Raising the age of state care

June 4th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Legislation to raise the age of state care to 18 has been introduced to Parliament, and a replacement for embattled state carer Child, Youth and Family is to be in place by March.  …

That included a brand new agency to replace CYF, and a law change to allow vulnerable children to remain in care until they are at least 18, with the option to remain fully in care until they are 21.

CYF children will also be able to choose whether they keep support services until they are 25. Currently they lose all support they day they turn 17.

WIth the benefit of hindsight it seems bizarre that the day a kid is no longer 16, they lose all support. The kids in care have often had a miserable time, and allowing some flexibility with when they transition to looking after themselves seems very sensible.

CYF is gone

May 3rd, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Listener writes:

Earlier this month, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced a radical overhaul of services for at-risk children. How radical? That became clear when Tolley corrected a television interviewer who mentioned Child, Youth and Family, the Government agency charged with looking after vulnerable kids. “CYF is gone,” Tolley said with brutal finality. “It’s finished.”

The public has yet to grasp the scale of what Tolley proposes. Suffice it to say that rather than continue trying to renovate the dysfunctional and discredited CYF model, Tolley intends to pull it down and start afresh. And although the entity that will replace CYF has yet to be announced, the principles and priorities that will shape it are clear.

Key points are that the new agency will intervene early – at birth or even before – where evidence points to children being at risk, rather than waiting until things have reached crisis point; that it will provide a single point of contact and accountability to replace the hopelessly fragmented and disjointed support services operating now

It is arguably the most radical reform this Government has attempted.

Tolley says keeping families together remains the best outcome, but not if children are at risk. The system will also aim to ensure children are not repeatedly shuffled from one unsatisfactory environment to another, as happens now. A safe, stable and loving environment will take priority over misguided reliance on family.

This is sadly very necessary.

In a perfect world, having the auntie, cousin or grandparents look after kids whose parents have failed them is what you should do. Of course you want to keep them in the family.

But the sad reality is that if one part of the family is highly dysfunctional, the other parts often are also. All too often they go from the frying pan to the fire.

She is likely to have had a powerful ­Cabinet ally in Finance Minister Bill English, an enthusiastic proponent of social investment – the idea that spending money on at-risk children ultimately produces an economic return in the form of higher educational achievement, better employment opportunities and less expenditure on prisons and welfare. That will have helped sell Tolley’s proposals to Cabinet ministers who might otherwise have baulked at the extra $500 million required to make it happen.

There’s a lot of spending the Government does I’m not keen on. But I’m all for the $500 million extra if it really makes a difference in protecting the most vulnerable kids.

Of course you have to have an economy that is strong enough to fund the extra spending.

Political opposition to the plan has been muted, indicating a cross-party acceptance of the need for root-and-branch reform. Greens co-leader Metiria Turei could find nothing more out­rageous to object to than the ­possibility that some work might be contracted to private providers –  heresy in the eyes of those who still insist, despite the failure of the existing model, that the state alone is equipped for the job. Significantly, Children’s ­Commissioner Russell Wills – no cheerleader for the Government – calls the proposed reforms visionary.

They are again their most important reforms.

A massive overhaul of CYF proposed

April 7th, 2016 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Tolley announced:

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says Cabinet has agreed to major state care reforms and a complete overhaul of Child, Youth and Family to improve the long-term life outcomes for New Zealand’s most vulnerable population.

Good to see bold change. Tinkering won’t be enough.

The overhaul, which is expected to take up to five years to be fully implemented, will include:

  • A new child-centred operating model with a greater focus on harm and trauma prevention and early intervention. It will provide a single point of accountability for the long-term wellbeing of vulnerable children, with the voice of the child represented in planning and strategy. A social investment approach using actuarial valuations and evidence of what works will identify the best way of targeting early interventions, to ensure that vulnerable children receive the care and support they need, when they need it.

  • Direct purchasing of vital services such as health, education and counselling support to allow funding to follow the child, so that these young people can gain immediate access to assistance.  

  • A stronger focus on reducing the over-representation of Maori young people in the system. Currently, 6 out of ten kids in care are Maori. Strategic partnerships will be developed with iwi groups and NGOs, and new ways of working effectively will be developed with qualified academics, social service providers, iwi and Whanau Ora. 

  • Legislation will go through Parliament this year to raise the age of state care to a young person’s 18th birthday, with transition support being considered up to the age of 25. Cabinet has also agreed to investigate raising the youth justice age to include 17 year olds.

  • Legislation will establish an independent youth advocacy service to ensure that the voices of children and young people are heard in the design of systems and services.

  • Intensive targeted support for caregivers, including some increased financial assistance and better access to support services. For the first time, National Care Standards will be introduced so that there is a clear expectation for the standard and quality of care in placement homes.

