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Reports into the adequacy of state care of children

August 27, 2015 at 4:57 PM

Two reports released this week have raised questions about the outcomes for children who have been taken into state care.

The Final Report of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service outlines the experiences of children who were in state care up until 1992. The service, formed in 2008, spent nearly seven years talking with 1100 individuals who were placed in foster homes, boys and girls homes or psychiatric institutions before 1992. The report found that those placed in state care had faced alarming rates of physical, sexual and psychological abuse. Abuse and neglect was perpetrated by foster caregivers and extended families, social workers and staff, teachers, the clergy, cooks, gardeners, night watchmen and other children and patients.

The most common concerns from those who spoke to the panels were regarding:

  • Placements
  • Institutional practices and punishments
  • Monitoring and support
  • Physical/emotional/sexual abuse
  • Psychiatric treatments
  • Health camps
  • Social Work practice failure


The report also found that most of the abuse suffered by children could have been prevented had there been better oversight and follow up for those children taken into care. The failure on the part of the state to maintain this oversight coupled with poor practice around transitioning children into and out of care has had significant ongoing impacts for those affected. These impacts include poor educational outcomes and subsequent loss of potential, lack of trust, difficulty in forming relationships, becoming disconnected from whanau and cultural links, family violence, teen pregnancy, anger and depression.


The Confidential Listening and Assistance Service was disestablished at the end of June this year, despite some commentators expressing concerns that there were more people who had yet to come forward who might benefit from the process initiated by the panel. There are also questions raised around whether the systemic failings identified in the report have been adequately addressed, and whether outcomes for children currently in state care have improved.


Some of these concerns have been echoed in The State of Care 2015 report, also released this week. The State of Care Report is a summary of findings and recommendations from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s independent monitoring of Child, Youth and Family’s policies, practices and services. It includes feedback from children and young people about their experiences in the system. Key findings include:

  • Issues of workforce capacity and capability mean practice is not consistent
  • Child, Youth and Family is not sufficiently child-centred
  • Child Youth and Family do not know if children are better off as a result of their intervention as they are not measuring outcomes reliably, and
  • Alongside children’s immediate safety, CYF needs to focus on improving their outcomes.


In particular, WAVES notes the following comments:

Many of the children now coming to the attention of CYF are doing so because of chronic long term issues that impact on their safety and wellbeing, for example entrenched family violence, neglect, parents with mental health or alcohol and drug addictions, or children experiencing long term severe poverty and material deprivation. The system as it currently operates does not always respond effectively to children with these chronic and cumulative threats to their wellbeing, and staff are not well-equipped to do this work (OCC, 2015, p. 31).

The chronic and cumulative threats listed above are faced by an unacceptably high number of children in our West Auckland communities.  Tellingly, they are the sorts of issues faced by the two boys involved in the death of local dairy owner Arun Kumar. We have commented previously about the fact that high thresholds for CYF intervention in families can only be maintained where there is a sufficiently resourced and robust community sector that sits below that threshold. Furthermore, good relationships between CYF and partner agencies are critical in ensuring that information is shared and children do not simply fall through the cracks.


In order for outcomes for vulnerable children and particularly those who are in state care to improve, the report makes the following recommendations:

  • Set clear expectations about CYF’s core purpose and the outcomes it needs to achieve;
  • Ensure CYF is fully child-centred in all its activities;
  • Invest more in on-going support for children in all types of care placements;
  • Address capacity and capability issues across the CYF workforce;
  • Improve cultural capability across the organisation;
  • Collect and analyse relevant data to drive improved outcomes for children; and
  • Set clear expectations for other state agencies responsible for improving the outcomes of children in care.

The report also states that there needs to be better mechanisms for the voices of children to be heard.

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner will publish its next State of Care report in 2016.


Related media:

‘Dump and run’ culture at CYF…                                                 NZ Herald

Horrifying and deeply shocking report into child abuse…                NZ Herald

Tolley promises apologies for abuse victims…                             Radio NZ

Tolley sympathetic to state care child advocate…                     Radio NZ

Generation of children brutalised by state care won’t get an apology…   Stuff

Gordon Campbell on the Children's Commission report on CYF Scoop

Category: Research