The Government is busily trying to blame Child Youth and Family for its inability to handle the tsunami of social problems caused by child poverty.
It clearly wants to make dramatic change to the Service and then claim that it has done something. Earlier this year it handpicked a review panel led by Paula Rebstock and the results of the panel were recently published.
The Herald has provided this synopsis:
A review panel is scathing of Child, Youth and Family’s performance, saying the current system is focused on immediate risks and containing costs at the expense of tackling harm and supporting long-term outcomes.
The panel, led by economist Paula Rebstock, has recommended CYF should adopt an “investment approach” to needy children, intervening earlier in partnership with other agencies.
The funny thing though is that between all the bluster the report could be read as stating that a lack of resources and the ability only to “fight fires” and take urgent action is the root cause for the problem.
But it is critical about the performance of the current system, saying it was “focused on managing immediate risk and containing short-term costs”.
“This focus has come at the expense of the prevention of revictimisation, remediation of harm and supporting long-term outcomes,” the panel says.
An investment approach would “take a lifetime view of costs and benefits and direct effort and capability towards earlier intervention for vulnerable children”.
But the report repeats the myth that societal harm is because of public servants not doing their job properly and not because we have rampant and long term deprivation and poverty in this country.
The panel says the approach would “provide incentives to intervene with the right service as early as practicable with the right children, young people and families, by ensuring that agencies and non-government providers are accountable for achieving improved outcomes which will reduce costs in the longer term”.
The report itself reinforces the belief that current resources are inadequate as can be shown by these passages from the report:
So from the report itself there was a lot that progressives could agree with. And the panel is engaged in ongoing work to prepare “a plan for detailed design and implementation, and the likely cost-envelope and cost-benefits of the proposed changes.” As far as I am concerned if it costs more to do the job better then so be it.
The Government has chosen to present the findings of the report as evidence of CYF failing as well as bad families. For instance there is this passage from Anne Tolley’s interview by Lisa Owen on the Nation last weekend:
We’ve put more money into more social workers, because they were overworked and overstretched. What the review panel has found is that now almost two-thirds of those children are now known to CYF already, and they’ve been churning back through the system, so we’ve been creating that extra workload by not dealing with those children well and their families in the first place.
And she is ruling out a significant increase in resources, preempting the work of the review committee and the need to work out what a properly functioning system may look like.
Tolley also regurgitates the myth that there are too many “back room” public servants and not enough working on the front line. This is a line we hear repeatedly and is clearly a tory reflexive philosophical grunt bereft of actual real world analysis.
Well, what I’ve said is when I’ve been asked, ‘Will social workers lose their jobs?’ We need those social workers. I can’t see that we would need viewer social workers. But actually, the report tells you only about 25 percent of the workforce are actually working directly with children. We’ve got lots of managers and supervisors and people who are filling in forms.
Those forms are filled in because of an increasing demand of data from the Government. And every form filler that loses their job means that a social worker has to work that much harder to make sure that demands are met.
Tolley was also asked about Carmel Sepuloni’s private member’s bill that would require all social workers to hold a current practising certificate.
[Lisa Owen] Okay. Well, the report indicated you also need better social workers, so Labour’s got a private member’s bill would register all social workers, which means they would be police-checked, they would be professionally-trained. Are you going support that bill?
No, I’m not supporting that bill, and I’ve talked to Carmel. It’s not that I don’t support it. I’ve said to her that her timing is wrong. So I have asked the Social Workers Registration Board to do a review of their Act and to match with the final report that I get from the expert panel. They’re reporting back to me in December. So they are looking exactly at what do we mean by a social worker, what’s the career path. There’s a lot of people who work in the social sector that call themselves social workers, but what should a qualified, registered social worker look like?
It is strange that what appears to be a worth while proposal is not supported because of a timing issue.
Of course this further review is missing the point in so many ways. The reason why there is such a tremendous need for state resources to handle children in crisis is because child poverty is epidemic. Back in the 1970s it was almost unheard of in New Zealand. With mass unemployment in the 1980s it appeared and it ballooned in the 1990s after the mother of all budgets meant that families were expected to exist on 80% of the income needed to address their basic needs. Labour thought it could solve the situation by full employment which helped but did not solve the problem. And the issue is now again worsening as the gap between the rich and the poor escalates and housing needs skyrocket.
And in terms of CYF’s functionality it is all about resources. A recent story by Anna Leask highlighting that a young girl was held in police custody because of a lack of CYF beds can only be cured by providing more beds, not by blaming social workers.
The Government’s approach is all supply side analysis presuming that current hardship is a result of incompetent bureaucrats and bad families. If National was actually concerned at the plight that too many children find themselves in it would be addressing the causes, not working out what sort of band aid should be applied and who to blame.