If this is done well, and makes a difference, the impact on the community and those affected will be huge.

Children in care

September 25th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A review panel is scathing of Child, Youth and Family’s performance, saying the current system is focused on immediate risks and containing costs at the expense of tackling harm and supporting long-term outcomes.

The panel, led by economist Paula Rebstock, has recommended CYF should adopt an “investment approach” to needy children, intervening earlier in partnership with other agencies.

This is sensible, and is working well in ACC and welfare. Ultimately should be extended to most areas of social provision.

It also recommended a new advocacy service for children in state care which would be run by the philanthropic sector.

Also sounds worthwhile.

However, it is highly critical of CYF’s nine youth residences, suggesting that they should be replaced by “smaller, more localised services”.

“Evidence and experience show that the propensity of large-scale institutions to cause harm to vulnerable children generally outweighs the security and safety benefits,” the report says.

“Cold, sterile facilities like some of the CYF residences run the risk of re-traumatising children and young people.

“Security and safety can often be dealt with by smaller, more localised services where a stronger connection to communities and tailored support would also provide a better chance of healing and development.”

Again, seems sensible.

Mrs Tolley said some of the statistics in the report were “horrifying”.

She said by the time children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to June 1991 had reached the age of 21:

• Almost 90 per cent were on a benefit;
• More than 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child;
• Almost 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2;
• More than 30 per cent had a youth justice referral by the age of 18;
• Almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence;
• Almost 40 per cent had a community sentence;
• Overall, six out of every 10 children in care are Maori.

“This simply cannot be allowed to continue,” Mrs Tolley said.

Those outcomes are awful, and it is good to see the ambition to lift them.

However we should also be aware there are limits to what the state can do. Many or most of those in state care have been abused, beaten or neglected by their parents. They may have been exposed to alcohol or drugs in the womb, or during their childhood. By the time they get taken away from their parents, they’re already in a pretty crap state. And with the best will in the world, the harm done to them may be very very difficult to reverse.

But we certainly can do better than the status quo.

Kids in state care

August 27th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In 2013-14 there were 117 children in the custody of CYF reported to be abused; 88 were in the care of a CYF caregiver, 25 were formally placed with their parents but still officially in CYF custody, and five were abused while living with an unapproved caregiver or in an unapproved placement.

That’s very sad. Generally kids are in state care because they have been abused already by their parents, so to have it continue just makes it so much worse.

However it is worth noting that there were 5,000 kids in care so the rate of abuse in state care is 2.3%.

Only 20 per cent of children in state care achieve NCEA level 2 compared to a national average of 70 per cent.

That needs to be much higher. It will never reach the average due to what has already happened to them, but it certainly can be better than that.

Nearly a third of 14 to 16-year-olds in state care were charged with a criminal offence.

The real problem – a cycle of abuse and crime that repeats with the next generation. If we can intervene successfully to break that cycle, then we’re all the better off.


Should the parents be accountable?

June 25th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

One boy has been found guilty of manslaughter in the death of a West Auckland shopkeeper but a second has been cleared of the same offence. …

The 14-year-old is one of about 10 children. It is understood his mother gave birth to her youngest child weeks ago.

A source close to the family said the children had a tough upbringing and most had been in and out of Child Youth and Family care.

She’s obviously not a capable mother. If some of her kids are in CYFS care, why has she just given birth to her 10th?

I know we probably shouldn’t sterilise anyone against their will, but don’t CYFS now have the power to get an order from a court that any future children will be automatically removed from her? Shouldn’t this be done, as it may incentivise her to stop having children.

A previous story reported:

The court heard the sad history of these families. The eldest of the boys lived in a “drug house,” his brother said. Mum would sell cannabis and synthetics and people would come and go frequently. …

Eventually he began speaking of suicide and acting up at school. He smoked synthetic drugs to cope. 

Again, she should not be having more children, let alone the 10 she has currently had – most of whom will sadly end up with huge challenges ahead of them.

The sad cycle of abuse

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A judge has held out hope two parents in a shocking case of child neglect could have their children returned to them.

The Lower Hutt couple’s four children, aged 4 and under, were taken into care in January after police found them living in squalor while their parents partied.

However, police and child experts cast doubt on whether the parents could learn from their past mistakes.

“This was not an issue of poverty for this family. These parents simply prioritised alcohol, drugs and parties ahead of the needs of their children,” Inspector Mike Hill said after the sentencing.

And the background to the parents is sad:

The mother was one of 18 children, had started binge-drinking aged about 13, and was expelled from school before having her first child at 17.

The father had been taken out of his alcoholic mother’s care as a baby and had never met his father. He started drinking heavily when he was about 15 and was introduced to gangs a year later.

