Fewer kids going into state care, but they're staying longer - Oranga Tamariki

Oranga Tamariki says it's taking on fewer children, despite official figures showing the number in state care is rising.

The latest figures show more than 6000 kids are in foster care, up from 5000 a few years ago when the department was known as Child, Youth and Family.

Chief executive Grainne Moss told Newshub Nation on Saturday the number of children coming into state care each year has dropped 10 percent since 2017, when the Ministry for Children was formed.

"However they are staying with us longer," she told host Simon Shepherd, and the age kids can stay in care has been increased.

"We've raised the age for kids in care… it used to be 17, now kids can stay in care until they're 18. That was something kids told us that they wanted."

She said Oranga Tamariki has also reduced the number of kids being placed with carers in motel rooms, instead of homes, from "almost close to 60" a day down to 16.

"Sometimes they are a good temporary slot for maybe a few days, but on a long-term basis, no," said Moss, crediting the opening of new kaupapa Maori and community homes, as well as an increase of 400 foster carers and 260 social workers.

"We can always have more. What would be lovely is to have so many options that a child could have three or four places to go, and they could even choose."

But she said Oranga Tamariki wouldn't be loosening up its foster parent recruitment process.

"Our children deserve the best… We have a very robust vetting process, and I would be nervous to move away from that."

A report earlier this month found in the six months to December, 227 kids in Oranga Tamariki care had been abused in the previous six months in 335 recorded incidents.

"It's absolutely not acceptable," said Moss. "We've set up a specific unit to make sure we are looking at what harm was occurring to children in care. The Government's set up a royal commission… we want to make sure it doesn't happen, and to do that we need to shine a light on what is happening in care, what is contributing to the harm."

She said three-quarters of the harm stemmed from "inappropriate discipline" - foster carers using violence.

"The vast majority of our foster carers are absolutely wonderful people who open their hearts and their homes. But raising children - particularly children who have been traumatised - is tough, and people do need help."