How the new child protection system works

Many people are scared to ring CYFS because of its statutory power to take children off parents judged to be abusive or neglectful. Photo / Thinkstock
Many people are scared to ring CYFS because of its statutory power to take children off parents judged to be abusive or neglectful. Photo / Thinkstock

The new child protection system will bring teachers, doctors and social services together to protect each of New Zealand's 20,000 to 30,000 most vulnerable children.

Identification

A Child Protect line will take all calls about children who may be at risk of abuse, families with less intensive needs and families "who just need a little more information and advice". Contact centre staff will still refer the most urgent cases to Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS).

Less urgent cases will be referred to parenting programmes, health services, or to children's teams that will be set up around every child assessed as "vulnerable".

CYFS already refers less urgent cases to community social services, but many people are scared to ring CYFS because of its statutory power to take children off parents judged to be abusive or neglectful.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the Child Protect line would be run by a non-statutory agency which already runs other helplines, such as Barnardos.

Social workers will be able to log information into a new centralised system described as "not a new database on children but a mechanism for extracting and combining relevant information on children (and their caregivers) from existing databases".

"Information will only be pulled into the platform when a child reaches a certain threshold of concern," the documents say.

A "risk assessment tool" developed at the University of Auckland will identify the most vulnerable children based on data in this system such as previous findings of abuse or neglect, behavioural problems, single-parent families, parental ages and education, intervals between babies and multiple-birth children.


Assessment and planning

Regional children's directors and children's teams will be set up in each region combining all professionals working with a family including teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and, where relevant, the justice system. Ms Bennett said CYFS might be part of the teams in some cases, but not all.

Each child and family referred to these teams will have a "whole-of-child" assessment of their physical and mental health, safety, housing and other material needs, cultural wellbeing, caregiving, family relationships and support systems, behaviour, learning and development.

The Government is still exploring options for where these teams will be based, "including the possibility of hosting them within district health boards".

Ms Bennett said the regional directors would be appointed by ministers and would hold "vital roles".

"They will have quite a lot of power - they can move around contracts, they can move around money in local areas ... to where it most needs to be for those children who need it most."


The response

Regional directors will ensure that each vulnerable child has a "lead professional" who will be "responsible for developing a plan and ensuring the plan stays on track and is delivered" by all the agencies involved.

Ideally, plans will start in pregnancy and integrate health services such as Plunket with home visiting programmes such as Family Start.

Contracts with community agencies will be rewritten to give priority to vulnerable children and their parents for services such as home visiting, parenting courses, mental health and addiction services.

Existing parenting programmes will be reviewed by the Families Commission and resources will be focused on the most effective. All professionals working with individual children will be vetted and will have to meet a set of core competencies and minimum standards.

- NZ Herald

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