Dr Russell Wills, Children's Commissioner and paediatrician at Hawke's Bay Hospital, has received "overwhelming support" for his damning report into Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

The report, the first of what he plans as annual reports on CYF, revealed that 117 children were abused last year while in state care.

It was not uncommon for a young person leaving care at the age of 17 to quickly end up homeless, jobless, and lacking support from a sympathetic adult. Many would become parents very young; others would end up in prison.

"There's been overwhelming support for our report, and that tells me that my team's experience of [CYF] sites closely reflects the experiences of many other groups," Dr Wills told Hawke's Bay Today.


He said CYF was focused on "front-end" investigations, rather than long-term care.

"Where CYF has focused on assessing immediate risk of abuse and neglect, they do it well, and we need to maintain that," he said. But the agency did not provide enough ongoing supervision and support to foster carers and staff looking after 5133 children in state care.

"There's simply too much work and not enough social workers, and the social workers are lacking in skills. One of the key findings of our report is other agencies like DHBs and the Ministry of Health aren't doing enough for children in care - CYF can't do it on their own."

Ikaroa-Rawhiti Labour MP Meka Whaitiri said the conclusion was "damning" and the Government "must make fixing CYF a top priority". "The first public annual report paints a terrible picture of the experience children and young people have in care," she said.

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was right to call for a review of CYF through an expert advisory panel, but had to "accept that resources aren't part of the problem".

"I am concerned with how many of these are Maori children, and what impact if anything programmes like Whanau Ora are having on these children and their whanau," Ms Whaitiri added.

Maori make up a growing share of all children in care, up from 52 per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent, including 68 per cent of young people in the nine CYF residences, compared with 24 per cent of all children under 15.

Dr Wills recommended prioritising Maori cultural capability and iwi links. "To get better outcomes for children and young people in care, we have to do much better for Maori."


Ms Tolley said CYF had care agreements with five iwi, was about to start a six-month trial with Tainui, and was seeking deals with all other iwi.

An expert advisory panel is expected to report back in December with a business case on how to improve the care system. For more information, visit: www.occ.org.nz

Stability essential: O'Keefe

Children in state care deserve stability, rather than being "shuffled around, from pillar to post," says Henare O'Keefe.

Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe says Child, Youth and Family's care system needs to be improved. Photo /Warren Buckland
Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe says Child, Youth and Family's care system needs to be improved. Photo /Warren Buckland

The Flaxmere councillor, who with his wife Pam, fostered almost 200 children, responded to a report on Child, Youth and Family (CYF) released yesterday. The report by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, said children in state care are being moved up to 60 times between multiple foster carers, because the agency is not giving enough attention to their long-term care.

Mr O'Keefe said children should be placed in stable, safe family homes, and foster carers should work closely with the child's parents and wider family.

"They need to be put somewhere and have stability, and go to the same school. Too many of them have been shuffled around, from pillar to post."

He said systemic issues which resulted in children being placed in care needed to be addressed. "At the end of the day there's no substitute for a mum and a dad. You can't legislate that. You can't work with the child in isolation.

"In today's age the family unit is being disintegrated, and destroyed on many levels. Parents are working seven days a week.

"Good, consistent, quality parenting and over half our social ills would disappear overnight."

He also suggested CYF staff were being overworked. "The caseloads of some of those social workers - something's going to fall through the cracks."