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.