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Q + A: Anne Tolley interviewed by Corin Dann

Q + A
Episode 95
ANNE TOLLEY
Interviewed by CORIN DANN


CORIN I wondered if we could start first the ‘child first’ priority in this report. Does this now mean and signal that in future we will see earlier interventions into families that are struggling and in trouble, and that children will be removed from family members more often than is currently the case?

ANNE Hopefully not. The object is that you get in early and effectively and help families to stay together, because that’s the very best outcomes we can ever hope for for our children. So the new operating system will have that right up front. But if it impossible for those children to be kept safe, then, yes, the report says what those children need most of all is a stable and loving family at the earliest opportunity.

CORIN How early?

ANNE Well, currently, where a child is deemed to be at risk of being harmed seriously, they are removed from that family by CYF. They are the only ones who have the statutory responsibility. And the report shows very clearly that by the time CYF does that, the children are about 7 or 8, and they’ve come to attention of CYF at about 3, and they’ve been in and out of family—

CORIN And you’re saying go in early?

ANNE Going in early, going in much earlier if you can – certainly at birth or pre-birth, where you know that family is at risk – and trying to put the good support around that family to keep them together. But when they first come to attention of CYF, and the child is unsafe and the child is removed, what the report says is we should put that child into a stable and loving family and leave them there for the whole time that they are—

CORIN This is quite a major change, in reading through this report.

ANNE Yes, it is.

CORIN Because you talk yourself, when you released this report, about hearing from kids who’d said they’d been moved to seven or eight houses.

ANNE That’s right.

CORIN And the trauma that this has caused them.

ANNE Yes, that’s right. And the young people said to me, ‘Stop experimenting with our lives.’ And, look, I’ve heard so many stories, just as recently as last week I was talking to a chap who had fostered over 20 children. On many occasions those children were doing well, they were well established, they were doing well at school, they were living good lives, and he had to fight with CYF, who had found some distant relative that they wanted to put those children with. And the last one he was telling me about, the boy ended up two years’ later in the youth justice system.

CORIN So this reliance on family and wider family members, there’s a shift away from that now?

ANNE There is, but a shift away from the reliance on them to look after the children no matter what, to, ‘How do we support families to stay together, even if the children aren’t living there?’ And that comes very clearly through the report, and it was a very clear message from the young people. They want to know their whakapapa, they want to know their marae, but they don’t necessarily want to live with them if it’s not the best place for them.

CORIN What a massive decision, though, to make. If you’re going to make one big decision early on that the child comes out and you put them with one family, and your goal, all this effort here, is to keep them in this one stable family, if you get that wrong, what happens then?

ANNE Well, it’s already gone wrong for that child. So you’ve already removed them. You’ve already made a massive decision to remove them from their family, and let’s not underestimate the seriousness of that. So the risk factors have come into play. What the young people said to me is, ‘Make sure that if you do put us with kin,’ – and certainly if there are family or whanau who are able and ready and willing to have those children, then of course you look to the family, but the young people said, ‘Put our kin carers through the same checks that you put our non-kin carers though.’ Which I would’ve thought was something you would do as a matter of course, but it’s not done.

CORIN It says in here too that even if there are cultural differences, ethnicity differences, once the child is moved, that’s it. So is that potentially going to cause some problems?

ANNE Well, it’s not quite it, because what the report’s talking about is looking for ways and partnering with different organisations to find ways to– where the child is willing, and in most cases, the young people said they wanted to know who their family was. They wanted, in most cases, to retain the links with their family, but not necessarily live with them where their lives are at risk and their long-term outcomes are at risk. And that’s what we’ve seen in the past – huge efforts to keep that family together at the children’s expense. They’ve been rotated backwards and forwards to a family while we try and put the supports around that family.

CORIN So does the focus on trying to mend the family, is that over now? Have you given up on that?

ANNE No, of course not. You still keep working with the family, because there may well be other children, past and present.

CORIN But if that big, tough call is made, there’s no way back.

ANNE Well, there may well be, but let’s not put those children at risk. The family have to prove themselves capable before you take the risk with the child’s life. So it may well be that over time, you work with that family, and you get the Dad off the booze and you get Mum off the P and the violence stops in the house, and they start showing themselves to be a responsible, great family, and gradually that child can re-establish its links with the family.

CORIN Sure.

ANNE But it still has that background of a stable and loving family.

