Child Youth and Family is getting the largest overhaul in decades. Tomorrow, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki is launched. Social issues reporter Sarah Harris explains what’s happening.

A man who was buffeted around 79 foster homes was starved, beaten, sexually abused and forced to eat a spider while in state care.

Daryl Brougham, 36, was found aged 3 months next to a rubbish bin in Auckland city. Over the next 17 years he would go through a "trainwreck" of multiple homes.

"You see things that normal children will see in their nightmares. You live to survive.

"You're constantly worrying and trying to find your identity."

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Brougham was physically abused in his first placement as a 1-year-old. His foster parents took him to America. When he was 5 he was found weighing the same as a 15-month-old due to starvation.

He was brought back to New Zealand where he bounced through multiple homes. He estimated 80 per cent were abusive.

One of the worst things that happens for a transient kid is that you lose all your sentimental items, Brougham said. He doesn't have a photograph of himself younger than 14-years-old.

"You lose identity, you lose trust, you lose your sense of belongingness and you lose sentimental property.

"I've been robbed of happy memories."

Former foster child Daryl Brougham with his wife Emily Gao and daughters Mei-Ling and Mei-Lan. Photo / Dean Purcell
Former foster child Daryl Brougham with his wife Emily Gao and daughters Mei-Ling and Mei-Lan. Photo / Dean Purcell

And the bad memories stick with you forever. Brougham was punished as a 12-year-old for not folding the laundry properly. He was ordered to cut the grass with scissors while the family went to church. To turn it into fun he cut his name into the grass. But when the foster parents saw that they kicked him so hard he clenched up in pain.

Brougham was 11 when his social worker told him he would end up in jail. He was 15 when he fathered a child to one of his caregivers.

In February 2015 he received an official apology from the ministry and $70,000 in compensation. There were found to be 40 serious misconducts by social workers and caregivers.

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Brougham is "terrified" of the Child Youth and Family reform that is being launched tomorrow and what harm it could bring to vulnerable children.

But one positive of the reform is that the age of care will be extended, Brougham said.

On his 17th birthday, Brougham left care to sleep in a car for six months.

"I had nowhere else to go."

CYF overhaul: what the parties think

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said Child Youth and Family had failed. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said Child Youth and Family had failed. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Government

The new system will prioritise youth's need for a stable and loving family at the earliest opportunity, Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said. An independent advocacy service VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai and remaining in care until they're 18 will wrap more support around youth and their families.

"The current system is not delivering effectively for vulnerable children and young people. It is not allowing social workers to do their job, which should be spending most of their time supporting vulnerable children and their families.

"The new ministry puts children and young people's safety and well-being first. They will have a say in the decisions that affect them."

Maori Party

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox. Photo / Mark Mitchell

A "stolen generation" is what worries Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox about the overhaul, which will remove the priority of placing a child within their own kin group. She said the Maori Party would fight to reinstate this priority.

"We cannot repeat the tragedy of the past. We cannot have a new stolen generation, by removing links to whakapapa in this new design. It wasn't Maori families that failed their children, the system has failed their children."

Greens

Green Party spokesperson for social development Jan Logie. Photo / Supplied
Green Party spokesperson for social development Jan Logie. Photo / Supplied

The Government needs a "reality check" if they think this reform is ready to be launched, Green Party spokeswoman for social development Jan Logie said.

Logie was particularly worried about the change that meant the Ministry for Vulnerable Children could contract out care and protection services to external organisations and that there was no transition plan in place.

"The draft of it is shoddy, consultation hasn't been done, and it's inconsistent and unclear what it will mean in law."

Labour

Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. Photo / File
Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern. Photo / File

Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern said the overhaul was "hugely problematic" and being launched too early. She believed the legislation was not clear for social workers and could result in children being removed or placed wrongly.

"[The legislation] is indicative of a really rushed piece of work. We would we better off starting with the old law than his new one."

"The potential for children to fall through the gaps is a real risk... It's a chaotic transition."

NZ First

New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters. Photo / George Novak
New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters. Photo / George Novak

NZ First Party leader Winston Peters called the overhaul "spin and propaganda". He did not believe the reform would change anything.

