Hamilton News city Soapbox, August 2016
Caring for our vulnerable children
Too many of our nation’s vulnerable children end up on a benefit, or in prison, or with few qualifications. I’m sure this worries us all. Our young people deserve better than this, which is why I am pleased to support a new child-centred, stand-alone ministry to focus on the care and protection of vulnerable children and youth. The new operating model will put the needs of children first, above everything else, with the aim of improving their chances of leading happy and successful lives.
The new department, named the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, will begin operating by April 2017. In this context Oranga Tamariki means health or wellbeing of children.
This is not a rebranding exercise. Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says the new ministry, new name and completely new operating model reflect “our determination to remain absolutely focused on the individual needs of each child”.
As many commentators have noted in recent days, it is how the new ministry performs, rather than its name, which will make a real difference for vulnerable young people. It will also require strong leadership to implement the massive changes required over the next few years, and to embed the necessary culture change within staff.
Oranga Tamariki will focus on five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support services, transition support and a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending, and will have the ability to purchase vital services such as trauma counselling as soon as they are needed by children.
A major transformation programme is underway at the moment, supported by $200 million of initial new investment announced in Budget 2016. This is taking place alongside normal CYF operations which have received an extra $144 million for cost pressures.
The minister has stated that the new model won’t need fewer staff – quite the opposite. It will need more people with specialised skills. The new Chief Executive will put a leadership team and management structure in place to implement the new way of working, and the culture change required.
Legislation is currently going through Parliament which will raise the age of state care and protection to a young person’s 18th birthday, ensure that children’s voices are heard in decisions which affect them, and establish an independent youth advocacy service.
I echo the minister’s concern that for far too long, the long-term outcomes for young people in the current system have been simply atrocious. We have to do much better. I wish those who will work in this vital area, and all of the young people with whom they will be working, every success. They will have my full support at every step.