United's Policy Proposal Restructuring CYFS

Published: Thu 1 Apr 2004 11:08 AM
United Future’s Policy Proposal for Restructuring the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYF)
April 2004
The Human Costs of a Failing System
How many times have New Zealanders heard the tragic stories of children who are murdered by the very people they trust to provide them with care and protection? These disturbing stories are made all the worse by the realisation that in many of these cases, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYF) should have been aware of the risks to these children’s lives, yet somehow they still fell through the widening cracks in our child protection system.
Teresa Cormack (1987) Jules Mikus, who raped and killed Napier schoolgirl Teresa Cormack, had a long record of sexual offences against children. Despite being aware of his record, which extended well into the 1990s, CYF allowed Mikus to continue living with children until he was arrested for Teresa’s murder in 2002.
Craig Manukau (1992) Craig was removed from a school disco by his father and kicked to death while his mother turned up the radio to drown out the noise. The Commissioner for Children’s inquiry found that the over-familiarity of the CYF social worker working with the family led to an inability to make an objective decisions regarding Craig’s safety.
James Whakaruru (1999) James died in Easter 1999, after being beaten by his stepfather, Benny Haerewa, using his fists, a jug cord, a vacuum cleaner hose and a small hammer. The Commissioner for Children’s report on this case found that poor interagency communication characterised the contact with James and his family. Despite approximately 40 visits to health professionals, agencies successively failed to recognise the signs of abuse, or assumed that other parts of the system would protect James. CYF simply failed to follow established procedures (for example, they did not hold a Family Group Conference to ensure that all members of the extended family knew there was a serious problem).
Sade Trembath (2000) CYF placed two-year old Sade with her grandmother Patricia Bissett, in the knowledge that Bissett had history of violence and was an alcoholic. Bissett beat Sade and stubbed cigarettes out on her, taking the infant to hospital when she was found in a coma. Sade now lives with permanent physical and intellectual disabilities. A review by an independent barrister of this case highlighted that CYF policies for caregiver assessment and approval were not followed. Further, the social worker did not provide sufficient support to Bisset when she expressed concerns about her own ability to look after Sade. An extremely pressured workload, difficulty retaining and recruiting experienced staff, and a lack of available caregivers were identified as factors leading to these failings.
Saliel Aplin and Olympia Jetson (2001) Saliel and Olympia were murdered in their beds by step-father Bruce Howse, following a note written by Olympia in her diary just a week before her death that “my father is going to kill me”. An inquiry by the Commissioner for Children unearthed a litany of failures on the part of CYF. Established procedures and practices were not followed, new notifications were not entered, the practice manager was not consulted, and allegations of sexual abuse, despite being recanted, were not investigated. The social worker involved was over-familiar with the family and was desensitised to the level of violence and neglect that was occurring. No single agency was aware of all of the facts of the case, and the interests of the adults became the focus at the expense of those of the children.
Tamati Pokaia (2002) Tamati Pokaia died in the care of Michael and Maata Waterhouse in November 2001. In April 2002, Michael Waterhouse bent three year-old Tamati over a chair and punched him in the stomach four times, after finding him eating popcorn that he thought had been stolen from another child at kindergarten. The Chief Social Worker’s Review of Tamati’s death found that CYF did not ensure that the foster parents received regular visits, failed to evaluate the case failed to and plan for Tamati’s return to his family, and did not involve Tamati’s wider family/whanau in assisting to care for him.
Kelly Gush (2002) Twelve-year old Kelly died of head injuries inflicted by stepfather Darren Mackness for vomiting while she ate her dinner. A review of the case by the Chief Social Worker paints a picture of a Department under massive pressure. High caseloads and pressures of work meant that CYF staff did not adequately investigate the situation and failed to record a notification when mental health professionals expressed concerns for Kelly’s safety. The staff involved had become desensitised to the degree of risk in the family, and began to focus on the adults’ issues, rather than the children’s wellbeing. The Chief Social Worker concluded that the quality of the Department’s work had suffered due to the sheer volume of cases.