So the grandparents were dysfunctional. The parents are dysfunctional and the kids may have already been so damaged that they will grow up dysfunctional.

Stopping the cycle of child abuse is incredibly hard. In this case though CYF should have intervened earlier. It was the Police responding to a noisy party that led to them losing the children. CYF had been involved for five years trying to help the parents. But some parents can’t be helped, sadly.

Whanau placement

June 25th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Taranaki woman who was put in the care of a convicted rapist during her teens has had an apology from Child Youth and Family.

At 16, the woman whose real name has not been released, was taken from her family and placed with an uncle who had spent six years in prison for taking part in a gang rape and who subsequently sexually abused her.

The woman said a friend of her uncle’s who has since died from AIDS also abused her and she and her first born son are HIV positive.

In a statement reported by Marae Investigates, the Ministry of Social Development said it was a gap in CYF policy that had let the woman down.

“In 2001 it wasn’t mandatory for CYF staff to do criminal checks around family placement decisions made at youth justice Family Group Conferences.”

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive David Shanks said that staff at the time still had to check the suitability of caregivers and the Ministry does not condone the placement of any child or young person with a convicted sex offender.

How appalling. Part of the solution is better checks, but part of the solution is revisiting the policy that family members be the priority for placement of children needing care. Often if the parents are unsuitable to raise a child, so are the wider family. Abuse does not occur in a vacuum.

Criminal checks for CYF placements became compulsory early this year.

As I said, that is a good step, but not necessarily the only one to be taken.

A full inquiry is needed

December 23rd, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The failure of government agencies to halt appalling abuse of a nine-year-old girl has led the children’s commissioner to call for a broad independent report.

A neighbour said she called Housing New Zealand, a teacher says her school contacted the Education Ministry, and Child, Youth and Family were monitoring the girl’s family.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett will this morning review a fast-tracked interim report by CYF about how the girl was left with her family despite concerns raised about her welfare.

But Children’s Commissioner John Angus said a wider, independent report into the failure by multiple government agencies may be required. “It looks like the systems have failed this child.”

I think a wider independent inquiry is needed, but note it may not be possible until the court cases are done. I want to know who did the school tell, and how often; why did CYFS not pick up the abuse; what did Housing NZ do etc etc.

The school board’s chairwoman said the school followed the right procedures in dealing with government agencies.

A next-door neighbour of the couple said she rang Housing NZ and told three different case managers of her concerns for the couple’s children. “I knew there was something wrong.”

The good thing is that people did report their concerns – the teacher and the neighbours did the right thing. But somewhere along the way there was a failure with agencies. Not good enough.

Trevor Mallard blogs:

I’ve not been a supporter of mandatory reporting of child abuse. One of those finely balanced 60/40 things. Not die in a ditch for me.

The evidence we got was that lots of kids would not tell teachers counsellors nurses about abuse if they knew Police or CYFS would automatically be involved.

Every time we have a bad case where the system fails a child I ask myself whether we have it right

I’m not sure if such a policy would have made a difference in this case, but generally I do support mandatory reporting. I think the fear of less reporting of abuse is supposition.

I think I agree with Trevor

August 8th, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A drug dealing 12-year-old took a kilogram of cannabis to sell to his mates at an intermediate school.

The kid with the stash, worth about $7000, was busted when his friends at Auckland’s Manurewa Intermediate were caught smoking some of the cannabis.

The 12-year-old had been given the drugs by a family member to sell at school.

I hope that family member is now in jail.

Labour’s education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said police and Child, Youth and Family (CYF) should be told of every drugs case in primary and intermediate schools.

“The sharing of this information could well help the kid in the long run. It might be that CYF and police decide to do nothing but they should have that information.

“That’s something that the minister should look at.”

But Education Minister Anne Tolley indicated on Friday that was unlikely. “This issue should be of concern to everyone – parents, communities, boards of trustees and teachers,” she said.

“Boards manage schools and develop their own policies – and most would notify the police or CYF in the event of a drugs issue. That’s a commonsense approach – and schools shouldn’t need the Government to tell them that.”

I’m basically with Trevor on this one. If we are talking kids not yet at secondary school, then I think there must be mandatory notification. This is too important to leave to school discretion. Sure you don’t want schools having to report every 17 year old who is caught with some pot, but hell if a kid is into drugs at age 10 or 12, then they are at serious risk of a life of dysfunctionality.

A pro-Destiny post

March 21st, 2010 at 12:24 pm by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

A Destiny Church pastor working for a child-fostering organisation that gets $10 million a year of taxpayer money is placing vulnerable children with Destiny members of the congregation.

New Plymouth Destiny pastor Robyn Edmonds oversees foster placements as the Taranaki branch manager of the Open Home Foundation, which helps “disadvantaged and hurt” children.

