ANZASW statement on Judge Doogue’s Address to the Law Foundation
The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) believes that the Address delivered by Judge Jan-Marie Doogue to the Law Foundation recently was significant and courageous, touching on issues that are of long-standing concern to social workers.
The Association agrees with Ms Doogue’s assertion that the justice system can play a more active role in reducing persistent criminal behaviour through collaborative engagement with Whānau/family, by placing an emphasis on early intervention and increasing support for those in care or youth justice settings.
We also appreciate Justice Doogue’s acknowledgement of the link between inter-generational disadvantage, substance abuse, family violence, poor mental health and rates of youth lawbreaking. Likewise, her identification of the high rates of offending and reoffending by young persons in state care and the connection of this to poor emotional and psychological well-being.
While such factors do not divest offenders of responsibility for their actions, they must be taken into account when analysing the efficacy of youth justice in promoting rehabilitation.
As Gina Batchelor, an ANZASW member with years of experience in the child protection and prison sectors told us, abuse and social / familial disconnection in childhood too often leads to dysfunction in adulthood.
"I believe the most vulnerable sector of our community, our tamariki/tamaiti/mokopuna, are paying the price for their parents'/caregivers'/family/Whānau misdemeanors," she said.
“I have been extremely disheartened to witness young children involved in our state system with no better outcomes identifiable other than to follow in the same path as their family of origin. The sense of belonging can never be removed despite any determination that children are at risk or unsafe in their current environment. It requires time, support and a lot of engagement to enable positive change to take place,” Ms. Batchelor said.
"I have met adult (over 25 [years old]) offenders and prisoners who describe a life which most in the Western world in this 21st Century would have no idea of – and nor should they. It is hard to imagine a life without crime from their world views," she added.
Another ANZASW member working in child protection told us: “It’s a great thing to see a chief district court judge acknowledge institutional barriers to accessing fairness and equity in the justice sector. From a social work perspective, you cannot disaggregate criminal justice from social justice.”
As we wrote in June, the Association supports the government’s decision to focus on intensive intervention at a young age to lower the number of children/tamariki being removed from their parents. The Association agrees with Judge Doogue that, when it comes to both child protection and criminal justice, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and believes that an expanded intervention strategy will provide net social and economic benefits.
The judge outlined an ambitious vision for reform that will have to be developed over time and which will require significant investment. Nonetheless, the pay-off of in the long-run could be measured in falling rates of reoffending, less children placed in state care, in addition to significantly improved outcomes for individuals and society as a whole. The cost of placing a child in care or in a youth offender facility for long periods of time far exceed those of preventative measures.
“If you’re saying you can’t fund it, you’re ignoring the costs downstream,” the anonymous social worker told the Association.
ANZASW also believes that Ms Doogue was right to raise the issue of providing stability and adequate support for mental health issues to those who are taken into care, as too many children / tamariki find themselves moved between host families. On this point, the source observed that, while removal is only ever a last resort, “if you do take a child from their parents, you have to be very vigilant about the safety and quality of that care option.”
The Association also believes that early intervention is not the job of the justice system or social workers alone: members of the family / Whānau and wider social networks who are aware of criminal behaviour in children or abuse by their family have a responsibility to engage with individuals, encourage community action and alert authorities.
“I believe that society as a whole provides the answer – and we should be working together as a people. It is not good enough to just make a phone call and hope that a solution will be provided. It is not enough to hope that legislation will provide the answer and therefore the solution,” Gina Batchelor observed.
The Association strongly supports the Judge’s recommendation that members of the judiciary, particularly in youth and family justice, should have an increased level of cultural competency and be more active in working with the Māori community to provide rehabilitative solutions.
While such understanding and knowledge should have been mandatory in the past, they will be required when the updated Oranga Tamariki act comes into play in July next year, incorporating tikanga Māori concepts of mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. This will emphasise the need for holistic approach to solving patterns of behaviour that are damaging to young people and their communities.
We hope that this can be implemented in such a way as to develop collaborative, rather than paternalistic or unilaterally-driven, models of youth rehabilitation.
“I am of Māori descent and my belief and hope is for our people to stop feeling like victims but rather be empowered to enhance our mana and that of the generations to come, in honour of our tupuna,” Ms Batchelor said.
“To restore the mana of our tamariki would surely be a good place to start,” she added.
The Association anticipates that social workers will have an important role to play in a reformed system. As Justice Doogue noted, enhanced whānau and social worker engagement will be needed in crafting new strategies to prevent reoffending, particularly in Family Court and Mediation Conferences.
We also believe that alcohol and other drugs treatment courts that provide therapeutic interventions to repeat offenders serve as a good model for future initiatives with young people and adults. The courts have been run as a limited pilot so far and have shown success in preventing reoffending and as a consequence saving public money . We hope that this will be made a permanent part of the court system and applied more widely going forward.
The Association looks forward to seeing a greater discussion of the proposals and observations put forward by Judge Doogue. We hope that her intervention will encourage greater investment in young New Zealanders whose life chances are limited by patterns of destructive behaviour, much of which is set into motion by factors beyond their control.