Coral-Ellen Burrows (2003) Coral-Ellen was murdered by stepfather Steven Williams on September 2003 in a methamphetamine-fuelled rage. An independent inquiry by Ailsa Duffy QC into why a phone call by her concerned father Ron Burrows to the CYF Call Centre earlier that year did not trigger any action, again highlighted the pressure that the department was under, leading to failure to follow procedures for the intake of cases. Social workers in the call centre had not received adequate training and supervision, and the quality of service was variable since it depended on the individual experience and skills of the social worker concerned. In this case, intake social workers had no local knowledge of the family’s situation or of any alternative agencies in the area who could provide help if CYF could not.
These are the human faces of a system that cannot cope. Unfortunately, the problems with CYF extend beyond a few notorious cases, and are by no means limited to those instances resulting in the death of a child.
Summarising the Failures of CYF
The Baseline Review of CYF released in October last year depicts a struggling organisation, unable to meet its goals and furiously trying to prioritise resources. Public confidence in the organisation is in tatters and while social workers have shouldered much of the burden of public criticism, the Review clearly indicates it is the buckling system in which they must work in that is the problem. The Department’s funding has been doubled since it was established as Child, Youth and Family in 1999, but still the problems remain:
The scale of demand The numbers of notifications to CYF continue to increase at a rate of about 15% a year, meaning quite simply that demand for help exceeds the Department’s ability to supply assistance. Recently, the number of notifications has burgeoned even further: in December and January the Department reported a 40% increase alone.
Prioritisation of the most critical cases only Due to this high demand, CYF has been forced to continue prioritising its attention on the most critical cases, which means that the less extreme cases wait and wait, until eventually they are bad enough to attract the Department’s attention. The prioritisation of critical and very urgent cases under the current system has meant that 93% of these cases are allocated to a social worker in the prescribed timeframe (24 and 48 hours respectively). However, only 37.9% of urgent cases, and 48.4% of low urgent cases are responded to within the timeframe (seven days and 28 days respectively). The impact of this prioritisation is also clearly apparent in the number of cases that effectively remain in the Department’s ‘in-tray’. Although it has recently been reported that the number of unallocated cases totalled 4,595 as at 31 January 2004, what was ignored was the fact that only 15 of these fell into the ‘critical’ or ‘very urgent’ category (to be dealt with in 24-48 hours), but a whopping 4,580 cases were ‘urgent’ and ‘low urgent’ cases (to be dealt with in 7 and 28 days respectively). Surely the best way to cut the number of critical cases is to intervene before they reach this level of severity.
Failure to engage in preventative work One of the statutory responsibilities of CYF is to assist parents, families and whanau to prevent their children and young from suffering neglect and abuse. However, the prioritisation of critical cases has meant that resources for preventative work are being cut. Non-governmental organisations are left to carry this load and simply do not have the capacity to do all that needs to be done. This myopic strategy will continue to relegate CYF as a broken-down ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, cleaning up the wreckage of family breakdown rather than empowering families with strategies to help stop them from getting to this point. The key point is that the vital preventative work that would keep families from getting into entrenched patterns of violence and abuse is not occurring under CYF.
Quantity is affecting quality The pressure of demand on critical services means that social workers are hugely overworked and do not always have the time to ensure they follow established policies and procedures. Poor quality of work is the result of “volume taking precedence over quality”. This means that cases get “re-notified” to CYF and have to be re-worked. What is particularly noteworthy is that of these re-notified cases, a disturbing 80% were classified as urgent and low urgent cases. This means that failures to intervene effectively in lower scale problems is leading to continuation or escalation in abuse until these families can attain critical status, and thereby gain the attention of the Department. Up to 50% of children on CYF’s books have had prior contact with the Department. If social workers had the time to give families the level of help they need then many of these families would not be coming to the attention of CYF again and again. These cases also highlight the danger that social workers, in dealing with cases of abuse every day or by becoming over-familiar with the circumstances of the family, become desensitised to the level of risk to the children and may lose objectivity unless each case is regularly reviewed often by a supervisor.
