Submission on the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Advocacy, Workforce, and Age Settings) Amendment Bill

Beehive, NZ government building.

With the first ‘tranche’ of proposed legislative changes associated with the Child Youth and Family review comes the opportunity to make submissions to the Social Services Committee. We have made one in regards to the final proposed change – to delegate fairly substantial powers beyond the state organisation (name as yet unknown) to third party professionals/organisations. They don’t have to be social workers (in fact the point is exactly to extend certain powers beyond social workers to other professionals) and the organisations remain unknown. If passed, this Bill will have two main results we should be concerned about. Firstly, it is a direct challenge to the expertise of social workers – specifically – to be able to receive notifications and make the most intrusive types of orders – without leave. Even more concerning is the move to enable those outside the state (whoever it is) to be able to perform all the functions currently held by the CE of CYF. This includes every coercive power of the state you can think of, and with a direct reference to requiring the appropriate ‘contracting’ to be in place, seems clearly to set the scene for the privatisation not only of less contentious services such as foster care or preventive services (already contracted to a number of NGOS), but of direct front-line decision-making and practice such as taking notifications of concern, applying for declarations, and applying for custody orders. We think it’s a bad idea, for reasons given below.

Submission on: Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Advocacy, Workforce, and Age Settings) Amendment Bill

From: The Re-imagining Social Work Collective

  • Neil Ballantyne, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.
  • Liz Beddoe, Associate Professor in Social Work, University of Auckland.
  • Ian Hyslop, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Auckland.
  • Emily Keddell, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Otago.
  • Simon Lowe, Senior Tutor in Social Work, University of Waikato.
  • Deb Stanfield, Social Work Academic, Wintec.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this submission. While the legislative changes cover a number of issues, this submission relates primarily to the final proposed change: the proposal to delegate powers, previously held by social workers and Police constables, as well as all powers currently held by the CE, to others outside Child Youth and Family. We fully support the changes relating to the age of leaving care, advocacy and young people’s contribution to decision-making. These changes are very much in line with international rights conventions, cultural and economic norms in relation to the expected role of parents (in this case, the state) and current knowledge with regards to child development. We also consider these changes to reflect a commitment to considering children as competent actors and rights holders fully able to contribute to decisions made about their lives.

The more contentious issue is the proposal to delegate powers, previously held by social workers and Police constables, as well as all other powers held by the CE, to others outside Child Youth and Family (or whatever the new organisation will be named). This is contained in the proposal to allow the Chief Executive to delegate powers as per the State Services Act, by replacing the word “social worker” in the CYP&TF Act with “Chief Executive”, which will enable all powers held by the CE to be delegated to third parties, including those who belong to other professions outside CYF. The proposal is that this can be done by the CE, with the qualification that it can only occur in situations where: “(a) the person is appropriately qualified to perform the function or exercise the power, taking into account the person’s training, experience, and interpersonal skills; and (b) if the person is outside the State Services, the person will be bound by contractual obligations that are sufficient to support the appropriate exercise of the delegation” (new s7 C ii).
We make this submission with reference to the proposed Bill changes themselves, the explanatory note, and the regulatory impact statement (RIS) relating to workforce settings.

Our primary arguments are that this change may:
1. confuse the public and child care professionals about who holds statutory powers;
2. lead to greater variability in thresholds for intervention creating a more inequitable child protection system;
3. create conflict between professionals with regard to appropriate reasoning, knowledge bases and ethics that underpin applications for legal orders;
4. result in service users disengaging from preventive services;
5. create a heightened expectation on the courts as the arbiters of conflicts in professional decision-making;
6. set the scene for privatising core functions of the state, despite assurances given by the Minister that the changes proposed would not affect the core tasks of front-line child protection practice.

The rationale offered for this change (as set out in the explanatory note) is that it will enable: a) “enhanced access to appropriate specialist skills and expertise to respond to the needs of vulnerable children and young persons”, and b) “a broader range of professionals to perform a wider set of functions under the CYPF Act to help identify and meet the needs of vulnerable children and young persons”. We contend that both of these concerns can be addressed without recourse to the extension of coercive state powers to those outside the state sector. Our arguments against the proposed change are as follows:

1. The proposed change may confuse the public and child care professionals about who holds statutory powers.

If numerous people employed by agencies outside of the state hold powers to accept notifications of possible harm, and to apply for custody orders, this could lead to confusion with regards to whom reports of concern should be made. For example, if a child care professional makes a notification of concern to a contracted service with delegated powers, but not to CYF (or its descendent), will they be considered to have complied with their own child protection policy? Also, a service user engaged with a non statutory service may be unaware that that agency holds power to apply for statutory orders. Even though there is the intention to make this information available to the public, many will not routinely check online registers or other information sources. We suggest that, if this amendment is made, all service users must be informed, at the point of engagement with the service, that the provider holds these delegated powers.

