Oranga Tamariki has revealed nearly two dozen staff have been removed from children’s residences and three have been charged by police, as a wide-ranging review shows the need for significant improvements in the homes.
The rapid review into Oranga Tamariki’s Youth Justice and Care and Protection residences was announced in June 2023 after serious allegations involving staff acting inappropriately.
It found changes such as current trends toward more serious youth offending and older residents, were happening faster than the agency could respond and adapt to.
Those pressures meant performance improvement in the operations of residences was now urgent, it said.
Oranga Tamariki chief executive Chappie Te Kani said the agency is considering the report’s suggestions.
“However, because this involves the safety of young people I didn’t want to wait until this report was completed before taking action. There has already been significant effort and resource redirected towards our residences.”
When the review was announced Te Kani set up a management team to triage and investigate issues and complaints. Since June 19, he said, there have been46 complaints or allegations involving staff potentially causing harm to young people in care. Complaints ranged from inappropriate language to supplying contraband to the more serious alleged physical and sexual assaults.
“Some of the complaints were historic dating back to 2015. Of the 46 complaints, 28 were referred to NZ Police for investigation. The remainder have been dealt with as employment matters.”
He said they had continued to work with police on the most serious allegations including the two allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviour that led to the initial review.
Since June 1, he said, 22 kaimahi (workers) had been removed from Oranga Tamariki’s residences and three staffers had also been charged by police.
Te Kani said since the review he had also increased leadership and strengthened security and the vetting processes for residence staff.
“While the immediate actions we have taken are beginning to address these issues, I recognise there is substantially more work to be done.
Rangatahi and tamariki, he said, ”deserve the very best of our care and support”.
“The review reinforces the voices of many rangatahi who have called for change, who have asked to be understood in the context of their whakapapa and who have bravely shared their own experiences so that things can be different.”
The report recommended improvement to leadership and governance, culture, behaviours and values, rangatahi and tamariki experience, workforce management and development as well as to health, safety and wellbeing, systems and structure, partnerships, as well as resources and assets.
It also warned of “review fatigue” from the “constant review and oversight activity” within Oranga Tamariki.
“Middle managers in residences told us they had lost track of the multitude of recommendations generated and lost faith in the organisation’s ability to achieve anything but incremental and tactical changes.
“‘Oranga Tamariki only ever reacts’, said one respondent, ‘and then generally in an ad hoc and panicked fashion’.”
“They tend to be atomised”, said one, “and governance is quite weak, so almost no one has line of sight over all of them, let alone assurance that they form a coherent portfolio.”
The review said in the context of Youth Justice and Care and Protection residences, Oranga Tamariki has been a very reactive agency.
“In our view, the most fundamental cause of the current dysfunction in the residence and homes space is that Oranga Tamariki does not currently have a simple, clear and cascaded medium-term vision, strategy and operating model for them.
“Ideologies, catch phrases and lists of projects are not a substitute for a properly considered strategy, operating model and outcomes.”
However, it said it was not entirely Oranga Tamariki’s fault, saying it was “often forced to patch service shortfalls generated elsewhere in the children’s and social service systems”.
Katie Harris is an Auckland-based journalist who covers social issues including sexual assault, workplace misconduct, crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2020.