Bottlenecks at intake Some of the delays in allocating cases are due to overloading during intake at the national call centre. In other words, by the time cases are passed on to the appropriate CYF site, they have often already ‘expired’ in terms of the required response time. This is particularly true of cases that are considered less critical. By contrast, CYF staff themselves see the value in intake that occurs at the appropriate site, because it would speed up the process, assist in planning responses to notifications, and make use of local knowledge. In the case of Coral-Ellen Burrows, her father’s phone call would have probably received a different response if initially assessed by a social worker in the Wairarapa, who would be more familiar with the family’s circumstances or have ready access to those who did.
Lack of inter-agency co-ordination As the reviews of child deaths in CYF care indicate, inter-agency co-operation is vital. If the whole picture of violence and abuse had been known, then action to protect the child may have occurred before it was too late. For example, the Police were called out at least 18 times to the family of Saliel Aplin and Olympia Jetson to respond to incidents of violence, however CYF was not made aware of any of these visits.
Inconsistency of removal policy The Department’s track record of removing children is something of a paradox. On the one hand, the well-known cases of child deaths suggests that CYF is too slow to remove children from dangerous situations. On the other hand, the experiences of numerous unreported cases suggest that the Department often overreacts by removing children from families all too readily, and without sufficient consideration for their return. It is difficult to find enough caregivers willing to look after children in need, and there is not enough time to do the work required to re-unite parents with their families after children have been removed. As a result, the Baseline Review comments that “on average children in CYF care spend 2.5 years in care, experience 10 different placements and are allocated to four different social workers during their time in care”.
Difficulties in recruiting and retaining experienced staff Finally, the pressurised working environment at CYF has also led to difficulties in recruiting and retaining experienced staff. CYF reports an average annual turnover of frontline social workers of 15.8%, although this masks the fact six sites had a turnover greater than 25% and two of these had a turnover higher than 35%.
United Future’s Response
In general, we believe that most New Zealanders are heartily sick of the restructuring of state services that has been foisted on them by successive governments. However, we also believe that sometimes there comes a point where an organisation seems to be so inherently flawed, and so lacking in public faith, that major change is the only way forward.
United Future is of the view that that our current system of support for families at risk is failing our children and needs to change. While child protection is an essential aspect in ensuring our children’s well-being, policy makers must also recognise and act on a body of research which shows that a preventative approach is the only way to actually reduce the incidence of child abuse over time.
Currently, our system is hampered by a steady influx of notifications to CYF, and the government’s response to the Baseline Review has been to prioritise their attention on the most critical cases. Essentially CYF has gone into survival mode, using its available resources to try to keep a lid on the numbers of serious cases, while at the same time reviewing what preventative community activities can be stripped away. As less severe cases wait even longer to be addressed, the negative patterns of behaviour in these families continue and become more entrenched. CYF social workers simply do not have time to do the level of quality work needed to empower positive change in the lives of families, so cases return to the system time and time again.
United Future believes that in giving the CYF the massive task of ensuring the well-being of New Zealand’s children, young persons and their families, a core value of our society has been lost, namely that parents and communities have primary responsibility for the care and development of their children. They may need help at times to do a good job, but there is something seriously wrong when this responsibility is all too easily handed over wholesale to a state department. Under United Future’s proposal, parental responsibility is emphasised in two ways:
by facilitating access to services that support families, thereby encouraging parents to take responsibility for recognising and addressing their problems; and by creating a greater role for police in investigating child abuse, to send the message that we take child protection seriously, and that those parents who do harm their children must take responsibility for their actions.
