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Community Providers - Steve Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Rebuilding The Relationship With Community Providers

Comments at the Child, Youth and Family Future Search conference. Massey University College of Education Hokowhitu Campus, Palmerston North.

Introduction

Welcome to Palmerston North.

I’m not going to spend too long talking AT you today - the whole point of this conference is that the Department needs to rebuild it’s relationship with community providers and that means learning to listen as much as talk.

But I do want to acknowledge each and every one of you here today, and to set the scene for your discussions.

You have been invited to this, the first of a series of conferences Child, Youth and Family is hosting around the country, because of the contribution you make to child, family and community well-being every day.

As a Government we recognise that contribution - and the critical importance of services to support families in times of trouble. That is why we committed an additional $216 million over the next four years to support the work of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services and agencies that work in partnership with it.

One element of this package was additional funding for community providers working in partnership with Child, Youth and Family. I intend to announce in the next week or so how this additional funding for community providers will be distributed.

The focus of this Conference and those that follow is on building strong alliances for children, young people and families.

This is NOT a narrow focus on children notified to the Department due to care and protection or youth offending concerns. Rather it is a broader focus on children and families in need and the continuum of social service support they require to maintain or regain well-being.

In other words, it as important to focus on the role community services play in stopping children ever being subject to a care and protection or youth justice notification as it is to focus on partnerships to assist post notification.

This is the important balance between work to build a better ambulance and work to build a better fence. Of course in the real world you need both. This is what I mean by a continuum of services:

- preventative services to build the healthy capacity of families in need - budget advice and general parent education are examples of this;

- early intervention to provide assistance when we get warning signs of trouble - such as family violence services offering timely assistance to women and children;

- intensive interventions when children have been harmed or are notified as being at serious risk; and

- restorative programmes to enable children to be safely maintained back in their family.

Some of these services are clearly statutory in nature and can only be done by CYF social workers - whether in the department or seconded to say an iwi social service - others are clearly better done by community partners who share a common goal of child and family well-being.

Alliances - or partnerships - are at the heart of any work to support children and their families.

At the most fundamental level, the Children, Young Person’s and Their Families Act 1989, a landmark piece of legislation introduced by my colleague Dr Michael Cullen, places actions to support children squarely in the context of the family.

It was a major move away from a care and protection system that had previously been based on pulling children out of troubled families and into State care. It recognised that family endures and that the task of those who work with children should, as far as possible, be to protect the child AND build the strength of the family to quickly re-establish care.

We can be proud of the CYP&F Act, many countries have emulated, but not bettered it.

But it is time for another fundamental progression in the way we work to support children.

Two recent reports have starkly identified this:

- in January this year Mick Brown’s review of Child, Youth and Family called on the Department to rebuild it’s relationship with community social service providers; and,

- the Community and Voluntary Sector Working Party report made several recommendations about the need to improve the relationship between government agencies and communities.

Both reports identified that the contractual model of the 1990’s failed to build relationships - and in doing so failed to recognise that community providers and government agencies need to work hand in hand.

So today’s fundamental shift reinforces the notion that family is at the heart of what we do AND recognises that caring for families requires government agencies and community providers working in partnership.

What we seek are alliances dedicated to the well-being of children, families and communities.

If government agencies or the community sector works alone we will inevitably fail those we care for.

We simply cannot work alone to produce the results we are after - safe children, strong families and stronger communities.

The Issue

There is no single solution to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of our communities. A full range of services are often needed to ensure the protection of children and young people and to strengthen families to the point where they can provide safe and secure care for their own. There is no super agency who can be everything to every one - there never has been and never will be. We all need to contribute.

There is an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. And that is really what we are talking about here today. Working together in the best interests of our children.

I know there are already examples of remarkable collegial practice around the country that achieve improved outcomes for families. We don’t want or need to reinvent the wheel but we must harness and spread the principles that underpin those positive working relationships.

The Work

Child, Youth and Family have embarked on a work programme called New Directions. This programme is bold and ambitious because the overall goal is to achieve better outcomes for children, young people and families. They recognise they cannot do this alone, as Mick Brown stated so eloquently “care and protection is about adult behaviour”. Or to put it another way: both the problem and solution lie with all of us.

I must at this point acknowledge that the community sector has been crying out for an improved relationship with government agencies, and Child, Youth and Family in particular for many years, and that those cries largely went unheard. So what has changed now?

For one thing, we now have a Government of a very different complexion from that of the 1990’s. Both Labour and the Alliance spent much of our time in Opposition listening to people in the community. We heard about the problems - but we also heard the passionate desire of communities across the country to play a part in finding solutions.

And we haven’t forgotten those messages. Right across government you can see power shifting from Wellington dictates to a collaborative approach with communities, whether through District Health Boards, Stronger Community Action Funds or other like initiatives. And right across Government you can see the notion of partnerships being turned into actions.

Bottom line - this Government expects it’s departments to change the way they operate - to rebuild their relationships with the communities they are meant to serve.

CYF are part of that change. The thrust of the New Directions plan the Department is putting in place is about:

- taking a regional approach to service delivery;

- moving decision making, including funding decisions, closer to where the impact of those decisions is felt, and;

- building active partnerships with agencies that share the common aim of safer children and stronger families.

But partnerships - alliances - are not a one sided process. That change is dependent upon all of us as stakeholders in this sector.

That is why this conference is so important it signifies the start of the discussion about how we can build an active alliance for children. This is your opportunity to bring together your experiences, ideas and visions for safer children, strong families and communities - and to start to make that vision a reality.

Conclusion

In conclusion:

- Forming a new relationship always brings challenges. Sometimes something as simple as learning to listen can be difficult.

- But we have a major advantage - in that we have a common goal to ensure a better deal for children and families in New Zealand.

If we set and keep our sights on that goal and work together, we can and will achieve it.

I wish you well with your work here over the next few days.

Ends


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