Putting love in the care equation

''They told us they were not watched over, nor protected. They were not valued, not heard, not believed, and not safe.''

It is difficult not to be cynical when examining the picture of youth care, protection and justice in New Zealand.

The statistics around family violence and the fate of vulnerable children in state care are harrowing, and the well-worn path out of education and into criminal offending, substance abuse and mental health issues are well-documented.

Two of the latest reports expose the extent of the failings by those tasked with the care and protection of children.

The words quoted at the start of today's editorial were made by Judge Carolyn Henwood, chairwoman of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service panel.

They provide an overview of the experiences of the more than 1100 New Zealanders who have talked to the panel in the past seven years.

The independent service was set up as something of a ''Truth and Reconciliation'' forum by the Government in 2008 to provide help for those who suffered abuse and neglect in state care before 1992.

It wound up in June and its final report was released this week under the Official Information Act.

Judge Henwood said panel members were ''profoundly affected'' by the accounts from children placed in foster homes, family homes, special schools, health camps and psychiatric institutions, who suffered physical and sexual abuse by those tasked with their care and protection: foster caregivers and extended families, social workers and staff, teachers, clergy and others.

She said their experiences painted a picture of ''a careless, neglectful system'' which left physical scars and ''deeper hurt and emotional damage''. Chillingly, the report makes clear much of the abuse was ''preventable with better oversight''.

The panel believes the process has made a difference. Many people said it was the first time they felt ''heard''. The service has helped fast-track historic abuse claims, enable prosecution of offenders, and has made practical support, counselling and financial redress possible for victims.

That is all welcome. However, it is vital the report is not viewed in isolation or in a historic context. What the list of grievances show is not only the dereliction of duty by the State, but also the lifelong legacy of trauma - the huge emotional, physical and financial toll on individuals and society.

The report made clear all those who shared their stories had ''struggled to make sense of their lives''. They also wanted a better outcome for other children in the future.

In the light of that wish, a second report - also released this week - is sobering.

''State of Care 2015'' is the first annual report from the Office of the Children's Commissioner about its independent monitoring of Child, Youth and Family, the statutory service charged with the care and protection of children.

While it makes clear many staff do good work in difficult circumstances, it says the overall performance of the agency is variable, the system is not child-centric and there is ''poor case management and oversight of young people in specialist care placements''.

Inefficient data-sharing and systems mean ''we do not have enough information to say conclusively whether children are better off as a result of state intervention, but the limited data we do have about health, education and justice outcomes is concerning''.

Concerning indeed, given the 63,000 children who came to the agency's attention last year alone. A heart-wrenching quote in the report from youth workshop participants about their care was: ''We felt in our experience that love was one of the main things that was missing a lot of the time.''

The Government is currently awaiting the initial report from an expert panel it appointed to modernise CYF in the wake of various incidents, including the ''Roastbusters'' case, which have raised questions about its care and processes.

There must be more urgency in adopting the recommendations of successive reports and expert panels, for children remain the losers as long as meaningful action is delayed. And love needs to be put at the centre of the care equation.

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