All or almost all state care for children may go to non-government agencies in a radical reform of child protection being unveiled today.
Whangaparaoa foster parent Ursula Elisara, who served on advisory groups leading up to the reform, believes the long-awaited changes will drastically reduce the role of the state child protection agency Child, Youth and Family (CYF), which has about 5000 children in its care at present.
"If CYF focuses on protection, which means they do the assessments of families, the uplifts of children and the court processes, and then outsource care, I think that would be a pretty good step forward," she said.
The reforms are also likely to include more training and funding for foster parents and agencies dealing with children at risk, raising the age of leaving care from the current cut-off at 17, and creating a new non-government agency to advocate for and give a voice to children in care.
Funding for both early-stage social work with families and intensive support for children in state care may be tied to risk factors that are also being considered to reform school funding, such as parents' educational, welfare and criminal histories.
Mrs Elisara, 40, and her husband George, 43, have fostered 21 kids over the past 13 years, directly from CYF and through non-government organisations (NGOs) with CYF contracts.
"NGOs have a lower case load and have the ability to know the children and know the families," she said.
"I think it [contracting out] would help birth families too, because it's quite confusing for them when CYF is the one who assessed them as not suitable, and if their child is placed under a CYF caregiver, CYF is seen as responsible for the care.
"That is difficult for birth families because they hate CYF for what they have done. For them to then trust them with the care of their child, who they most often genuinely love in their own capable way - caregivers can get caught in the crossfire."
Mrs Elisara also hopes today's reforms will include paying foster parents for all children in state care.
At present they only get allowances ranging from $146 a week for preschoolers to $204 for teenagers to cover the kids' food and living costs.
Miri Rawiri of Te Kahui Atawhai, the national collective of iwi and Maori social services, said the key priority for Maori kids - 60 per cent of all children in state care - was to be better connected with their families. "That is the proper thing to do, but ... it will mean a lot of public servants out of a job," she said.
Otago University social work professor Nicola Atwool said contracting out state care had not worked in Australia, and she hoped the Government would try a "partnership" approach where CYF was legally responsible for kids in care but worked closely with iwi and other agencies.
The reforms: what you need to know
Why is change needed?
The current system is not working either for the children in care or for the country.
Almost 80 per cent of children born in 1990-91 who spent time in state care failed to achieve level two NCEA, 87 per cent ended up on welfare before they turned 21, and 28 per cent were in jail by that age.
New Zealand's crime and welfare rates could be cut dramatically if the care system worked better. More than 60 per cent of all young people jailed before age 21, and almost half of young parents who end up on benefits with children of their own before age 21, had been notified to CYF for care and protection reasons in their childhoods.
What is likely to change?
Changes may include:
• Contracting out most or all state care of children to iwi and other non-government agencies such as Barnardo's and British-owned Key Assets.
• Placing children in permanent placements as soon as possible after deciding that they can't go back to their families.
• A new non-government agency to advocate for, and give a voice to, children in care.
• Schools, health agencies, police and other public agencies will have to give priority to supporting children in care.
• More training and funding for foster parents and agencies to support children in care, justified by reduced long-term crime and welfare costs.
• Extending care and support beyond the current cut-off at age 17.
Will this make children and the country safer?
Maybe. Sixty per cent of the children in state care are Maori, so a crucial test will be whether the new system works better for Maori families.
Miri Rawiri of Te Kahui Atawhai, the national collective of iwi and Maori social services, says the battle will be "half won" if we can keep Maori children in their extended whanau so they know who they are and where they belong.