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A seemingly never-ending series of scandals involving Oranga Tamariki will be undermining any valuable work being carried out by the child protection agency.
The latest incident involved a whistle blower releasing security camera footage to Newsroom showing two examples of staff at Te Oranga in Christchurch (one of the country’s four care and protection secure residences) restraining young people using excessive force. This resulted in the facility being shut down and an investigation commenced.
This has also not been without controversy, with some commentators suggesting another change in living arrangements for the young people involved would add to their trauma.
Others, including the Commissioner for Children Andrew Becroft, have welcomed the decisive action. He has been keen to see all four care and protection residences closed as the issues raised by the recent incident are not new.
In the next few years, the residences are to be replaced with 10 smaller houses, but the change seems overdue.
The latest incident has raised questions about whether the Oranga Tamariki advisory board appointed by Minister for Children Kelvin Davis in January, and originally due to report at the end of June, is out of touch with what is going on. (Its report has been delayed until August.)
After all, its brief was to provide Mr Davis with “advice and assurance on the work of Oranga Tamariki with families, whanau, and Maori, including how it is devolving decision making and actions to Maori for Maori; its professional social work practice; the implementation of operational changes; and enhancing its organisational culture’’.
Among many other things, the minister was seeking "assurance that the organisation has robust procedures in place that relate to the confidence of staff that they can ‘speak up’ safely’’.
It would seem not, if anonymous whistle blowers are the way the advisory board is getting the message about poor behaviour.
If these residences are awash with closed circuit television monitors, is anyone ever viewing them to ensure nothing untoward is going on?
It is a mess.
Further RNZ reporting last week revealing there had been 40 times where Oranga Tamariki staff had physically harmed children in their care in the last two and a-half years added to the depressing picture. Details on this are limited so it is difficult for the public to tell how well any of this has been dealt with.
Another failing identified by RNZ was that most children who complain to Oranga Tamariki alleging abuse or neglect were never informed of the outcome. Similarly, parents or guardians were informed about the outcome in about a third of cases.
Amid this turmoil, Judge Becroft is among those raising concern at the Government decision in April to curb the Abuse in Care Royal Commission’s ability to investigate instances of abuse since 1999. This move was designed to save time and money since the commission’s budget has blown out and the size of its task turned out to be much larger than anticipated.
Apparently, according to Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti, the commission can still look at recent cases, just not investigate them.
"They can still hear from individuals, and they still are, and they can still make recommendations about current care settings," she told RNZ.
This appears confused and less than satisfactory and runs the risk, as Judge Becroft points out, of those affected by more recent events believing their experiences do not matter. Also, there must be an advantage in having the commission having a full and up-to-date view of what is going on.
It seems we are still a long way from Mr Davis’ ideal — a "laser-like focus’’ on the needs of tamariki.