The central premise underlying United Future’s solution to New Zealand’s child abuse problem is that effective and timely preventative work needs to be prioritised if we are to stem the pattern of escalating abuse and neglect.
We know that a key predictor of abuse is parental stress and families who are poorly equipped to cope with the pressures of life. We need a system in place that supports families from the earliest stage, one which points them towards the range of services needed in order to build a healthy family life from the strengths they already possess.
New Zealand has a wide range of non-governmental organisations, health services, teachers and police doing excellent work to prevent child abuse and support families. United Future fully endorses the work of these agencies, but believes that in terms of ensuring a child’s well-being, each is just one spoke in the wheel – a wheel that simply collapses without a hub in the middle to co-ordinate efforts and ensure that the range of problems affecting families are addressed.
Australia, the United States and United Kingdom have experienced the same sustained pressure on the child protection system, the same steadily increasing numbers of notifications and re-notifications of suspected child abuse, and the same long-lengths of stay for children in care. The response of these countries has been to look for solutions that place the responsibility for protecting children back on families and communities, relying on evidence which shows that “well-planned, earlier services and support made available in consultation with the family about what they would find most helpful can lead to significant improvements in the well-being of children and parents”.
Recognising that preventative work is the neglected element in the current system does not remove the need for a statutory agency that is mandated to protect children when their parents do not supply the care they need. Indeed, there are a number of changes that need to be made to ensure that the responses to children in immediate danger are swift and based on better communication and co-operation from all agencies involved.
A New Model: A Dual System of Child Protection and Family Support
Initiate a Dual Track Intake process that differentiates critical child protection concerns from broader family support needs
Currently, entry into New Zealand’s child protection system is via a single point – notification of suspected abuse, generally by a third party. Cases are filtered through a risk estimation system (RES) at the CYF Call Centre in Auckland, allocated one of four criticality levels (“critical”, “very urgent”, “urgent”, “low urgent”) or given “no further action required” status, and put in queues at a local CYF site awaiting response by a case worker.
Since CYF has a track record of struggling to do quality and timely work with low-level cases, as noted above, this is the problem that needs to be addressed. This is even more imperative when we heed research that the most consistent predictor of whether someone will abuse is that they abused or neglected as a child. If we want to break the cycle of abuse prevailing in New Zealand, we need preventative action at an early stage.
United Future proposes a “differential response” system that filters cases to appropriate service responses. Intake via notification from third parties would still happen through a “0508 FAMILY” hotline number, but the initial screening assessment would take place at a local Call Centre rather than one in Auckland. Investigation after investigation has pointed to the absence of local knowledge and poor interagency collaboration as major factors contributing to the failure of CYF to recognise the level of risk to children involved. We believe it is vital that intake occurs local level, so that local knowledge can be utilised and more informed decisions about the appropriate criticality level can be made. Further, when intake occurs locally, social workers are not hampered by bottlenecks that occur at the call centre. They will be aware of any heavy increases in incoming notifications and be able to plan accordingly rather than being given the last day of a timeframe to respond.
Each call would be classified according to risk and referred to one of two tracks – critical or very urgent cases would be sent down the “child protection track”, and urgent and low urgent cases would be directed to the “family support track” (see Figure 1). Some urgent cases would be more appropriately dealt with by the child protection track, but we have employed the current classification here for ease of understanding. We envisage that the criticality system will need to be re-visited so that an appropriate division of cases is made between the two tracks, to ensure the safety of children in high risk situations. A key aspect of reforming the intake process will be improvements in record keeping and national information systems to ensure that families who have appeared in the system before are flagged, particularly so those families who change location frequently do not slip though the cracks. By managing the flow of work in this way, it is anticipated that some of the current workload issues will be resolved, leading to better retention of valued staff.
Figure 1: Dual Track Intake Process
Re-build a Child Protection Agency In dealing with the most serious cases, the child protection track essentially retains the current statutory protection framework with several alterations in organisational responsibility. A Child Protection Agency will be established, with the key difference that cases referred down this track are all at the serious end of the spectrum. Investigative and case management functions will be separated from each other within this track.
