The new beefed-up "Super-CYF" department unveiled yesterday will take responsibility for about one in every five Kiwi children at some point in their childhoods.
The as-yet unnamed department will have a much wider brief than the existing Child, Youth and Family (CYF), with a $1.3 billion annual budget by 2019-20 to buy extra education, health, employment and social services for the families of all "vulnerable" children. Numbers are uncertain, but an expert panel led by Dame Paula Rebstock says one in five children are known to CYF by age 17.
"Using this historical benchmark, we estimate there are about 230,000 children and young people currently under age 18 who might experience vulnerability at some point in their childhood," the panel says. "Around six out of 10 of this group are likely to be Maori."
The panel's interim report found that 35 per cent of all Maori children, but only 11 per cent of non-Maori children, were reported to CYF in their first five years. The panel proposes ambitious targets to cut the lifetime costs of welfare, imprisonment and other services for vulnerable children by 20 per cent within five years, including a 25 to 30 per cent cut for Maori children.
Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said in a Cabinet paper that she proposed a reform which "tilts the system towards prevention and remediation ... and away from short-term and reactive responses designed to just minimise harm".
The new department will have five services - prevention, intensive intervention, care support, support for young people moving out of care, and youth justice. Ringfenced staff and budgets for each service will mean resources will no longer be diverted to immediate crises. The department will "partner" with iwi and other Maori and non-Maori agencies for much of the prevention and care work.
The panel proposes boosting CYF's current $783 million annual budget by an extra $524 million by 2019-20. Most of this ($421 million) would be taken from the current budgets for Health, Education, Corrections and Work and Income to pay for services bought from those ministries for vulnerable families. The other $103 million would be net higher state spending.
Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills said the new system would be an opportunity for agencies to increase services for vulnerable families.
Labour children's spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern welcomed some changes, including raising the age of leaving state care from 17 to 18 and creating a new advocacy service for children in care. But she said: "Taking from other areas, such as health where there is already significant underfunding, is playing with fire."