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Marking 25 Years Of Quality Care - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Marking 25 Years Of Quality Care

Address to the New Zealand Family and Foster Care Federation AGM. College House, University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Introduction and congratulations

Thank you for the opportunity to share this occasion with you, and my warmest congratulations on your silver jubilee.

My thanks to members of the organising committee, and the Chair, Malcolm Yorston for continuing their hard work and dedication to the New Zealand Family and Foster Care Federation.

It is truly a substantial achievement that you have supported the provision of quality care to New Zealand children for 25 years.

Yours has been a commitment based not on the opportunity for individual rewards – but on a passionate commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of our nation's children. Talk to any foster parent and they will regale you with stories that demonstrate their total commitment to kids; talk to any foster parent and they will wax lyrical about the emotional rewards and challenges of providing care.

Your Association, then known as The NZ Foster Care Federation, was established in 1976 as an umbrella group for an array of local associations.

The Federation was borne of the need to provide support and advocacy to the increasing numbers of caregivers in New Zealand.

These caregivers were engaged in a most vital, most fundamental activity of a civil society - the provision of care to vulnerable children and young people; the people in whom we invest our society’s future wellbeing.

The Federation has become the key agency with which the Department of Child, Youth and Family, in its various manifestations, has worked.

The Departments’ consultation with the Federation has proved invaluable over the years not only in hearing the concerns of caregivers, but in utilising their experience to ensure better outcomes for children.

The Federation and the Department through various working groups and reviews have continually adjusted regimes of payments and support mechanisms provided to caregivers.

There has not always been absolute agreement, but there has always been commitment to pursue the most supportive outcome available at the time.

Over the ‘80s the Department and the Federation worked to clarify the role, especially of Family Home caregivers, who were by then, often over-run by the demands of the Department to provide care for children with increasingly complex problems, on, it seemed, increasingly short notice.

Foster care in New Zealand

Successive governments have certainly recognised that foster care has been the cornerstone of New Zealand’s programme for children requiring care outside their family network.

New Zealand has long believed that a family like environment, as opposed to an institution, provides the best source of wellbeing for children. The Children, Young Person's and Their Families Act brought in by the last Labour Government in 1989 enshrined this notion in legislation, alongside support for families as primary caregivers. The new Act saw a significant drop in the number of children placed in care from an annual high of 7,000 pre CYP&F, to a low of 2,000. This reflected both the retention of children within families and a move away from the 'boys and girls home' type institutions.

However, care placement numbers have subsequently grown at up to 12% per annum (or 400 – 500 more kids per year), and have now reached about 5,000 children in care a year, and climbing.

Perhaps of greatest concern is the number of children 'cycling' thorough multiple care placements. Permanency – stability are important concepts to children. It should concern us all that the current system is seeing far too many children needing repeat spells of care.

How bad is the problem? As Judge Brown points out in his report, the average number of placements per child per year now stands at 3.1. Kids deserve much more stability than this, so this is an issue we must address.

Why is a family type environment so important for kids?

The most important contribution to an adult’s development emerges from their experiences as a child and the care they receive in growing up.

Every generation is confronted with new challenges and must win anew their place in the world; similarly, caregivers must also confront new challenges and find the most appropriate ways to encourage a young person’s development into a socially responsible adult. And with some of the children you work with the challenges are enormous.

The federation assisted with the development of Intensive Foster Care schemes of the early 80’s and in the training and support that was so essential in those environments.

It was not long before the increasingly demanding nature of the caring role in general purpose family homes and fostering situations was recognised and the call for training and for a licensing regime – initiated I believe by the Christchurch Association - was heard.

After a period of what I see as neglect over the nineties, I am proud to say that there has been, in a short time, some remarkable strides made in achieving a better standard of practice and support for caregivers.

This reflects Governments’ commitment to the best interests of children, the recognition of their rights, and the establishment of strong public services, working in partnership with the community, to protect their interests.

All those who hold dear the future health of our nation are concerned about the value we place on the work of caregivers and the benefits accrued to society as a whole from their activity. Ongoing support and recognition will enable the good work to continue.

As times change, and challenges vary, the government must review and reassess the manner in which support is offered for children in need of care and for those who respond to the challenges of caring.

Departmental support for care placements, when they must be made, is crucial to their success.

This support includes; provision of training, inclusion in the development of plans and in decisions about the future of the children and young people.

It also includes; adequate financial compensation, flexibility to enable caregivers to do the best job they can, and recognition of caregivers as stakeholders committed to the best interests of the child.

The historic weakness in recognition that pervaded the day to day relationship between caregivers and the Department reflected also the subtle failings in relation to the rights of children. For example: children were rarely consulted in any meaningful way on the development of plans or the making of decisions about their future.

This government is committed to addressing both these failings.

To this end, the training and registration programme for caregivers that has just been implemented and has already shown results.

