Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Vulnerable Children's Ministry wants 1000 more foster parents

The new Vulnerable Children's Ministry wants to recruit 1000 more foster parents in a dramatic bid to improve the quality of state care for children.

Gráinne (pronounced 'Gronya') Moss, the former chief executive of Bupa rest homes who will head the new ministry, says she particularly wants to recruit a lot more Māori foster parents.

Last year only 30 per cent of the 3500 foster parents registered with Child, Youth and Family (CYF) were Māori, compared with 60 per cent of the 5000 children in state care.

"We need a third more caregivers," Moss said in her first extended print media interview since taking the new job last month.

"It's about having a choice for children."

Moss, 47, is a former champion swimmer who became the first Irish woman to swim the English Channel when she was 17, and swam Cook Strait when she was 31, three years after moving to New Zealand.

She is the first private sector executive hired to head a major social ministry.

Her new Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki will eventually have a much wider, more preventive brief than CYF. An expert panel chaired by Dame Paula Rebstock recommended that it should take responsibility for about 230,000 children - a fifth of all children - who currently have contact with CYF at some stage in their first 18 years.

The panel said about 60 per cent of that group would be Māori - about 138,000, or 58 per cent of all Māori children.

But Moss said the ministry would start with only 10,000 to 20,000 children, including the 5300 in state care and another 4000 with community support co-ordinated by "children's teams" which have been set up in 10 of the country's 20 district health boards.

"If you take that as a rough idea of kind of half of the population, we would initially think that would be increasing to around 20,000," she said.

"What you have to do is get your core right, and get the services working, and then extend them out."

Cutting child abuse

Rebstock proposed ambitious targets of cutting the future costs of vulnerable children by 20 per cent, and of vulnerable Māori children by 25 to 30 per cent, within five years - mainly by offering help as soon as any concern is reported about a family, rather than waiting for a crisis.

Moss said targets would not be finalised until next year, but she said the ministry would aim to "engage" all New Zealanders to help achieve them.

"The ministry is only an organisation that can support and help kids at risk or kids in care, but it is the community that actually is caring for children and the community has indicated that they want to step up, and they are finding that the levels of recent violence are unacceptable," she said.

"Obviously a real hands-on way for us in the ministry would be more and more foster carers, more and more options, so that we have really high quality choices for nurturing children who need support."

Ministers are still considering how to implement a Rebstock proposal to reform financial support for foster parents "including consideration of initial establishment costs, skills allowances, paid parental leave and entitlement to tax credits".

Moss said she wanted "all the support mechanisms" in place before launching a recruitment campaign.

Children's voices 'at top table'

She said she was working closely with young people who have been in state care about the design of both the new ministry and an independent advocacy service for children in care. Both agencies are due to start next April 1.

She will have a place at her "top table" for someone to feed input in from young people about ongoing design of services.

Tindall Foundation manager John McCarthy, who is also helping to design CareConnect with three other philanthropic funders, said he hoped the new agency would have meeting places for children in care backed by paid staff around the country.

Moss said young people were drawing up a job description for the head of the new service.

"What the kids envisage is, we want a mum, we want someone who has these kinds of motherly characteristics," she said.

Staffing decisions

She expects her ministry to employ about 3500 staff, compared with 3176 in CYF last year. The ministry will absorb all parts of the current Ministry of Social Development that involve vulnerable children, including children's teams and funding of non-government services for children and young people.

Moss said the Cabinet would decide thisweekon jobs that would transfer to the ministry and others that would be advertised externally. Consultation with current staff would begin on November 3.

"It will be pretty sensible and pragmatic," she said. "If somebody's job is confirmed, it's confirmed, they're not going to have to apply for it."

She said most CYF staff would stay in their current offices, often co-located with Work and Income. The ministry's head office will also stay in the same building as MSD's head office in Wellington.

- NZ Herald

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