CYF review sorely needed

Last week's announcement of a comprehensive review of Child, Youth and Family is welcome.

The review of the service, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Development, is to be undertaken by a five person panel and is expected to lead to a complete overhaul and modernisation.

A review is timely. The department did not emerge well from the Independent Police Conduct Authority's investigation into the police handling of the Roast Busters case, and a separate inquiry into its handling of that has also been announced.

There have been other incidents which have led to questions about quality of care and processes. And Social Development Minister Anne Tolley's comments that the department is now ''eight to 10 years behind in our thinking in some important areas, such as how we support children in state care'' is disturbing to say the least - particularly for a country which has prided itself as a world leader in child health, protection and education.

The sad truth is that, for many years, the statistics relating to children have made for grim reading, and a string of inquiries, expert panels, reports, recommendations, policies and blueprints seem to have made little difference.

The numbers are sobering: an estimated 270,000 New Zealand children living in poverty; an average of 150,00 notifications or reports of concern to CYF each year; about 10 children killed every year by a family member and hundreds hospitalised as a result of abuse or neglect; health issues relating to overcrowding and poor housing ... the list goes on.

A Law Foundation funded report released last week, titled ''Fault lines: Human Rights in New Zealand'' highlighted serious faults in relation to child poverty and the welfare system among other areas, and stated our poor handling of human rights issues and Parliament's failure to act was harming the country's reputation. Previous international human rights reports have made similar findings.

''God's Own Country'' it is clearly not for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand children.

Credit where credit is due to the Government for admitting to its failings and seeking to improve the service that is at the forefront of protecting vulnerable children, in collaboration with other community service providers.

And credit also to the about 3000 CYF staff and managers at the coalface, the vast majority of whom it must be remembered are dedicated to supporting children and young people who are often in appalling circumstances, and work to the best of their ability, within the confines of the system, to provide support.

In reality, they are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff for children whom our society has failed. It is important therefore, not to alienate staff, and undermine the immensely difficult and worthwhile work they do.

An analysis of the ways in which the organisation can be better equipped to support staff, children and families alike is what is required - not a witch hunt.

There are concerns about the lack of CYF representation on the panel, as some believe a full picture can only be obtained with input from frontline staff and senior leaders with knowledge and expertise in the field.

While an independent view may be desirable, it is certainly to be hoped the panel does extensively consult - both those within CYF and other linked organisations.

The panel is impressive however, and those on it certainly have experience in a variety of fields, most related to child welfare, and therefore an overview of the complexities.

The panel will be chaired by consultant and company director Paula Rebstock. Its other members are Police Commissioner Mike Bush, child advocate Duncan Dunlop, the CEO of Who Cares? Scotland, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu adviser Helen Leahy, and Prof Richie Poulton, chief science adviser to the Ministry of Social Development, who has led the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study at the University of Otago for the past 15 years.

It is be hoped their inquiry is wide ranging, insightful and provides realistic but meaningful recommendations for change, and that the Government duly considers them. For, as Mrs Tolley rightly says: ''For the sake of vulnerable children, we must do better.''


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