2. The proposed change could create even more variability in terms of thresholds for intervention creating a more inequitable system.

The current child protection system already has variations in practice decision-making, which result in some children not getting a protective enough intervention, while others are removed unnecessarily. The proposed change is likely to create even greater differences in intervention responses, particularly as those outside the CYF system may not have a wide enough overview of relevant thresholds for action; or, due to lack of information, may have an incomplete understanding of the family and their connection with other services, supports and resources.

We note the RIS gives more detail on this, stating that: “The current model promotes in-house service delivery by employed social workers and limits the ability of the agency to deliver services via strategic partners who may be better equipped to provide child-centred responses … the current provisions in the Act may restrict the ability to be responsive to delivery models that best meet the needs of children, young people and families. A clear example is the limitation on who may receive a report of concern (ie a social worker employed by the department or constable). This limits the ability of the Chief Executive to use strategic partners, such as iwi or non-government organisations to deliver elements of an intake system”.
The statement above assumes that the ability to coordinate and deliver services via strategic partnerships is limited by the current legislative arrangements. We refute this, as partnerships involving service delivery are currently in place and can also be improved in line with family needs in the new proposed model without extending the the stated statutory powers to NGOs and other partner agencies. Partner agencies can already be approved as community services or as child and family, Iwi or cultural services. This enables them to contract for services as well as assume guardianship and custody of children. It should also be noted that there already exists a power for ‘any other person’ , with the leave of the court, to apply for a declaration that a child or young person is in need of care and protection (the pathway to other orders) (s68). However, it is highly concerning that other agencies may be involved in the CYF intake system, and to be involved in making other applications, as again this makes pathways into statutory services very unclear for both service users and professionals trying to work together alike. With variable consistency comes inequity in responses to service users, and lack of trust in the system.

3. The proposed change may create conflict between professionals with regard to appropriate reasoning, knowledge base and ethics that inform legal orders.

Applying for orders is at the most extreme end of interventions with families and should only be pursued if there are imminent safety concerns, or all other preventive and supportive options are deemed to have failed. If a paediatrician, (an example named in the proposal of a professional who might assume these powers) has real concerns, they would most likely have referred to CYF. Under the proposed change, if they are displeased with the outcome of the referral, they could decide to apply for a statutory order in their own right. How can this contribute to a unified, collaborative, multi-agency team approach? Inter-professional teams work best when everyone is clear about their own expertise, skills, and roles. If one professional decision maker has the power to trump another, this sets the scene for inter-professional conflict and confusion about authority, role boundaries, decision-making thresholds and relevant knowledge bases. If an individual disagrees with a decision made by a medical or legal professional the correct path is to pursue a complaints process, not to assume the authority and role of that professional. Other professionals may not have been exposed to the range of ethical issues and obligations, have the breadth of knowledge needed to undertake a holistic assessment, have a relationship with the family, or be able to operate effectively in the child protection legal domain.

The assumption underlying the proposed change seems to be that the specialised area of child protection social work is something that anyone can do. This view is clearly spelled out in the RIS, which states: “The new operating model for responding to vulnerable children and young people envisages that while social workers would remain the main professionals discharging functions under the CYPF Act, there would be flexibility for other professionals to play core roles in helping to identify and meet the needs of vulnerable children and young people, where they are better or equally positioned to perform those functions”. Who, and in what circumstances, are those “better or equally positioned”?

