Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Foster parents in line for $80 payment

Dame Paula Rebstock. Photo / Richard Robinson
Dame Paula Rebstock. Photo / Richard Robinson

Foster parents caring for some of our most vulnerable children could be in for a pay rise of about $80 a week in a major review of the care system now before the Cabinet.

A review panel led by economist Dame Paula Rebstock has told the Government many of the 5000 children in state care have needs that can't be met by the traditional model of "volunteer" foster parents.

"Greater financial support may be required, especially for those entrusted with the most vulnerable children with complex needs," the panel said in an interim report last September.

Its final report went to Social Development Minister Anne Tolley before Christmas and her spokesman said the Cabinet would consider it "by the end of March".

Fostering Kids NZ, which represents 3800 foster parents, has given the panel a proposal to pay a "skills allowance" of $80 a week to foster parents who do at least 30 to 40 hours of professional development each year.

Its chief executive, Linda Surtees, said perhaps 40 per cent of children in care needed more intensive care requiring the extra training. A further 20 per cent of the most needy already received specialised support, and the remaining 40 per cent had lower needs.

Her association has offered to provide the extra training and more ongoing support to foster parents if the Government agrees to fund it.

Decisions on the review, flagged by Prime Minister John Key in Parliament this week, are expected to involve radical changes to the state child protection agency Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

"I think CYF as we know it will not exist," Mrs Surtees said.

The panel has commissioned actuarial firms to report on the feasibility of calculating the average future cost of every child notified to CYF.

Its interim report estimated that each child in state care would cost taxpayers more than $300,000 by age 35 in CYF, welfare and Corrections costs, more than 10 times as much as children who were never notified.

It has proposed a cross-sector plan to invest more in education, health and other care for notified children and their families to save costs in the long term.

Some services now provided by CYF may be contracted out, with iwi expected to play a much bigger role because 35 per cent of all Maori children are notified to CYF before age 5, compared with 11 per cent of non-Maori children.

In particular, the interim report slammed the eight CYF youth residences as "cold, sterile facilities" and recommended replacing them with "smaller, more localised services" which could be contracted out to agencies to build "a clinical and rehabilitative framework".

It wants children who are removed from their parents to be placed with permanent foster parents much sooner, and to get help from therapists as well as social workers "to heal and recover from the physical and emotional damage they have suffered".

It wants this help to continue past the current care leaving age of 17.

But critics fear the changes may lead to hasty decisions to place children in foster care rather than taking time to build trusting relationships with the birth parents to help them overcome their problems.

"The investment state approach is to have a more authoritarian approach to marginalised members of society," said Auckland University social work lecturer Dr Ian Hyslop.

Foster parents already get allowances ranging from $146 a week for preschoolers to $204 for teenagers, but these are to cover the children's direct costs rather than paying the foster parents for their time.

CYF review

Dec 2014:

Ministry of Social Development provides business case to minister Anne Tolley to "modernise" CYF.

April 2015:

Mrs Tolley appoints expert panel led by Dame Paula Rebstock to review the business case.

Sept 2015:

Interim report released.

Dec 2015:

Final report to Mrs Tolley.

March 2016:

Cabinet decisions.

- NZ Herald

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