Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Govt signals change of heart on child placements, but will not go back to 'whanau first'

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says she wants to ease fears about where children in state care will be placed. Photo/Mark Mitchell
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says she wants to ease fears about where children in state care will be placed. Photo/Mark Mitchell

The Government has signalled that it will adjust child protection reforms over concerns about how they affected the rehoming of vulnerable children, but it will not go as far as reinstating a ''whanau first'' policy.

The change of heart was hailed by the Maori Party and organisations which had warned that the reforms would create a "stolen generation" of Maori children.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said claims the Government were backing down were incorrect. She said the wording of the Child Youth and Family (CYF) reforms would be changed, but children's safety would remain the top priority and the "whanau first" clause would not be reinserted.

Under the existing law, priority must be given to placing a child with a member of the immediate family or wider hapu if they are relocated, or with someone of the same tribal, racial or cultural background if that is not possible.

The overhaul of the child protection laws says that should happen where practicable and reasonable, but removes the priority and puts emphasis on placing the child in a safe, loving home.

Tolley said on Wednesday that the government was still discussing the issue.

"There's a very key principle in there that says the primary responsibility for nurturing and developing children is with their immediate family and whanau.

"And then we've tried to position it well but obviously we haven't because there's still concern about that," Tolley said.

"The best place for any child is with their family. If that's at all possible and it's safe and it's the child's long-term best interest, then, of course, we want them with their family.

"We've tried to nuance that, I think clearly that we've nuanced it too much. And we're in discussions about how we might ease some of the fears from people."

The rationale for removing the "whanau first" rule was the high rates of abuse suffered by Maori children once they had been released from CYF care.

But Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told a select committee on Wednesday that the government was partly to blame for the failure of child placements.

"In our view, those placements have been badly supported. Placement decisions have been sub-optimal and poor. In fact, you could say sub-standard and shoddy social work.

"There has been too much dump-and-run for Maori young people," Becroft said.

The Green Party welcomed the Government's change of heart, saying it was a victory for Maori organisations which had put pressure on the government.

Tolley denied that the government was "going back to the drawing board" and said it was merely re-wording the legislation.


- NZ Herald

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