Investigation will be undertaken in close co-operation with the Police, whose role is to ensure that perpetrators of child abuse are held to account. As happens at present, children will be removed if this is necessary to ensure their safety.
The aims of this “triage” work, however, will remain the same:
To gain sufficient information to assist workers to determine whether the child / young person has been, or is likely to be, abused or neglected or their well-being impaired and to determine what action needs to be taken to address any concerns that are identified. The investigation involves sighting and talking to the child / young person, interviewing caregivers and other family members and speaking to other agencies that may have information about the child and their family (eg. Schools, health professionals, police, etc).
The need for a much more integrated approach between police and child protection services is clear. When the issue of child prostitution in Christchurch arose recently, the response of CYF appeared to be that they would become involved when the police asked them to become involved. In the Aplin case, police were well aware of the domestic violence that occurred in that household, but did not ensure that CYF were aware of the potential danger to the children. As an example of how this co-ordination might occur, police dealing with violent offenders could ascertain whether they are involved in the care of children and refer any appropriate concerns to the Child Protection Agency.
In the course of an investigation, the case is also referred to a social worker (case co-ordinator) in the Child Protection Agency who undertakes intervention and resolution processes with the family. Involvement by the family is compulsory.
The Child Protection Agency will take the lead in co-ordination with other frontline agencies and individuals (the police, schools, other family members and friends, health professionals). This needs to become an institutionalised part of the process, as it is in areas such as Hamilton, for example, where regular meetings are held between those groups involved in child welfare. This co-ordination is necessary to ensure that the over-familiarity that has been a problem in some cases is balanced by the involvement of other groups and individuals. As another example, those who notify potential cases of child abuse also need to be kept involved in the case, and advised of the action taken.
For those children that do need to be removed, United Future believes that long periods of time spent in out-of-home care do not produce positive outcomes for children. We believe that a much tighter focus on getting children into permanent settings is essential. The Baseline Review comments that “current volumes [of work] give social workers little time to do more on planning and supporting moves towards permanency.”
We propose that from the time when a child is removed, social workers will be required to outline plans and timeframes for either re-unifying the child with their family, with continuing support from a family support co-ordinator (see below), or for placing the child in alternative permanent care. To support this, the statutory child protection agency needs to be adequately resourced and best practice identified. We believe that a re-assessment of risk also needs to occur, in conjunction with the police and other interest parties who may have a more objective view of the case, as well as the Family Support co-ordinator who is likely to continue working with the family. This will also give all involved in child protection work increased role satisfaction, since they are able to see the end results rather than their own isolated role.
Further, we propose that the current shift from measuring output to measuring outcomes must become fully instituted at the new child protection agency. It is not enough to record how many Family Group Conferences took place or cases attended to within required time frames. The public needs to have confidence that the work of the child protection agency produces results – the agency needs clear outcome measures that indicate where inefficiencies are occurring. In addition, comprehensive data collection and quality analysis of the agency’s operations will need to be implemented. Robust information systems are essential if systematic planning and evaluation is to occur.
Establish a Family Support Track that focuses on lower criticality cases
Cases that are deemed to be less critical upon intake, yet still of concern, will be directed down the Family Support track. Self-referral is also possible. The key characteristic of this track is that family involvement is voluntary. This is in keeping with a common understanding that indicates the best outcomes for supporting vulnerable families occur when families are motivated to seek help and advice voluntarily.
However, since ensuring children’s safety and well-being must always remain paramount, family support co-ordinators working in this track will have the capacity to refer a family’s case to the child protection track if they consider that the risk levels warrant statutory intervention.
Family support co-ordinators will, on referral of a new client, undertake a “family support assessment” with them. The focus of this is “strengths-based”, identifying what services the family may be able to access to build on the all the strengths they already possess to keep their children safe.