CORIN Could I come back to that decision-making process? You have signalled to that there would be more information sharing. Can you talk me through this? So in future, someone, say, an adult with a mental illness, their doctor may be able to more easily give that information to CYFS so when they’re making the decision, they know about a parent’s mental illness, for example? Are you comfortable with that?

ANNE So, first of all, let’s say CYF is finished. CYF is gone. No more CYF. We’re having this new operating system that goes from prevention – and early prevention is really important – through to transition.

CORIN Sure.

ANNE What we’ve found with the children’s teams, which there’s 10 of them in the country now, and that’s that intensive intervention.

CORIN Sure.

ANNE What we’ve found is that some health professionals in particular, but some professionals working with these children are reluctant to share the pieces of information that they might have about that child and their family, cos they’re not sure how they’re protected under the Privacy Act. And the conflict between the Child, Youth and Family Act and the Privacy Act, and we’ve done a lot of work with the Privacy Commissioner to try to make this clear that where a child’s life is at risk or a child’s long-term well-being is at risk, these people should be sharing information. And that clip that you showed, there’s been many, many times when after following the death of a child, murder of a child, everyone’s sat around in a room, and it’s emerged that a whole lot of different people had different pieces of the puzzle, and the different pieces of the information, but nowhere was it all together.

CORIN But you’ve got a conflict, haven’t you, with a doctor? I mean, some doctors won’t want to give that information. Their patient’s privacy is paramount.

ANNE Yes, and their relationship with their patient is important. What I’m saying is in the child legislation, what the report is saying and I’m agreeing with is we need to have bespoke legislation that where that information affects the long-term safety and well-being of their children, then that information can safely be shared as putting that whole package together to look at what you need to do to support the family, but most importantly, for that child to live with that family. If you don’t have that information, it affects what happens. And that family may well lose their child, because they didn’t have that bit of information and they haven’t been able to address that as part of the plan.

CORIN Okay. If we could look at the new entity - a lot of language in this report talking about building a market, effectively a market where it can go out and shop for the services that it wants. Are you envisaging that there would be profit-making companies in that market?

ANNE Well, there may well be, and I’ve talked about private psychologists. What we’re talking about and the flavour of the report is a localised services for these kids, so that we’re not dependant. We’re not talking about big companies, big private companies providing services. What they’re saying is that, a bit like ACC, where you have the ability to direct purchase your services for when you need them, actually, you find that a whole range of people suddenly pop up and say, ‘Well, actually, we can provide that service bespoke for your needs.’

CORIN Does it not change things when there is profit involved? I mean, it is the state’s core role here protecting vulnerable children. I know, you know, it’s an ideological thing.

ANNE It is ideological. I’m interested in the child. So if the child needs some psychologist working with that child now because they’re deeply traumatised, are you suggesting that it’s okay, as it is now, to go on a hospital waiting list?

CORIN What’s being suggested is that the government provides that psychologist.

ANNE Yes, that’s right. They go on the waiting list.

CORIN That it’s the government’s core role to provide those jobs.

ANNE Yep, and they’ll go on the waiting list. That’s what happens now. And they negotiate with the government agency, which is the DHBs.

CORIN Or you could resource them more so that they weren’t on a waiting list.

ANNE Well, it’s not about resourcing. They’ll have their criteria, so if you talk to the CYF social workers, they’ll tell you they spend three-quarters of their time negotiating with the different agencies to get this help for the children in a timely fashion.

CORIN But you’re a government – you’ve got the power and the ability to change that if you wanted. I mean, it’s the principle that it should be the state at the core. And the fears from the likes of the Greens are that this is a slight opening of the door here to more private enterprise to do something which the state should be doing.

ANNE Well, my fear is that these children sit and wait on waiting lists for education, for health, for counselling, and I agree with the report – they deserve to get those services now, and whoever’s going to provide them, we should be making sure they get it when they need it.

CORIN But isn’t the argument there a case of resources?

ANNE Now, that doesn’t let the universal services off, but what we know from the last two years, the information that we’ve gathered, is that actually, our universal services aren’t reaching our most vulnerable in the community. And yes, that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to work to make sure that happens. But these children are the most vulnerable. These are the most at-risk children in our community through no fault of their own. They deserve to get the help they need. And if we invest in them now when they need it, then the savings to them and their community and their family and the taxpayer further on down the line are immense.

CORIN Anne Tolley, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it on Q+A.

ENDS

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