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Child, Youth and Family is unable to say how often it has not been able to find immediate accommodation for a child or young person placed in its custody, as it does not keep centralised data.
Last month, a Dunedin girl was forced to stay another night in her family home, where she was at risk, after she was placed in CYF's custody, because no appropriate caregivers were available to take her and no appropriate places available at CYF homes, or with other contracted providers.
CYF admitted the situation was not ideal, but said the girl had challenging behavioural issues and complex needs and, with the help and agreement of the family and other organisations supporting her, the night was managed without incident and a place was found for her the next day.
Asked how often that happened, CYF said it could not easily say because its database was designed for social-work-practice purposes and not for the collation and reporting of data.
It also could not say how often its own social workers had had to stay with children or young people because no appropriate caregivers were available in Dunedin, how often children or young people were placed temporarily somewhere until an appropriate placement could be found, or how often children or young people had to be moved outside the city to get an appropriate placement.
CYF deputy chief executive Bernadine MacKenzie said to find the information, staff would have to go into each individual's file and assess whether placements were "appropriate" or whether they could be considered "temporary".
"Carrying out this analysis would remove staff from their business-as-usual duties and the greater public interest in effective government would not be served," she said.
The Ministry of Social Development had considered whether it would be able to answer the questions given more time, or if it were to charge for the information, but concluded that, in either case, the "ministry's ability to undertake its work would still be prejudiced".
She said keeping a centralised record of out-of-area placements was being considered by the Dunedin region as part of its ongoing service planning.
She pointed out that sometimes with children or young people with extreme behaviour problems or other complex needs, temporary care arrangements could be the most appropriate action at that particular time until a more permanent arrangement could be made.
"As you would expect, a handful of caregivers are experienced in dealing with the small number of very-high-needs children and young people that come into our care."
There were also some different providers, for example, Barnardos, that were contracted to provide a certain number of nights of care, which might be used for short-term temporary care.
Labour's social development spokeswoman, Jacinda Adern, said centralised data or information gathering was crucial to informing policy and service provision.
"The welfare of children has to be one of the most critical issues we face and yet in recent months I have heard, anecdotally, more and more cases of CYF being under-resourced to provide the care and protection that vulnerable children need.
"We need to act, but we also need more than anecdote. If CYF don't know about the options of care for our most at-risk children, or how many are without the care they need, then who does?"