Clearly the family support assessment will screen for risk factors and abuse, but the focus is on preventing first occurrence of abuse rather than recurrence of abuse, which is the role of the child protection track. Family support co-ordinators will still be able to employ mechanisms such as family group conferences and family written agreement currently available to CYF – the essential point is that the process can be tailored to the needs of families.
The family support assessment will identify those aspects with which the family requires assistance (e.g. counselling, anger management, budget advice, addiction services).
United Future is particularly keen to involve voluntary and non-governmental organisations as much as possible with supporting families. It may be appropriate, depending on the services available in that locality, to undertake a family support assessment and find, for example, a family needs assistance with child care and general counselling and advice that could be provided by the Salvation Army, Plunket, Barnados or Presbyterian Support Services. The family support co-ordinator can then refer the family onto one of those agencies, leaving them to do the work. However, should the family’s circumstances become more serious, the family support co-ordinator can be brought back into the picture with the option of referral to the child protection track.
The key to the Family Support Track is that it will be based on local knowledge of the issues facing families in particular communities and the services available to help them. Family Support work is likely to help attract and retain social workers interested in a ‘strengths-based’ approach, and families will also have access to experienced social workers representing non-government organisations.
Further, overseas systems have recognised the child protection track is “based on discrete episodes: notify, investigate, intervene, or close. But high levels of re-notifications and re-substantiations suggest it is a mistake to look at child abuse as a point-in-time event.” A major change in this system is that when the child protection agency considers that a case has reached a stage where it can be closed, the family can be transferred over to the family support track and continue to receive assistance at a lower level. Our proposed system recognises the need for sustained support. While cases in the family support track that have a number of risk factors present may not be “closed”, as families develop the skills to meet their own needs without support, their involvement can be reduced.
It is expected, as occurs in the US jurisdictions, that in employing a differential response approach, the majority of notifications will be directed into the family support track. The net effect of United Future’s proposed introduction of a family support track is that demand for crisis level statutory is reduced over time.
Develop Family Centres (“one stop shops”) bringing together key services and involving the community
As a vital part of establishing the Family Support Track, United Future would like to see the development of local Family Centres, facilities that can act as the hub for family services. These centres would be the base for family support co-ordinators, social workers skilled in family needs assessments, who would be refer families onto the range of services they need and ensure that they access these. Such services could include:
Maternity / ante-natal / post-natal services Budget advice Child care services Mental health services for children and adults Child health Addiction services Parenting skills courses and services Anger management courses Counselling services Career/job counselling
Families with greater needs may require more intensive involvement. However, Family Centres would also act as a point of contact for information for all parents. Families do not have to be struggling to access family centres. Parents who simply want information on parenting and family issues, or to learn what help is available, would also be welcome. The aim is to de-stigmatise the process of seeking help and encourage self-referral, to address potential problems before they become sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of the authorities.
Because every community is different, the make-up of services will also be different, since they will be built-up from those that already exist. Located close to schools, early childhood centres, and other community services, family centres should be in natural settings for parents to access. In some communities it may be possible for existing services to be housed within the centre, particularly in rural communities, whereas in others they may be nearby. The important thing is that rather than try to create a “one size fits all” system, communities should be able to develop and co-ordinate the range of services they need.
The development of Family Centres, and in particular, the co-ordination of referral networks associated with them, is a process governed by the community themselves. Expanding on the Local Services Mapping work already undertaken by the CYF, each community needs to undergo a long-term process of examining the needs of families in the area and aligning the range of services with these needs.
Overseas, family support networks have drawn support and membership of strategic planning committees from local agencies involved in housing, health, welfare, education and the police. These are also groups and individuals that should also work in co-operation with the Child Protection Agency.
Returning the responsibility for planning and implementing support for families to communities themselves means that the statutory child protection agency is no longer the “agency of last resort” and is relieved of the role of developing community-based preventative services. Families, working with communities must re-assume responsibility for their children’s well-being and development.
