kids; we know more about them, we can diagnose better. We need more specialist services, so we need more psychologists and psychiatrists and therapists.

All right.

All of that. So that will be a different mix that I'm expecting to get.

So you do- you do need more. Does that mean you're going to hire more?

Well, we'll wait and see what they put in place. But as I say, we've got 3000 social workers who work for us now in CYF. Only 25 percent of those are working with children. Surely we need to release some of those supervisors and administrators and whatever they're doing filling in forms and bits of paper to be out there working with children. That's what we want – a system that's focused on the needs of those children.

Okay. Well, the report indicated you also need better social workers, so Labour's got a private member's bill would register all social workers, which means they would be police-checked, they would be professionally-trained. Are you going support that bill?

No, I'm not supporting that bill, and I've talked to Carmel. It's not that I don't support it. I've said to her that her timing is wrong. So I have asked the Social Workers Registration Board to do a review of their Act and to match with the final report that I get from the expert panel. They're reporting back to me in December. So they are looking exactly at what do we mean by a social worker, what's the career path. There's a lot of people who work in the social sector that call themselves social workers, but what should a qualified, registered social worker look like?

One thing you have promised immediate action on is this nationwide drive to get more caregivers. How many do you think you need?

I think we need a lot more. A lot more, and that will be defined. But it's not just about caregivers. Look, I think- What the report identifies is more and more of these children have very high and complex needs. We saw this when the chief executive and I went overseas earlier this year. Some caregivers, we will need people with high, specialist care, being able to provide that for some of these children. The average family is not going to be able to provide that. So we might need a structured system of caregiving.

Okay. Well, one of the statistics that you brought up was half of the caregivers that we've currently got are on benefits. Is that an ideal situation?

I don't think it is. I don't think it is for the family who are on a benefit that we know- I mean, it's pretty hard to survive on a benefit. And for the children that go into those homes, they're going into a home that will - that is under financial stress. What we want for these children is a better life, so we need to be looking broader and wider to New Zealand families to take- to take these children under their wing. Now, some of that will be fostering; some of that might be home for life, which is sort of a modern adoption.

Basically , am I right, you're thinking - you're looking for sort of an A-team of caregivers?

Yes. Yes, we are. We saw it in Norway, actually, where children that were identified with those high and complex needs - they described them as an A-team; I wouldn't say that. I'd just say- I'd just say we'd be looking for some people with some extra special skills that we might pay more, we might provide specialist services to take care of things.

Okay. Well, you talk about more paying more, and I just want to pick up on that, because CYF caregivers are paid about $150-250 a week. We know one private company is paying $600 a week. Should you be matching that kind of figure?

Well, I think you've always got to be very careful that you're not setting up a professional caregiving regime. And when you talk to people who are fostering, most of them don't do it for the money. What we need to do is make sure that they are well- those children are well-supported financially so that they are able to do all the things that other New Zealand children can.

So that's definitely something that you're looking at – increasing payments.

We certainly are, and the support that we give to caregivers. I mean, the Children's Commissioner have talked about a 'dump and run', so- and that comes through to me clearly from those foster kids organisations.

But everything I'm hearing screams money. It screams money, and your own panel says this is going to take significant investment. So why do you keep saying you don't want to throw money at this?

It's because we want to invest money sensibly in areas where we know it's going to make the greatest difference for kids. So- So the immediate reaction from people when the Children's Commissioner's report came out was, 'You've got to put more money in here. You need more social workers. You need more money.' We've seen that over the years every government has done exactly that, and nothing's changed for those kids. What I'm saying is, 'Yes, we're going to have to put more money in, but let's make sure we're putting it into the right places that are going to get the best outcomes for the kids.' And that might be in getting them more psychological support to deal with their initial trauma. That might need getting them caregivers at that very early stage. The kids themselves tell us – and I've got a youth- I've set up youth advisory group of young people that have been through care; we've got a couple of them still in care – they say make that- they say to us, 'Make that first placement the best placement for us.'

Okay. Just in terms of money, you are asking, or wanting to set up an agency that advocates for the kids, but you're not going to pay for that. You're looking for philanthropic people to step in. So the report-

No, I haven't said- I haven't said the government won't pay for it.

The report says – and you announced – that you're talking to the charity sector, basically, to fund this. Isn't that core government business, though?

No, what - no, what we're saying is we're actually going to do what I'm talking about, which is let the young people decide how they want that organisation to work. I don't have any objection to putting government money into it, but I want it so that it works for them. So what I'm saying to my youth advisory panel, the Dingwall Trust panel; I think there's another group out there – 'There's a group of philanthropists that are out there. They want to help you, and they're looking for ways to assist you. I'm happy that you can, with the panel, have those discussions, and then come back to us in the final report.' If there's going to be Government money needed, I don't have a problem with that. But I don't want to design it. I want the young people to design it.

Okay, because some people would regard that as almost like outsourcing by stealth, having to go to another agency or charity to fund-

Well, if they become a lobby group that wants to be able to criticise Government and hold Government to account, they might need some independence.

But are you saying-? There are other Government bodies, or funded by Government. Are you saying they don't have independence, like the Independent Police Conduct Authority, like the Ombudsman, like the Children's Commissioner? They're independent, and they get funded.

They are set up- they have- Yes, they are, but they are statutorily independent, so - this is an advocacy group. As I say, I want them to design it, and if they come back to say, 'We want some seeding money underneath that from Government to keep it going,' I don't have a problem with that.

There's a couple of things I want to get through in the time we've got left. Very quickly, the PM - the Prime Minister hasn't ruled out more outsourcing. The report makes little mention of that. Can you rule out today that you won't be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?

Look, I- Let's put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There's no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.

Okay. One last thing before we go – you are looking at placements in family/whanau situations, because there's been bad outcomes and reabuse, revictimisation. Do you have the numbers? If you want to change that family-first approach, which is in the legislation, do you have the numbers to make a change to that?

I think the report's making the case that we have to think differently. In many cases, families can take care-

But would you have the numbers to get that through? Because the Maori Party is not going to support it; Peter Dunne says that he likes the approach of Tariana Turia, which is giving those families more support, not taking the children away.

I think where I come from - I don't have the numbers, because I haven't started talking, but I think it's a good conversation we have to have – whose agenda is most important? Is it the children's and their lives, or is it the adult agenda? So for me, I'm unashamedly on the side of the children. If their family can be supported and get themselves back on track and provide a safe and great environment for those kids, I'm all for that. But I want those kids to have the best opportunity for a good life.

All right. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Minister Anne Tolley.

Transcript provided by Able.