Oranga Tamariki says just nine children are currently living in motels across New Zealand, showing its “determination” to move away from the controversial placement practice.
While it assures “progress is happening” - it concedes it’s not happening quickly enough to meet current demands.
And the Minister for Children agrees government agencies “should be better” at working together to resolve to situation - described by the Children’s Commissioner as “deplorable”.
Last week the Herald revealed that a young person under Oranga Tamariki care lived in a motel for more than 600 days until suitable accommodation could be found.
It was also revealed that other young people spent more than 100 and 200 nights living in motels across the country as it was considered the “best option” for them with no suitable alternatives.’
Children’s Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers slammed the “unacceptable” practice and said “multiple agencies” should be collaborating to make drastic changes.
“Myself and previous commissioners have been clear that the use of motels at all is deplorable, and a symptom of a system that is failing children,” she said.
“Concerns around the practice have been raised repeatedly for over a decade, yet seemingly no effort has been made to develop an alternative.
“To now discover that a number of our mokopuna have been stranded in motel rooms not just three months, or six months, but even for over a year and a half is a shocking testimony of how callous our system has become.”
Judge Eivers said Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Health “need to collaborate” and do better for young people in care when it came to accommodation.
“In truth, they already should have,” she said.
The Herald asked Minister for Children Kelvin Davis and Minister for Health Andrew Little about a possible collaboration.
Davis, on behalf of both, agreed government agencies “should be better at working together when it comes to our children most at risk”.
“Which is exactly why we developed and launched the Oranga Tamariki Action Plan last year,” he said.
“This requires the chief executives of Oranga Tamariki, the police, and the Ministries of Education, Social Development, Health, and Justice to work together to achieve better outcomes for children and young people with the greatest needs.
“We know in the past this hasn’t happened and it isn’t an easy task, these are big agencies.
“But it is crucial we make these systems work better together - it’s what frontline social workers have told me is one of the biggest challenges they face when working with whānau.”
Davis said his colleagues in cabinet “are fully supportive of this approach” and assured “agencies will be expected to report back on progress regularly”.
A spokesperson for Davis said there had not been a specific meeting between the Minister and officials about motel stays.
However Davis “meets weekly with officials and it has been discussed in the past”.
A spokesperson for Oranga Tamariki reiterrated that motels were “used only as an absolute last resort” and said it “agrees” with Judge Eiver’s criticism of the practice.
“And that is why we are committed to finding alternative solutions,” they said.
“We support tamariki and rangitahi with complex needs and there are occasions when the most suitable care options are not immediately available.
“We will only decide to provide care for children or young people in a motel following a careful exploration of all possible alternatives and for the shortest time possible.
“We have demonstrated our determination to move away from this practice.
“We are seeing the lowest numbers of children in motels. We have nine children in motels across the country as of 26 January 2023.”
The spokesperson said OT “supports collaborative approaches” with other government and non-government agencies and there were " a range of collaborative approaches in place now”.
“This is especially important when there are high and complex needs which no single agency can address alone,” they said.
“Even with all of our efforts this is something that takes time, including the planning for these developments and time to build the homes.
“This does not mean that progress is not happening, it is just not at a pace to meet the current demands.”
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said it was “working closely in partnership” with OT to “understand and respond to the wider health needs - including mental health needs - of tamariki and rangatahi in the care of OT, including through our joint work on the Oranga Tamariki Action Plan.”