He said the CYF system was an economic issue that resulted from "eight years of failure from the National Government". He recommended that the original system be fixed rather than create a new one.

"These are vulnerable children and dysfunctional families which will not change merely by changing what you call it."

CYF overhaul: What it means

Child Youth and Family is getting the largest overhaul in decades. The new system, launched on March 31, will be called the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. Photo / 123RF
Child Youth and Family is getting the largest overhaul in decades. The new system, launched on March 31, will be called the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki. Photo / 123RF

Why is CYF changing?

High levels of re-abuse and re-victimisation resulting in poor long-term outcomes spurred an Expert Advisory Panel to review the current care and protection system in April 2015.

The panel found the system to be fragmented, lacking in accountability and without a common purpose. Children in care have poor long-term outcomes in health, education, employment and in living crime-free lives.

Currently around 230,000 children under age 18 may be at significant risk of harm during their childhood, and around six out of 10 of this group are likely to be Māori.

Each year about 60,000 children are notified to CYF, and at any point in time about 4,900 New Zealand children are in statutory care.

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley said a previous workload review found that around half of staff time is spent on administration. The panel also found that less than 25 per cent of CYF staff work directly with children in need of care and protection.

"What we're doing isn't working," Tolley said.

"So we've got to find new ways. We've got to be prepared to say it isn't working".

​Main changes

Around 230,000 children under age 18 may be at significant risk of harm during their childhood, and around six out of 10 of this group are likely to be Māori. Photo / 123RF
Around 230,000 children under age 18 may be at significant risk of harm during their childhood, and around six out of 10 of this group are likely to be Māori. Photo / 123RF

The report came back with 81 recommendations that ranged from prioritising child offenders to more technical issues like efficient use of data.

The core tenets are to invest in prevention to change long-term outcomes, the indicator of success is improved life outcomes - and the service learns from the children who have experienced it.

It will have five core services: prevention, intensive intervention, care support (or support for foster families), youth justice and transition support (for older young people, who can perhaps begin transitioning out of care).

The age of state care will be raised from 17 to 18, with any young person given the option of retaining full care to 21, and some support until they turn 25. Before, on the day of a child's 17th birthday their support was gone.

Mandatory national care standards to ensure the quality of the home they are placed in.

Greater focus on Maori children using partnerships with iwi and Maori organisations

Ministers will investigate raising the youth justice age to 18, so that 17-year-olds could appear in Youth Court, rather than with the adults in District Court.

A new independent youth advocacy service VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai will be launched on April 1. It will connect children and young people in care, advocate for their needs, promote a positive care identity, build leadership, and create a "community of care" around each child.

One point of entry for a child into the system.

Proposed legislation that will remove the priority of putting children with their own family or culture first.

Main criticisms

A "dog's breakfast" is how one top education academic has described the overhaul.

Senior lecturer of counselling, human services and social work at the University of Auckland Ian Hyslop believed this was the biggest shake-up of the system since the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 - but it wasn't a good one.

He said the expert panel included only one person with historical social work experience.

Another key fault was that the reform was based on a right-wing ideology of social investment, Hyslop said. It's the idea that the Government tries to curb the amount of money vulnerable people will cost the country by investing social services in them.

Hyslop, who worked as a social worker for 20 years, said this would encourage children to be taken away from failed parents.

"It's the idea that children at risk of abuse need to be placed permanently outside of abusive families sooner rather than later. That safe foster care is an answer to child abuse.

"It's a move away from family-centred decision-making and a move back to child-centred rescue.

"It's pretty draconian to talk about saving the child but leaving the parents behind."

The past system wasn't broken, just significantly under-resourced, Hyslop said.

"It's not an exact science, social workers need to be well-supported, educated, supervised, have reasonable caseloads, good training and work in supportive teams in a supportive organisation."

Other political parties have cited the removal of the priority for putting children in care within their family, hapu or culture first as a major criticism.

Cost

The total investment is estimated to be $1.3 billion per year by 2019/20. The Ministry of Social Development currently provides $783million in funding.

The remaining $524 million will be met through a combination of new and reallocated funding.