The head of Oranga Tamariki is urging Kiwis to rally together to help the thousands of children in care, as the organisation looks back on its first year.
Child Youth and Family, which operated under the Ministry of Social Development, was replaced by the Ministry for Children - Oranga Tamariki in April last year.
Chief executive Grainne Moss wanted to inspire New Zealanders to help the children it deals with. She said there were many little things ordinary Kiwis could do.
Oranga Tamariki began publishing stories called Trails of Taonga last year to highlight the different ways people were already helping.
An example was a man who helped a young man in care with his CV so he could get a job in construction, Moss said.
"A lot of kids tell us it was one person who did a little thing that gave them hope. When children tell us what changed their life it's the relationships. And everyone in the community can have a relationship.
"It doesn't need to be a big thing like bringing kids into your home or formal care with you. Even noticing kids who are isolated helps. Showing them how another family is, inviting them over.
"These kids just want to be the same."
Currently, 6100 children are in state care, 500 more than last year and the highest it has ever been.
Moss explained that the rise was half due to the age of care being increased from 17 to 18 and the rest were moved into state care because "home isn't working for them".
Moss is the first to say there is still "lots and lots to do", but she believed the organisation was off to a promising start.
"It will take a number of years to get that number down.
"[The new ministry] is a once in a lifetime opportunity so we need to think about the wider system transformation.
"We need to move from a system focused on crisis response, to one focused on how we can intervene earlier and stop children moving through the system into care."
This year five core services were established: prevention, intensive intervention, care support (or support for foster families), youth justice and transition support (for older young people, who can begin transitioning out of care).
Children are spending more time with social workers. Consequently Oranga Tamariki recruited 327 new frontline staff out of an overwhelming 2000 who applied. This brings numbers up to around 1400 - the highest in five years.
There are three new sites in Waikato, Tauranga and Whangarei. An app for kids was developed so they can post complaints and feedback about services. A 24/7 support line for caregivers was launched and will be made more widely accessible this year.
Long term thinking is Moss' style. She asked for and signed a five-year contract and the ministry has moved from having 30 per cent of third-party contracts locked in for over a year to 70 per cent.
To keep grounded at senior leadership meetings they developed a habit of sharing the experience of real children. Staff talk about what a particular child is going through, how they're coping and what help they're getting.
One child was struggling, acting up and had to leave her caregivers, Moss remembered. Oranga Tamariki worked with the girl and her grandparents over six months.
"She went back with her grandparents and back to school. Things are looking good for her and her grandparents. They have a loving relationship.
"It just makes it real. You need to be grounded in the reality of what's happening for these kids."
New legislation in the Oranga Tamariki Act, coming into force July 2019, will provide a stronger mandate to engage with Maori. That is something they take very seriously, Moss said, as 70 per cent of kids in care are Maori.
A Maori group has been enlisted to collaborate with the leadership team to ensure a Maori perspective is always in view. And an effort has been made to include tikanga in care, Moss said.
Oranga Tamariki recruited 150 new caregivers in the last year but more are needed. Finding them would be one of the biggest priorities this year, Moss said. They will also focus on continuing to support quality practice and build partnerships .
'If someone is hitting you - you hide or you run'
Under the new ministry, social workers are being held to consistent standards and all are incorporating trauma-informed care into their work - aspects that were previously haphazard.
Many of the children who come into care have experienced complex, intergenerational, enduring and horrendous trauma, Oranga Tamariki lead adviser Trish Gledhill said.
Gledhill has worked with children, mental health, addiction and other social services for the past 30 years.
She explained that trauma-informed care recognised how children's brains had changed as a result of trauma and that the symptoms they were showing were normal. This could be anything from having difficulty sleeping or wetting the bed to stealing or hoarding food, feeling shame which can manifest as anger or anxiety and not liking school and other behavioural issues.
Children can be triggered by very subtle things such as being touched or people talking too loud. One girl had been abused by a perpetrator who always turned up in a red car, so whenever she saw a red car she became anxious, Gledhill recounted.
"These kids have learnt often to be very hyper-vigilant and be able to react quickly to survive. If someone is hitting you, you hide or you run.
"When we see this young person and whanau we have an opportunity to recognise what's happening for them rather than react."
Gledhill remembered an 11-year-old girl who needed some help. She was living with her grandma and had experienced significant trauma in the past. On the surface she was outgoing and articulate. But she was having trouble with bed-wetting and couldn't stop hoarding food. The grandma was distressed and had other kids to care for too.
Oranga Tamariki had a session with the girl and grandma to validate what was happening. They explained the effects of trauma and how this was normal behaviour.
They came up with a few solutions such as a small box in the fridge she can get food out of at any time and having a secret code with grandma to tell her when she had wet the bed.
A year later the girl was settled and all those symptoms were gone, Gledhill said.
"We don't have to fix our kids straight away, we have to make them safe and secure while they are on this rollercoaster. If you take the lid off too soon you can retraumatise them.
"It's about being able to listen well to kids and validate what they are saying. We have to be predictable, provide structure and we've got to give hope.
"If we say we're going to be there at 4 o'clock with KFC, we have to be there at 4 o'clock with the right kind of KFC."