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Steve Maharey Address To Family And Foster Fed.

Hon Steve Maharey
Minister of Social Services and Employment
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)
Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector
MP for Palmerston North

Embargoed until 8.30am, Friday 14 April 2000.

Address to the New Zealand Family and
Foster Care Federation conference
13 April 2000.

Check against delivery.
Tena koutou katoa.

Good morning to my fellow speakers, Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, Child Youth and Family Chief Executive, Jackie Brown and to all of you here today. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share with some of my government’s hopes for the future of foster and kinship care in New Zealand.

Before doing so, I would like to particularly acknowledge Malcolm Yorston, Caroline Hill, and Helen Moroney and the Conference Organising Committee and thank them for the outstanding contribution they are making to the New Zealand Family and Foster Care federation. Thank you also to Ewen Laurenson, the former Chair and Committee member, for his dedication and hard work.

In fact I want to acknowledge the great job the New Zealand Family and Foster Care Federation is doing generally as an umbrella organisation in supporting those agencies and families who are caring for many of New Zealand’s children and young people.

The theme of this conference is Absolutely, Positively, Caring for Kids which I think reflects the way we all feel about the importance of children and young people being brought up in a secure and living environment.

Children who are, for whatever reason, living away from their parents need strong caring people like yourselves who can be their mentors and inspire them to make the most of their talents. Taking on the role of a caregiver is in many cases no picnic – you are often the people who have to “pick up the pieces”.

You deserve society’s thanks and recognition for undertaking this very challenging work.

The Conference programme certainly reflects the skills needed to ‘absolutely positively care’ for today’s troubled children and young people. I hope each of you leaves with new learning that will practically assist you in the work you do.

The role of caregivers is becoming increasingly important, as the number of children in care in New Zealand is currently growing at the rate of 10-12% per annum. This effectively means that since your conference last year, approximately four to five-hundred more children and young people are now in some form of foster care arrangement, with the involvement of either statutory or voluntary organisations.

As at the end of February 2000, 3467 children were inc are with the oversight of Child, Youth and Family or of approved agencies. Of these, 1118 were placed in family/whanau care.

While this year’s figure may seem high, it still compares favourably with the peak 1979 figure, when 5133 children and young people were in foster or institutional care.

The Children Young Persons and their Families Act, which was drafted by the last Labour Government and passed into legislation in 1989, is still internationally acclaimed. The Act is based on the belief that family and whanau have primary responsibility for their children and young people.

On a global basis family/whanau care is increasingly supplementing the more traditional forms of foster care and it is one of the fastest growing types of care for children. Kinship care is nothing new, and indeed in many cultures kinship fostering of children has been an integral part of care practices over centuries.

My colleague, Tariana Turia has recently expressed frustration at the level of placements of Maori children with whanau. Child, Youth and Family statistics show that 45% of Maori foster children are being placed with kin and 22% of pakeha foster children are placed with relatives.

I think we need to work hard to improve the abilities of both pakeha families and whanau to look after their own children and young people. I am sure we would all want our own children if possible to be cared for by our families or whanau if we couldn’t care for them ourselves.

Society and the Government need to consider the best ways of supporting all current caregivers and inspiring more people to take on this role.

The Government believes that one way of doing this is to increase the extent of training for caregivers. Training not only helps improve people’s performance but it boosts their confidence and pride in their work. It is also through training courses that you meet people doing the same job as you and important support networks are established.

I can confirm today that over the next three financial years, Child, Youth and Family, in conjunction with the New Zealand Family and Foster Care Federation, will deliver seven specialist training courses nation-wide. One of these courses will be up and running in Hamilton next week and another will be available before the end of June. Up to 1000 caregivers are expected to benefit from these first two courses.

Another two courses are in the pipeline and will be delivered before the end of the year.

Maori make up 40% of children and young people currently in care, with the involvement of Child, Youth and Family. The Government, as part of our “Closing the Gaps” strategy wants to address the reasons why such large numbers of Maori children and young people are in care.

Maori have made it clear that they see the future as built on the principle of “by Maori for Maori”. Our challenge then is not to simply “do things for Maori” but to ensure Maori can do things for themselves.

A perfect example of an initiative that will hopefully reduce the number of not only Maori children but all children coming into care the Family Start early intervention programme. This is was initially operating at three pilot sites in the North Island and is now being extended into 13 new areas throughout New Zealand – in fact, just in the last fortnight I have opened new programmes in Whakatane and Hamilton.

Family Start providers co-ordinate health, education and welfare services to families in need of support as identified from the day their children are born. Family/whanau providers work with these families to assess their strengths and resources and help them to develop action plans for the future.

I am aware that the placement of physically and mentally disabled children and young people into foster car is one of onging concern to the Federation, particularly as statistics show that disabled children are much more likely to be placed in out of family care.

The care and protection of these high-risk children is of the utmost importance and caregivers of such children should not have to battle for the appropriate higher foster care allowances. For the stability of these placements, and to ensure that these children and young people are not further disadvantaged, high levels of support to such foster families is available under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act.

Child, Youth and Family may need to initiate a 'wrap around' type approach to meet the needs of disabled children in care. This would involve better co-ordinating services to support the child and caregivers.

You will be interested to know that Child, Youth and Family and the Health Funding Authority have now agreed upon a draft Protocol – 'Services for Children with Disabilities'. This is designed to help staff in both agencies work more co-operatively so that outcomes for disabled children and young people are improved through the clear establishment of each agency's responsibilities.

As I am sure you are aware, I have announced that former Principal Youth Court Judge Mick Brown will conduct independent reviews into how Child, Youth and Family responds to referrals of child abuse and neglect, and places at risk children.

The two reviews will focus on obtaining information on the current procedures administered by Child, Youth and Family for care and protection notification, and for the placement of children and young people. The reviews will gather information from and consult with interest groups, community-based professionals, police, relevant health and education services, the Officer of the Commissioner for Children, Maori interests, and also Child, Youth and Family.

I want to ensure the very best care and protection possible is available to those children and young people who may be suffering from neglect, abuse, or otherwise be at risk.

The reviews will place a particular focus on the processes Child, Youth and Family uses when dealing with Maori, reflecting the large number of Maori children placed in care and involved in care and protection cases.

I know that Child, Youth and Family social workers and staff work in a most difficult and trying area. However, children's interest groups, community child protection specialists, and the department itself have raised sufficient concerns about responses to care and protection cases and the level of placements for me to seek reviews so that any necessary improvements can be made.

The terms of reference for the reviews will include placements with extended family members and with whanau, hapu and iwi kin groups. They will look at how effective procedures are, assess their strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations on improvements.

You may have heard comments by me in the media recently about plans for a register for social workers. I want to emphasise today that the Government is committed to establishing such a system for the professional registration of social workers that will cover the wider social sector, including the voluntary sector.

I know the issue of social worker registration has been debated on and off over the last 20 years with increased focus on issues over the last year or two. It is of particular interest to social workers, government and non-government social service providers, clients and social work educators, amongst others.

I plan to introduce a bill to Parliament this year that will set up a register for social workers to ensure high professional standards. We all want to feel confident that social workers working for Child, Youth and Family, and across the sector, are trained and competent to do the job.

Children and young people are the responsibility of us all. Despite the difficulties and barriers that caregivers face, it is clear that the rewards are many. Caregivers play a vital role in the lives of many young New Zealanders and they are often able to offer children and young people a sense of stability, security, love, care and opportunity.

On behalf of all New Zealander, I want to absolutely positively thank all caregivers for the outstanding work you do for children. I hope the rest of your conference goes well and I look forward to hearing your questions and ideas during the panel discussion.

ENDS

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