Fears cuts threaten child safety

Non-governmental organisations employ more social workers than Oranga Tamariki, according to the...
Non-governmental organisations employ more social workers than Oranga Tamariki, according to the Social Workers Registration Board of NZ. Photo: ODT files
Charities in the South helping at-risk children have been warned their state funding could end within the next 10 weeks.

A letter from government child agency Oranga Tamariki, leaked to the Otago Daily Times, was sent to charities across New Zealand saying funding beyond the end of June was to be discussed, including the possibility of "transition or wind down".

The child agency said it "cannot guarantee" future funding for existing contracts that are ending. Decisions would be based on a review.

An urgent meeting with Oranga Tamariki’s chief executive Chappie Te Kani is set for next week after the charities united to request it, following receipt of the letter.

The charities’ leaders have expressed concern that any cuts would fly in the face of the government’s promise not to cut frontline services and threaten children’s safety.

Non-governmental organisations employ more social workers than Oranga Tamariki, according to the Social Workers Registration Board of New Zealand.

This week, Oranga Tamariki proposed a restructure of its own staff, including the slashing of 632 roles and the creation of 185 new jobs.

The restructure comes after years of critical reports about the agency’s performance.

Dunedin-based Oranga Tamariki staff were called into a meeting on Wednesday morning to hear how cuts might affect them.

Dunedin charities that deliver community services for children and young people and receive funding from Oranga Tamariki include Anglican Family Care, Corstorphine Baptist Trust, Pact, Community Care Trust, Methodist Mission Southern, and Otago Youth Wellness Trust.

Services they provide are wide-ranging, from residential care for young people with vulnerabilities to home visits for parents of young children.

The amount of the charities’ work that is funded by Oranga Tamariki varies.

Some of the charity leaders the ODT spoke to did not wish to be quoted out of fear it would jeopardise funding chances.

"There is trepidation to speak out at this incredibly difficult time," one said.

Another said they were "treading carefully, but girding our loins".

One leader expressed concerns about the effects of cuts if they happened.

"This is not just about children in care. This is about family wellbeing in the community which impacts on child safety. Potentially, family violence and injuries will increase. There will be poor outcomes. Children could die."

Pact chief executive Paul Chamberlain said charity services were an essential component of care for children and young people, and there was a need for "clarity of direction" to enable charities to plan ahead.

"It is difficult for organisations to do this when there is a vacuum of information."

Community Care Trust chief executive Mike Brummitt described "turbulent times".

A spokesperson for Presbyterian Support Otago said it could not comment because "the impact of the proposed changes are as yet unknown".

The Oranga Tamariki letter to charities came from the agency’s deputy chief executive Darrin Haimona, who has responsibility for partnership and community work.

Mr Haimona said in the letter that the agency was "looking at the levels of different services required to meet the needs of tamariki, rangatahi and their whānau. This work will inform what services we will need to contract for the 2024/25 financial year and further into the future."

In a statement to the ODT, Mr Haimona added that Oranga Tamariki was "exploring" its contracted spending and what it may look like.

He said this could mean "some specific services are no longer purchased where they are not required to meet the needs of tamariki and rangatahi."

This would not reduce the agency’s ability to meet children’s and young people’s needs, he added.

The meeting between charity leaders and Oranga Tamaraki is happening on Tuesday next week and has been co-ordinated by the social service providers’ organisation Te Pai Ora o Aotearaoa.

Chief executive Belinda Himiona said 150 members had already registered to attend.

She hoped it would bring clarity for members, who are "in a holding pattern impacted by the transformation Oranga Tamariki is going through, which makes people very nervous."

MP for Taieri Ingrid Leary said any cut to charities’ services would be a government broken promise not to cut at the frontline.

NGO help provided a "critical role in building community and social resilience", she said.

Rachel Brooking MP also backed the charities.

"It would be disappointing if any charities providing frontline services were to be cut."