This guest blog post is by Dr Russell Wills, Children’s Commissioner. Dr Wills introduces his newly published report the ‘State of Care’ and invites readers of the RSW blog to review the report, and to comment.
This week, I released my office’s first public report about Child, Youth and Family. The State of Care report summarises what we learnt from monitoring Child, Youth and Family and engaging directly with children in care between January 2014 and June 2015. I’m proud of the report, and pleased to be able to share it with the public.
I wanted to share it personally with readers of the Reimagining Social Work blog because I know you have a strong interest in the current and future direction of Child, Youth and Family. You are actively thinking about many of the key issues raised in the report, such as clarity of purpose and direction, child-centred practice, cultural capability, and workforce capacity and capability. I wanted to share some of our key findings directly with you, as key stakeholders committed to sharing best practice and improving the lives of children in care. I hope this report will make a useful contribution to your conversations about the future of Child, Youth and Family and the wider care and protection system.
Background to the State of Care report
My office has monitored Child, Youth and Family’s services to children since our inception, but this is the first time we have aggregated our findings and shared them publicly. In 2013 we refreshed our monitoring framework and decided to produce a public report that aggregates our findings and summarises what children told us. We wanted to bring a greater measure of transparency to our work and the work of Child, Youth and Family, and to help keep children’s voices central in decisions about their care.
Our findings and recommendations are intended to be constructive and give a ‘bird’s eye view’ of what is going well in CYF and where things need to be strengthened. We know that the majority of CYF staff are dedicated individuals who do a great job under the strain of immense workloads. Nothing in the report is intended as a criticism of them.
Below I summarise the report’s key findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
Child, Youth and Family’s practice is inconsistent
Child, Youth and Family has strong front-end systems and processes for investigating and making decisions about cases of potential abuse and neglect, which means it generally does well at keeping children safe from immediate harm. After these front-end decisions are made, however, CYF’s case management and quality of social work practice is highly inconsistent. We found a number of systemic issues recurring across the sites and residences we monitored, including:
- Inconsistent local planning, leading to a lack of clear purpose and direction;
- Insufficient priority being given to cultural capability, especially for mokopuna Māori and their whānau;
- Partnerships and networks with external stakeholders in need of strengthening;
- A lack of regular, high quality social work supervision.
The ability of CYF’s current workforce to address these issues is constrained in various ways: limited resources, high caseloads, the organisation’s current KPIs which focus on timeliness of front-end work and not on-going support of care placements, and the need to invest in training across the organisation to develop a workforce with the appropriate skillset. Issues regarding workforce capability, recruitment, training and retention were raised during almost every visit we undertook, and we believe these are behind much of the variable practice we have observed.
Child, Youth and Family was not sufficiently child-centred
Children have a set of clear and reasonable expectations of Child, Youth and Family. They expect:
- To be told what to expect and what their rights are;
- To be provided with high quality social workers and care givers;
- To be supported to maintain relationships with their birth family/whānau;
- To be given a voice in decisions about their own care.
Some children reported positive experiences with Child, Youth and Family, but others reported very poor experiences. Generally speaking, the longer a child spends in Child, Youth and Family care, the more likely they are to experience harmful consequences. The feedback we received from children suggests a system that is not centred on their needs, and that does not take into account the potential negative consequences of Child, Youth and Family’s actions and decisions on children.
We don’t know if children are better off as a result of state intervention
There is little reliable or easily accessible data available about the outcomes of children in the care system. In our view, Child, Youth and Family and MSD’s systems are not routinely measuring and recording the information that matters, and the integration of data between MSD and other government agencies is poor. Better collection and analysis of data is essential for Child, Youth and Family to improve its services and for the Government and the public to have confidence that Child, Youth and Family and other state agencies are improving outcomes for vulnerable children. We don’t 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.
Alongside children’s immediate safety, Child, Youth and Family needs to focus on improving their outcomes
Our overall observation is that Child, Youth and Family has become oriented towards front-end processes for investigating and making decisions about cases of potential abuse and neglect, at the expense of on-going support for children in all types of care placements. This observation is supported by what children and other key stakeholders told us about their experiences with Child, Youth and Family, and consistent with the conclusions in the recent Workload and Casework Review undertaken by the Office of the Chief Social Worker within Child, Youth and Family.
The reasons for this focus on front-end services are complex and historical, and we have not attempted to analyse them in our report. Rather, we have focused on ways to support Child, Youth and Family to maintain its focus on initial safety, and to expand this to include the on-going support necessary to improve children’s outcomes in the long term. This will require a greater level of investment in children in all types of care placement.
Recommendations for the future
We made 53 recommendations to help Child, Youth and Family lift its performance and improve outcomes for children in our monitoring reports between January 2014 and June 2015. Some were directed at individual sites or residences, while others were changes Child, Youth and Family’s national office could make to improve policies and practice across multiple sites and residences.
For this report, we reviewed all our individual recommendations and developed a set of seven aggregated, future-oriented recommendations that we believe will help address shortcomings in the current system and improve children’s outcomes in future. We acknowledge that Child, Youth and Family can’t make all the necessary changes on its own. All the participants in the wider care and protection and youth justice systems need to work together much better to deliver effective, high quality services to vulnerable children.
Our aggregated recommendations, in brief, were:
- Set clear expectations about Child, Youth and Family’s core purpose and the outcomes it needs to achieve;
- Ensure Child, Youth and Family 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 Child, Youth and Family 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, including more detail about each of these recommendations, is available at www.occ.org.nz/state-of-care. I hope it will generate some useful exchanges here on the Reimagining Social Work blog; I will certainly be checking in from time to time to follow the conversation.