Whanau first?

The Herald reports:

Abused Maori children in state care will be monitored to see whether they do better with their own whanau or another family.

Social Development Minister has asked Child Youth and Family to compare the progress of the 50 per cent of children placed with extended family and the 50 per cent placed elsewhere – normally with foster families or permanently with a new family – to see what works better.

This is a very sensitive area, and each placement will have its own circumstances. But in terms of overall results, it is a question that should have been asked before now.

The idea stems from her concern at the high re-abuse rate for Maori children and anecdotal evidence that some placements with extended family can do more harm than good.

Last year almost 1800 children were re-abused within six months, an average of five a day. Almost half of all abused children are Maori.

1800 a year is huge, when you consider that is just the number of kids who are re-abused.

The Maori minister admitted the question was “hugely controversial”. For 20 years New Zealand social work had been based on the philosophy that children should be kept with their blood relatives wherever possible.

“In my opinion it works when that extended whanau are taking full responsibility for that child.

“When it gets a bit blurred is when we know who it is that’s doing [the abuse], when we’re keeping them daily involved, and it all starts getting mixed.”

Detective Sergeant Megan Goldie, the team manager for Waitakere police, echoed her local MP’s concerns about the dangers of staying too close to parents accused of abuse.

“The family that the child is going to may be perfectly OK but they may not be able to keep the offending parents … away from that child.

That is probably asking a lot from the extended family.

Child abuse specialist Dr Patrick Kelly said it was a hard call: foster care also had a patchy safety record and permanent placement was a huge step.

But he agreed it was common for an abused child to be sent to an aunt who turned out to be no better than the original mother – and the case was renotified.

“By then the child’s been living in an abusive or neglectful environment for another year.

“Sometimes you can go through five or six cycles of that process before CYF is forced to concede that this entire extended family is dysfunctional.

“But by then this poor kid has been in that situation for four or five years.

And by then it is too late – the next generation of abusers has been created.

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