“Oranga Tamariki (OT) has failed our most vulnerable children by avoiding accountability, treating kids as an ethnicity first, and failing to preside over youth justice facilities they never should have been running in the first place” says ACT Party Leader David Seymour.

“We’ve seen where the current path leads. It’s easier to help a broken kid than a broken adult, ACT will better equip Oranga Tamariki to do just that.”

“I know what it’s like to be a child moving between homes dealing with the state care system. All these years later and despite the name change, Oranga Tamariki is no better than Child, Youth and Family was when I was young. I came to Parliament to make a difference for kids like me going through the state care system. Today, I’m proud to announce ACT’s plan for a more humane and accountable Oranga Tamariki,” says ACT’s Children spokesperson Karen Chhour.

Seymour says:

“ACT will:

  • Establish an accessible and child-friendly monitoring system which is truly independent from Government
  • Offer kids the continuity of support in care they need by dividing the ‘social worker’ duties into a ‘Mentor’, focussed on support and advocacy, and a ‘Child Protection Officer,’ focussed on statutory duties.
  • Increase public accountability of OT’s Chief Executive
  • Devolve service provision, empowering support from within communities
  • Make caregiving more attractive to address a national shortage
  • Transfer youth justice functions from OT to Corrections

“Children in state care often find themselves with no consistent source of caring support in their lives as they move from home to home. ACT will give kids the consistency they need by rescoping OT social worker duties into two distinct parts. The ‘mentor,’ employed by the Independent Children’s Monitor (ICM), will focus on support and advocacy and will assist the child throughout their time in state care. The ‘Child Protection Officer’ role will be employed by OT and responsible for carrying out its statutory duties. A consistent figure whose sole responsibilities will be support and advocacy will be a welcome change from the status quo, where the same organisation is responsible for uplifting, family court proceedings, custody of the child and youth justice.

“Labour let kids down with its appalling OT oversight reform last year, which stripped accountability and shunted the “Independent” Children’s Monitor (ICM) to the Education Review Office. ACT will undo this and create greater oversight independence by establishing the ICM as an Independent Crown Entity. The complaints system will be accessible and child-friendly, with a ‘no wrong door’ policy.

“While the ICM acts as an external monitor, who is the accountable figurehead within OT? Throughout the litany of failures we have seen from OT, it is often unclear where the buck stops. Is it with the staff? The managers? The Chief Executive? The Minister? ACT says that a culture shift to excellent performance must start with good, accountable governance. ACT will increase the accountability of the OT Chief Executive through a series of publicly reported KPIs, such as time taken to respond to a Report of Concern and cooperation with the complaints process. Many of the KPIs will be measured by the ICM. This will ensure there is a directly responsible figure who is publically accountable for the performance of the agency as a whole, and will put an end to the chain of finger-pointing whenever a failing is identified within OT.

“It has long been said that raising a child takes a village – ACT agrees. As evidenced by the success of Charter Schools, children’s communities are better poised to understand their needs than Wellington bureaucrats. ACT will gradually devolve full responsibility and accountability to community groups for the commissioning of support services and case management. The devolution model would include an outcomes contract and quarterly financial auditing. ACT has the long term vision of shifting the protective custody of children from the State to iwi and community groups.

“I hear time and time again that OT makes being a caregiver difficult and unpleasant. Decisions about the child’s life as small as whether they can get a haircut or go to school camp cannot be made without approval from OT and the birth parents. ACT would give caregivers the right to make everyday decisions by default.

“Finally, ACT will remove the youth justice functions from OT and place them where they always should have been – Corrections. It is clear that OT does not have the capacity for such a broad range of duties, and youth justice is better suited to Corrections’ existing capabilities. While it is true that many children who go through youth justice are known to OT, not all children known to OT go on to be criminals. The decision to put state care and youth justice under the same roof is admission of state care’s failure, and reads like an expectation that these vulnerable kids will go on to offend. ACT says we can have greater hopes for our children in care than this.

“ACT’s visionary overhaul of Oranga Tamariki will create a more humane and accountable system focussed on children’s safety and freedom from abuse and neglect. By creating transparent and independent systems of accountability, it will eliminate the “sweep it under the rug” attitude which has been so pervasive in the state care system. By splitting the social worker into ‘mentor’ and ‘child protection officer,’ ACT will create a system where vulnerable children have a consistent figure to support and care for them throughout their time in state care. By reassigning youth justice functions to Corrections, ACT will ensure that Oranga Tamariki is not conflated with criminal offending and is solely focused on the safety and wellbeing of kids in its care.

“It’s obvious that Oranga Tamariki is failing our most vulnerable kids. Only ACT is drawing on lived experience in the state care system to propose an alternative.”

The policy document is here.

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