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3/10 for care and protection of NZ children

Score 3 out of 10 for care and protection of New Zealand children (27/07/2006)

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) scores the government’s performance as 3 out of 10 for improving the care and protection of children.

The Council is seeking meetings with the parliamentary working party on family violence and other key Ministers and civil servants to discuss its views.

NZCCSS’ highly critical report “Is Any Progress Being Made in Care and Protection for New Zealand Children?” points to five successive plans to reform or restructure services for families in as many years, matches that with a 60% rise in cases of abuse and neglect and pronounces government initiatives a failure.

“There has been a lot of planning, reviewing and research, but the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services feels compelled to ask, is there a plot? Are we getting any closer to an effective system of support for children and families that will put an end to New Zealand’s appalling record on care and protection?” said Mr Shaun Robinson, spokesperson for NZCCSS.

“A lot of paper has been produced in the last five years, unfortunately a lot of children have been murdered, abused and neglected as well,” said Mr Robinson.

“We see politicians of all parties become very animated when a high profile case arises. There is invariably a grand new plan with a fresh round of consultation and a high profile programme, and nothing really happens” said Mr Robinson.

NZCCSS represent 130 community based services for families. “That base of experience gives us confidence that there are solutions to this issue”, said Mr Robinson, “but it will require a fundamental change in the way politicians, bureaucrats and all New Zealanders think and act.”

“A failure to understand communities and families is central to New Zealand’s appalling record in the care and protection of children” says NZCCSS.

“All families need support from a community of relations, friends and neighbours. When that breaks down, family members become vulnerable to violence and all forms of abuse. This can be repeated over generations. Local community people are often aware of these vulnerable families and it is only through local relationships and trust building that the situation can be turned around” said Mr Shaun Robinson.

• “Government agencies like the Ministry of Social Development and Child, Youth and Family are highly centralised and unstable, so that doesn’t work.”

• “Health, Child, Youth and Family, Police, Education and all the relevant bureaucracies refuse to work together, so that doesn’t work.”

• “Policy makers in Wellington take such an academic approach and move so slowly on issues that their responses are not pragmatic, are risk averse, and come way to late, so that doesn’t work.”

• “Politicians are desperate for a solution so they look for quick fixes, try to keep the problem out of the media, or seek political points to score against each other, so that doesn’t work.”

• “The New Zealand public tends to look for individuals to blame rather than acknowledge that this is a nation-wide problem, so that doesn’t work either” said Mr Robinson.

None of this responds to the need for long term community based support.

“It is extremely frustrating for community agencies working with families, day in, day out. If bureaucrats and politicians saw both the hardship and hope that we see they would have a much greater sense of urgency” said Shaun Robinson.

There are no quick fixes, but there are some immediate actions that will help a lot.

There needs to be a continuum of services; from broad support for young families, to services to prevent vulnerable families from reaching a crisis, to crisis intervention. It is vital that all of this continuum is in place or none of it can be successful.

The preventive services constantly fall off the agenda. Significant resources must be channelled to local community based services who are trusted by local families. These might be Iwi, pan-Maori, Pakeha or Pacific based. The key is that they are local and are resourced for high quality preventive support.

The focus of services relationships and decisions within Child, Youth and Family needs to be at the local office level so that trust and knowledge of local communities can be built e.g. the centralised call-centre should be disbanded and local intake and assessment re-established.

Local community co-operation and planning between services needs to be actively promoted. This must engage the full community including health, education and other relevant sectors.

To support these “on-the-ground” initiatives:

The Chief Executives of Health, Education, Justice, Social Development, Corrections and Police should have clear goals for their contribution to care and protection within their annual performance agreement with their minister. These should include evidence of their collaboration with each other.

The Prime Minister should urgently establish a joint ministerial team to improve New Zealand’s performance in care and protection.

NZCCSS challenges all political parties to publicly commit to work cooperatively to improve New Zealand’s child wellbeing and safety as a nation-wide priority. This will mean:

• agreeing to publicly acknowledge the collective responsibility of all New Zealanders in ensuring the care and protection of children

• acknowledging that mistakes will be made - some services will fail, some instances of poor performance will emerge.

“If this was a preventable disease that was killing and maiming our children, the whole nation would get behind a campaign to end it” said Shaun Robinson. “We want the same commitment from Don Brash, Helen Clark, and every person in New Zealand to end abuse and neglect.”
“It can be done, for our children’s sake, lets get on and do it!”

Click here for a copy of the report


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