City Soapbox, Hamilton News, May 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Transforming child protection and care

Growing up in New Zealand, most of us enjoy security and protection within a loving family environment. We benefit from that stable and happy upbringing in numerous ways, for a lifetime.

However, it's an alarming fact that the outcomes for children and young people who come into state care in this country are terrible.

Children raised in care often end up failing in our educational system and reliant on benefits for long periods. Many come into contact with our Youth Justice and Corrections systems.

That's why Social Development Minister Anne Tolley recently commissioned an expert panel to review the agency charged with this vital work: Child, Youth and Family. The panel's recommendations informed her major announcement of a new care model.

This reform of the current system will take a lifelong view and support young people who require state care. The changes seek to improve the long-term life outcomes for New Zealand's most vulnerable children.

The new model will have five core services: prevention, intensive intervention, care support, youth justice, and transition support.

This new operating model is scheduled to be in place by April 2017, but this is not a quick fix. Despite 14 restructures in recent times, the current system is still not working in the best interests of children. That's why we are introducing a long-term transformation programme over the next five years.

I share the concerns of some of my Hamilton West constituents about the age that young people leave state care. As parents and grandparents we wouldn't ask our 17-year-olds to leave home, and we wouldn't stop giving them advice and support once they left home. When a child or young person is taken into care, the state takes on the role of parent and needs to provide that advice and support into early adulthood.

Having listened to these concerns, and following the panel's recommendations, I'm supporting raising the age a young person leaves state care from 17 to 18. The Government is also looking at creating a right to remain in care up to the age of 21, with further support up to 25.

Work is also underway to attract a wider pool of quality caregivers and provide better support for those who take on this important role. Government alone cannot solve this long-standing issue; it will take a whole community, families, and education, health and justice professionals.

Positive change cannot be achieved overnight, but we are committed to transforming the whole system. Children who end up in state care need and deserve our compassion and long-term support.

These children ought to be heard and to have a say in their future. They deserve a system that supports them to achieve and live fulfilling lives.