And in relation to children’s rights, we are committed to the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, assessing the removal of reservations to it, and the ratification of further protections afforded by international treaties such as the ILO convention on the elimination of the worst forms of child labour.

We are also addressing the serious matter of relevant domestic legislation review, to ensure the changing face of New Zealand society does not compromise the rights of children to full and proper care, to identity, culture, positive familial relationships, and full participation in their own growth and development, when their parents part.

This work is progressing in a number of related work streams. We have the Guardianship Act review, work on adoptions and examination of aspects of the work of the Family Court.

As I have noted on more than one occasion, this offers us an opportunity to look at creating an overarching piece of legislation addressing care of children.

This would allow us to bed in and strengthen some of the positive features of the CYP&F Act – such as the strong principles and objects statements – the primacy of the interests of children. And to ensure common objectives drive legislative provisions relating to the care of children, whether in their family of origin or in other situations.

Back to the programme of support for caregivers. The NZ FFCF Registration, Training, and Accreditation programme was launched on 13 October last year.

This is a definite step forward in the improvement of the quality of care provided in New Zealand as well as the quality of support to caregivers.

The Federation and the Department have worked in partnership throughout last year to develop and deliver a training package that is entirely consistent with this Registration and Accreditation programme.

Four programmes of training were developed and first delivered in April 2000.

There have been over 100 training deliveries, including understanding grief and loss, non-violent intervention and behaviour management techniques.

The numbers of caregivers who have attended has been testament to its value. Over 1770 caregivers have commenced the process with almost 800 certificates issued for completion of the whole course. This within 11 months of operation. A real credit to all those who have been involved, from the training developers, to the caregivers - all of whom had to arrange babysitting, transport, deal with child illness – the usual range of obstacles confronted by carers.

This is why I believe the availability of such training must be ongoing. It is this level of close collaboration between department and the federation that I applaud and which provides to the community, a genuine benefit.

The Federation has expressed concern that the current funding runs out in July 2002. I acknowledge this concern but can assure you all of two things:

Firstly: the results so far appear to speak for themselves;

Secondly: we have a full year to discuss how best Government, and the Department, can support caregivers in their training needs.

This Government is clearly committed to having skilled, expert, caring, caregivers available for those children and young people who need 'time out' from their family.

Our challenge over the next year is to work together to put forward the best possible package of assistance.

As you will be all too aware, the Department has had troubles of its own in relation to care. To a great extent these have been driven by the increasing demand for care I noted earlier.

In December last year the Government provided Child, Youth and Family with an increase of funding in excess of $5M to help address with the care shortfall.

And I am determined to keep a close eye on the partnership we have with providers to ensure the best interests of children dominate our efforts.

Consideration of the resourcing of this whole area is a priority and we are making substantial efforts to address the issues raised by all those interested in the best provision of care to children and young people who need it.

Within the department, increased focus via a care management structure, plus increased numbers of caregiver liaison social workers are just two features planned for the near future.

So the Department must get better at working with caregivers – you are after all the heart and soul of services to so many children in this country.

But we must also work harder to prevent children coming into care and staying there. Permanency planning, registration, ensuring a supportive legislative framework and a 'rights' focus will equip us well to cope better with current and emerging challenges.

These will all form elements of work we have underway looking at how we can both improve care outcomes and prevent care being required in the first place. This means examining the drivers that lead kids into care in the first place and the drivers for multiple placements. As I said before, 3.1 placements per child per year suggests that we have a serious problem and that permanency and stability are not being achieved. This is why I have initiated a care review within CYF. And I can assure you that the focus of the review is in the right place – on the quality of outcomes achieved for children. Something we are all committed to.

If I can make a final brief plea for your consideration.

Ensuring Internet safety for all children and young people who have access to computers and the internet requires that parents and caregivers become aware of how the internet works, and what their children access when they are on it.

We cannot and would not want to prevent young people accessing the tools of the future, but we must all get better at fulfilling our responsibilities to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

As adults, as parents, and as caregivers, we must learn about this technology and where it can take them in both positive, educative way and in ways that require supervision and guidance.

An Internet Safety Kit has been developed by a collaboration between schools, non government organisations (such as Rape Crisis and ECPAT), Police, several government departments (including Dept. Internal affairs and Child, Youth and Family), and is available online at: www.netsafe.org.nz.

OR through Internet Safety helpline, (tollfree) 0508 NETSAFE.

Please avail yourselves of this resource.

To close, a silver jubilee is a significant milestone by any measure. I of course expect a Labour-led government to have a similar term.

And in some ways the Federation is a bit like a government – for your organisation must inform, educate, advocate and support its members and relies on their commitment to continue.

Who better to provide for youngsters in need? Through your actions, you have won a place in the heart of New Zealanders … and certainly in mine.

Ends

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