Safety of children in care report

Published: November 28, 2017

Innovative research highlights importance of Oranga Tamariki transformation.

The Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki has produced exploratory research examining the safety of children and young people in care which underscores the need for the Ministry’s transformational programme.

The report looked at the case files of 698 children and young people in care during 2015/16. It found 85 children and young people experienced an incident of harm ranging from emotional distress through to more serious trauma. This figure is higher than earlier research which had only considered harm as a serious event which could be substantiated.

The Expert Advisory Panel that preceded the establishment of Oranga Tamariki noted rates of harm have been under-reported in the past. (Care refers to children or young people in the statutory custody of the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki. Children or young people can enter care in a number of ways, including through court orders or with agreement from parents.)

“The research highlights the importance of the ongoing transformation work by Oranga Tamariki to address the drivers of harm and improve the safety of children and young people in care,” Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive Gráinne Moss said today.

“Changes are already being implemented. Our new Practice Framework ensures that social workers are not only flagging incidences of harm in case notes, but also lodging formal notifications.”

We’re working differently, making changes to keep kids safe, and we have clear expectations of our frontline workers to take action whenever they become aware of harm, or the risk of harm.

The Practice Framework will strengthen the importance of social workers building strong trusting relationships with children and young people in care, so they are supported to raise any worries they have.

Oranga Tamariki will establish an expert group of key advisers and academics to consider the research and propose a future sustainable measurement approach.

Gráinne Moss said: “Our researchers took a broad view, seeking details of harm that had happened anywhere in the community and the effect it has had on children’s lives.

“Of course, we have followed up with all of the children and young people identified in the study, to ensure they are now safe."

"The year-long project has provided a more accurate understanding of the harm experienced by children within our legal custody.”

Gráinne Moss said while the results are unsettling, they are not unexpected as Oranga Tamariki has taken a wider, deeper view than previous studies.

Methodological improvements associated with this new research, specifically, the use of case note review and the application of a broader definition of harm, have resulted in a higher number of harm incidents being identified.

“Keeping children in care safe is a challenge for every jurisdiction, but this research means we are better placed than we’ve been previously, to address the challenge, because we now know more than we’ve known before.”

Gráinne Moss said understanding the nature and extent of harm is essential for improving safety.

“The results will help the Ministry to ensure future risk factors are mitigated.”

“At the centre of everything we do is listening to the voices of children.”

Gráinne Moss said the research will inform all aspects of work, including key areas of focus this year and next. The Ministry is putting a big focus on providing more supports for caregivers and broadening the number and range of caregiver placements.

“We’re piloting a caregiver guidance and advice line with more than 1000 caregivers which we expect will mean children and young people experience stability in their placements and caregivers feel supported in times of crisis.

“High quality practice is one of our three priorities this year – along with developing more options for placing our tamariki and strengthening our providers and partnerships.”

The practice framework supports the work of social workers and includes some base “must do” standards. In their work as advocates for children, it will help create a more child-centred system to achieve better outcomes for children and young people, through upholding children’s rights, listening to their voices and making sure their participation is part of everything we do.

Another important work stream is ensuring Oranga Tamariki partners are well placed to help tamariki in ways the Ministry can’t.

“We recognise the need for our partners to have more confidence and certainty in their relationships with us, and the work they do within our communities to support tamariki.

We’ve looked really closely at our contracts so we can offer our partners more stability with more long term contracts.”

Oranga Tamariki is also developing new ways to hear and understand how children and young people and their families’ experience their contact with the Ministry.

“We’re developing a more effective, timely and child-centred response to compliments, complaints and suggestions so we can hear their experience of the services they are receiving. We’re also running a full trial of the award-winning United Kingdom-developed ‘Mind of My Own’ app, which lets children and young people use phones or tablets to share their views, feelings and concerns directly.”

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Monitoring Group, established by New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner, noted in its latest report released on 13 November there was much more to be done to improve the wellbeing of children including improving the unacceptably high rates of violence, abuse and neglect of children, particularly for those in State care.

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