Police in Manukau have urged Oranga Tamariki to follow the lead of their colleagues in Whakatāne and build a team of frontline social workers to solely focus on child protection.
While staff from Oranga Tamariki [the Ministry for Children] and detectives have worked together in the same building in Whakatāne for several years, the Weekend Herald previously reported how a ring-fenced team of specialist social workers was created.
Believed to be a first nationwide, this means police in the child protection team now work with the same social workers on a daily basis, rather than trying to liaise with different staff who might not be available on a particular day.
The joint approach works well, say both police and Oranga Tamariki, and might be replicated in Rotorua, Tauranga and Taupō.
After reading the story, Detective Inspector Colin Higson in Counties Manukau wrote to senior Oranga Tamariki managers Nicolette Dickson and Glynis Sandland.
"Co-location for [child protection] work seems to be gaining traction elsewhere in the country," Higson said, according to emails released under the Official Information Act.
"Counties Manukau could easily transition into this space given the work we have already achieved with our joint visit/early intervention approach."
Higson is the most senior police officer based at Te Pou Herenga Waka, the "Multi Agency Centre" which first opened in 2010 to investigate complaints of child and sexual abuse.
There are specialist staff from Oranga Tamariki working alongside police to interview children, to gather evidence, as well as counsellors, therapists, psychologists and DHB staff.
But there are no frontline social workers based in Te Pou Herenga Waka in Manukau.
Instead, they are spread across the various Oranga Tamariki offices in Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara, Manurewa, Homai, Papakura and Pukekohe.
In the email dated 4 April 2018, Higson asked Oranga Tamariki to consider following the "co-location" example of the specialist team in Whakatāne.
"Let me know your thoughts - I know staff resourcing is always a challenge but this could be an alternative way to relieve some pressure on sites," wrote Higson.
He told the Weekend Herald that Counties Manukau police and Oranga Tamariki are working together to improve child protection practices, but believed dedicated social workers based inside the multi agency centre would be a significant step forward.
"We are always looking for innovative ways to improve our response to child victims and the concept of 'true co-location' has the potential to take this work to the next level."
In response to the Weekend Herald, Oranga Tamariki regional manager Nicolette Dickson said both government agencies recognise the "critical relationship" underpinning the joint responsibilities in child protection.
Counties Manukau is one of the busiest regions in terms of case load.
While their police colleagues had raised the Whakatāne model, Dickson said the conversation was part of a wider commitment by both Oranga Tamariki and police to improve.
There was no immediate plan to set up a co-located child protection team, but Dickson said Oranga Tamariki are "trialling" a supervisor position to be based at the Multi Agency Centre in Manukau.
"Their role will be to support effective decision making and planning between Police and Oranga Tamariki in regards to child protection work," said Dickson.
"Oranga Tamariki remains open to further discussions with Police about the proposed approach, but any decision about a dedicated team would need to be made in the context of our wider obligations."
The specialist team in Whakatāne was established after a Weekend Herald investigation last year revealed shortcomings by Child, Youth and Family - the predecessor to Oranga Tamariki - after repeated red flags about the dysfunctional family of Isaiah Neil.
A review by CYF found a number of shortcomings including how staff in Whakatāne were routinely opening "assessment" records when safety concerns were raised about children, even if the assessment was not completed.
A number of changes had taken place at the Whakatāne office since Isaiah's death, Tayelva Petley, the regional manager for Oranga Tamariki in the Bay of Plenty.
She also made a successful application for more staff in Whakatāne in order to create the specialist team.
"I went for gold, thinking it would be great if we get silver, but we got gold," Petley told the Weekend Herald in March.
"I'm extremely satisfied with the resources and, now we are Oranga Tamariki, we can be more creative with how we put staff in the right places, to get the best results."