Although United Future would like to see the work of the child protection agency and the family support co-ordinator to begin as soon as possible, we recognise that the establishment of Family Centres would take longer, but could exist at least on a virtual level under the direction of the family support co-ordinators.
Initiate public education campaigns promoting parenting skills through the Families Commission.
In his 2001 review of CYF, former Youth Court Judge Michael “Mick” Brown called for a widespread “attitudinal shift” in New Zealander’s approach to child protection. Three years later, there is no sign that such a shift has occurred, nor any indication from CYF as to how it might generate such change.
United Future believes that it is the current CYF system that has led New Zealanders to view the Department as being “all things to all people”. If our vision of shifting responsibility for the care and protection of children back to families and communities is to occur, a broad public education campaign is required.
In the last ten years we have seen the success of public education campaigns to produce collective cultural change in New Zealand. Drink driving related deaths have been reduced as a result of pervasive and consistent messages across a number of media. Results from these programmes do not occur overnight, but they share some common features. Through their sheer quantity and the targeted nature of the message, they cannot be ignored. They successfully put the issue on the public agenda for debate, and capture the attention of New Zealanders of all ages.
The total impact of these campaigns may not be fully known until the children and teenagers growing up with these messages become adults themselves. In the same way, United Future believes that campaigns with the dual focus of preventing child abuse and publicising family support services will produce long-term results.
We propose that the Family Commission, due to be established in July this year, would be an ideal entity to take the lead role in orchestrating national campaigns of this nature.
United Future’s Child Protection and Family Support Proposal:
Questions and Answers
What are the key changes that United Future is proposing?
United Future believes that two fundamental shifts in New Zealand’s child protection system need to occur: A return to parents and communities bearing the responsibility for the care and protection of children. A shift towards preventative and community-based family support services that everyone can access.
Our proposal for an improved system has the following key elements: Initiate a Dual Track Intake process that differentiates critical child protection concerns from broader family support needs; Re-build a Child Protection Agency, working more closely with the Police; Establish a Family Support Track that focuses on lower criticality cases; Develop Family Centres (“one stop shops”) bringing together key services and involving the community; and Initiate public education campaigns promoting parenting skills through the Families Commission.
How will this be different to the system we have now?
The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services would be fundamentally restructured. The current roles of the Department would be re-assigned to the Child Protection Agency, working more closely with the Police in dealing with higher level “priority” cases, and the Family Support network, which would deal with those lower level cases that our present system struggles to cope with.
This family support track is totally new and represents a shift towards a family support approach to protecting children whereby the key focus is on preventative work. An important feature of the family support track is that families are also free to refer themselves to Family Centres to get all the help they need. This represents a major shift towards holding parents primarily responsible for the upbringing of their children yet giving them a support network to access when they need help.
How will this help to solve all the problems that are happening with child abuse at the moment?
The key problem we are facing now is that demand for CYF services is greater than the Department’s ability to cope. As a result, there is not enough time for social workers to undertake quality interventions with families. United Future’s solution to this crisis is to take the research seriously and develop a system that puts a priority on preventing abuse.
By taking the pressure off the statutory child protection agency, and creating an alternative and attractive route through which families can get help at an early stage, over time we will reduce the incidence of child abuse and neglect in this country.
What will happen to the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services?
A statutory child protection agency will continue to be needed in New Zealand, but United Future proposes that in order to regain public confidence, a re-alignment of the organisation is needed. We propose that this statutory agency should have the role of preventing further recurrence of abuse where abuse has already occurred. This means that the work of the agency will focus on cases at the critical/very urgent end of the spectrum. The reduced role for the statutory agency will allow it to continue its focus on these cases, giving staff time to do quality work, yet ensuring that less urgent cases are still being dealt with through the family support track.
