Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Report nails what's really important

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Paula Rebstock. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Paula Rebstock. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand has no shortage of tea-stained reports about the failures of Child Youth and Family and its hard-working, well-meaning staff.

They sit around desks and shelves of the bureaucracy until the next one is produced.

But the 300-page report by Dame Paula Rebstock and her team is different. It is in a league of its own. It is not "yet another report". It provides clearer evidence of how it is broken and better ideas about to how to fix it.

And it has a financial commitment from the Government to reform the system - for the sake of the children and the taxpayer.

It is a care and protection system in which children often emerge more damaged than when they went in.

The report cites a study that followed a cohort of children with a care placement born in the year to June 1991 and it found that 90 per cent were on a benefit by aged 21; 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child; 80 per cent did not have NCEA level 2; and almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence.

The report finds that less than 25 per cent of social workers work directly with children. And it may come as a surprise, but 40 per cent of caregivers, people looking after the country's most damaged kids, are beneficiaries. The extra money for fostering may help the weekly budget but life on a benefit is stressful. Yet that is the environment into which many vulnerable children have been sent by the state.

The CYF agency has undergone 14 restructurings. Needless to say a 15th restructuring is not the recommended answer of Rebstock's report.

Its remedy is more dramatic than a restructure - essentially it's building a new department centred on children. It's emphasis will be on children (not administration), early intervention and prevention of family crises, and a commitment by Government to reform.

Funding will follow the child in a similar way, for example, to ACC patients or special needs pupils. It should be easier for disturbed children to get specialist psychological treatment.

What is most important is that these children get the support they need and have social workers they can rely on.

Who could dare to cling to the status quo?

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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