The foster kids are expected to attend Destiny’s controversial services each Sunday. …

He said it was part of the group’s ethos to have foster children attend church on a Sunday unless their natural parents specifically objected.

Former Destiny members from Taranaki said the congregation was encouraged to open its homes to foster children.

“They were encouraging people to go into social work,” said one.

The object was to have members make their homes suitable as potential foster homes, from which children could be taken to church services.

Another member said the extra children meant a greater income and higher tithes. However, he said the appeal was fresh membership.

In a statement, Child, Youth and Family national operations manager John Henderson said the foundation received $8.9m in funding last year, mainly for foster-family work. The group’s own records put total taxpayer funding at $10.7m.

“There have been no concerns raised with the Ministry of Social Development or Child, Youth and Family in relation to Open Home Foundation or Destiny Church,” he said.

My views on Tamaki are well known, and I suspect the motivation for the fostering is about more membership.

However if CYF has no issues with the quality of care given by Destiny members, then good on them for offering foster homes. NZ has a shortage of good quality foster parents, and kids do better in an actual family home than they do in an institution.

Some of the work done by Destiny Church is laudable, and this is an example.

However that does not make Arch Bishop Brian the physical manifestation of God, and does not excuse the extortion tithing racket which nets him a million dollars a year.

The anti-smacking law review

September 8th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Key announced yesterday the panel and terms of reference for reviewing how Police and CYFS are implementing the amended Section 59 (the anti-smacking law).

The TOR says:

To review New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, in order to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable in the interest of ensuring that:
1. good parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007
2. provisions of the law (both criminal and under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989) are applied to those who abuse children.

Now like many, my preference is for a law change, not just a review of policies and procedures. But the choice of independent reviewer is a very good one, which should give some credibility to what he reports back.

The reviewer (along with the MSD CEO and Police Commissioner) is Nigel Latta, the host of the Politically Incorrect Parenting Show, that showed on TV One.

Latta has said:

I have been approached by the Prime Minister and asked if I would consider participating in a review of the Police and CYF processes around S 59 to see if the law is working as intended. I have agreed to participate in this review on the basis that it was understood that my role was independent and that I was able to speak freely about both the process of the review, and my opinions regarding its findings.

So if he disagrees with any conclusions, he will say so. And more interestingly:

For the record, and this is something I have commented on publically in a number of contexts, my personal view on S59 is that I did not agree with the original law change.

I also voted no in the referendum. I do not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the ‘common sense’ understanding of what that means, should be subject to criminal prosecution or investigation.

That is a very useful statement, because he has said not only should parents who merely lightly smack their child not be prosecuted, he says they should not be investigated (presumably by Police or CYFS).

Again my preference is for a law change, but nevertheless this review looks to be potentially quite positive if done well.

Calling for an intervention

March 13th, 2009 at 7:40 am by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

A woman who was seven months pregnant when caught drink-driving for the eighth time went straight to the pub after a court appearance yesterday.

Call me judgemental but I think CYF should be grabbing the baby when he or she is born.

Her breath-alcohol level was measured at 994mcg per litre of breath – 594mcg over the legal limit.

Not sure what is more likely to do damage – the high levels of alcohol while pregnant, or the probability of a crash because you are driving while pissed.

It was her eighth drink-driving conviction and her 15th for driving while disqualified.

And just consider how many times she has actually driven drunk and/or disqualified. Several hundred probably.

Brown had denied the two charges but changed her pleas to guilty in January. She was remanded on bail only because she is the sole caregiver of her two children and is looking after her partner’s children while he is in jail, Rotorua’s Daily Post reported.

I have doubts they are particularly safe either.

CYF taking babies at birth

March 2nd, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Child, Youth and Family took 66 at-risk babies less than a month old into its care last year and 15 of them were taken the day they were born.

In more than half of the cases, older brothers and sisters were already in care, figures provided to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act show.

The number of custody orders involving newborns has more than doubled in the past five years. In the 2003-04 year, 32 were taken into state care.

And I say good on them – the kids may grow up safe. Parents with a history of child abuse, do not have a right to keep inflicting misery.

I am reminded of the pregnant 14 year old who has twice been arrested for drink driving. I find it impossible to believe she could safely raise her children – even if they survive the pregnancy.

I am reminded of the words of a friend of mine who is a journalist. She described how she cried when she heard Antonie Dixon had killed himself. She attended his trials, and explained she didn’t cry for the sociopathic killer he had become, but for the tortured abused childhood he had to endure.

It was a salient reminder that so much of our crime (and “underclass”) is due to abusive childhoods, and that we need to be more aggressive in protecting at risk kids. And no, that does not mean passing an anti-smacking law – which was a gaint distraction from the real problem.