We propose that this agency be also directed to place a much greater emphasis on “permanency planning” – requiring the agency to have a plan instituted from the outset either for returning children to their families, or for permanent care if this is necessary.
Initially, national oversight for both the Child Protection Agency and the Family Support Centres would be undertaken by the Ministry for Social Development. However, in the future United Future would like to see a Ministry for the Family established, incorporating these roles as well as those of the Families Commission, as occurs at both the federal and state level in Australia.
What is the difference between the proposed “Child Protection” and “Family Support” Tracks?
The child protection track is primarily remedial in nature, preventing the occurrence of further harm. A much higher level of compulsory intervention is needed at this stage, and the focus remains on the safety of the child. The child protection track is the functional equivalent of CYF, as we know it now.
The family support track is for all families who are motivated to work to build a positive family life. Involvement is voluntary and holistic in approach, tailored to the needs of the particular family. In the family support track families are referred on to all of the services they may need to ensure their children have a safe and healthy upbringing. Engagement with Family Centres and the community services they will refer on to is not intended to be short-term or focussed on “closing the case” as in the child protection track, but is centred on longer periods of involvement with families to make sure that early preventative services are accessed.
What would a “Family Centre” do?
Family Centres would act as a “hub” for social services. The planning for these centres would be done by local communities, and depending on the make up of that community, could house early childhood centres, counselling services, or other any services that the community desired.
The key contact in these Centres would be a Family Support Co-ordinator, a social worker skilled in family needs assessment, who would be able to work with families to establish their needs. This Co-ordinator would be able to refer families onto the range of services they need to access to ensure positive outcomes for their family life – maternity services, budget advice, child care services, mental health services, child health services, addiction services, parenting courses and services, anger management courses, counselling services, family services provided by the community, career and job services available. Many of these services are operated by voluntary or non-governmental organisations.
This holistic approach has been employed overseas and is producing positive results. The most important thing about these centres is that involvement is on a voluntary basis and tailored to the individual family’s needs.
Who could go to a Family Centre?
Any family. The core role of these centres would be to support families, regardless of who they are. Some parents may simply require information and advice about what services are available to them. Others may need the family support co-ordinator to have a more involved role in their lives for a longer period of time.
The most important thing is that families should feel free to come and seek help – that this is a normal part of being a parent and that there is no stigma involved.
What about all of the community services which exist now, will their role be redundant?
No. The family support track will be inclusive of all the excellent community services that already exist. Family Centres will simply act as the point at which families can access the range of services they require.
What happens if I have a concern about the safety of a child I know? Who would I call?
The same process as happens now. A call is made to a central hotline number and the caller will be referred to local sites where information about the case is recorded. From here, intake social workers will make enquiries as they do presently of schools, GPs, etc and make an initial screening assessment of the criticality level to be allocated to the case. If cases are on the critical or urgent end of the spectrum, a referral will be made to the child protection agency investigative team who then undertake a full investigation.
If cases are less urgent they are referred down the family support track, to the Family Support Co-ordinator, who arranges a family needs assessment with them. If they refuse to be involved, the Family Support Co-ordinator can then refer them over to the statutory agency.
It is important that people making calls to the hotline number are kept informed about what response has been made so confidence in the system can grow.
How will the range of non-governmental local services be linked to Family Centres?
Since establishing Family Centres with referral to a range of necessary services will be managed in consultation with the community, it is up to communities to develop a shared vision for family support in their locality. Planning the networks of services available will be the role of local family support network committees, made up of professionals and workers already involved in the community. These groups would identify what services are available and what is lacking in a local area.
Family Centres with family support co-ordinators would comprise the “one stop shop” to link these services together. Planning committees could decide what services and activities would be appropriate to physically house within the Family Centre.
Would the Government or the community run these Centres?
The Government would provide funding for the Centres and staff, and continue to negotiate funding contracts with community NGO groups as happens at present. The funding role would remain with the oversight agency.

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