The argument may be made that a person with more day to day interaction with the family is better positioned to apply for orders. This is an issue to do with the construction of the statutory role, rather than an argument that it should be extended to others. If CYF social workers were more adequately resourced to engage with families, this could enable them to be those best positioned. In the mid -1980s, prior to the introduction of the 1989 Act, multi-disciplinary Child Protection Coordinating Teams were trialled (in Otara and Porirua – and possibly in other districts). The related proposal to vest executive child protection powers with the chairpersons of such teams did not come to fruition. Even without such powers this approach resulted – in practice – in pressure being applied to social workers to institute care proceedings. It is contended in the Regulatory Impact Statement that “The right to apply for court orders without leave is not a function that forms a core part of the key skills and competencies of the social work profession”. We take issue with this statement. The issue with applications without leave is not so much whether it is or is not within the remit of social workers per se, but whether this power is held within the state or not. Given that it is a highly intrusive intervention with serious consequences, one where the rights of parents and children must be carefully weighed up; and the state is responsible for ensuring that rights conventions are upheld, to extend these powers beyond the state to contracted agencies is highly questionable. Furthermore, Child protection social workers may be more reluctant to initiate such proceedings precisely because they are aware of the wider ramifications of the action and of the alternative, less adversarial, options that are available for intervening in the lives of children and families. Taking executive action to ensure immediate care is one thing. Creating change within high needs families is another. The expertise of child protection social workers lies in making these judgements and creating the conditions for change.

4. The proposed change may result in service users disengaging from preventive services.

We welcome the emphasis in the reforms on creating more coherence between the statutory and NGO sectors, and the concept of having an overview of families’ experiences of preventive and statutory services as part of a systematic continuum. However, extending coercive powers beyond the boundary of the state may cause some service users to disengage from preventive services once they discover that the NGO (or private organisation) they are using is able to apply for statutory orders in the same way as CYF. Practitioners in this area often state they are pleased they do not hold such powers, as it results in a more engaged and trusting relationships with service users and better outcomes for children and families.

We note the RIS states that: “The need to utilise the skills of a broader range of professionals is expected to become more of an issue under the new operating model because of the new functions associated with prevention …Research and expert input that informed design work on the proposed operating model to date has emphasised the potential benefits of a multi-disciplinary approach to child protection work and decision-making. There is a growing body of evidence recognising the value of creating multi-disciplinary teams whose main task it is to undertake intensive assessments and then therapeutic work based on the findings of their assessment.” We agree with this statement, but none of this requires the access to statutory powers of more professionals to do so. ‘Intensive assessments and the resulting therapeutic’ work do not require the options of applying for legal orders, as this may introduce the heavier and more intrusive functions of the the child protection system far earlier than is necessary or helpful. True prevention involves engaging with families in a humane, engaged and collaborative manner before there is a need for legal orders. The new ‘functions associated with prevention’ should not include intrusive legal powers.

5. The proposed change may create a heightened expectation on the courts as the arbiters of conflicts in professional decision-making.

If applications for orders can come from a more diverse group of professionals, with differing logics and knowledge bases, this would rely more than ever on the court to be able to maintain consistency and fairness in the orders made. While judges are – of course – bound to make a decision based on the case as it is presented, variation in the facts selected and the case narratives emphasised will make it even more difficult for courts to ensure this. For example, if a family is presented in an entirely deficit and risk focussed manner, or in very medicalised language, neither provides a holistic understanding of the child’s needs or the family’s ability to meet those needs.

6. The proposed change sets the scene for privatising core functions of the state.

Finally, proposing to extend the range of professionals able to take on statutory powers, and referring directly to having “contractual arrangements in place to support them” seems to set the the scene for privatising core functions of the state despite the assurances given last year by the Minister that the changes proposed would not affect the core functions of front-line practice.

For example, in this exchange on the Nation:

Interviewer: Can you rule out today that you won’t be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?
Minister Anne Tolley: Look, I – Let’s put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.

The ability of an external organisation, whether non-profit or for profit, to take on statutory powers via the proposed Bill appears to directly contradict the Minister’s public declaration.

An effective child protection system ensures that the rights of citizens of all ages are protected, the possible releasing of this key responsibility beyond the state, however carefully managed, seems to be ideologically driven by faith in market forces to provide quality services, rather than a balanced approach that retains key powers by the state, while acknowledging that important services around support and therapeutic needs can be met by a range of providers.

We are concerned that this power of delegation extends not only to the current role of social workers as stipulated in the Act, but also to the existing powers of the CE. These powers are extensive and include: deciding what kind of placement is best for a child, providing financial support for plans and taking guardianship of children. If these powers are also able to be delegated out this signals a wide range of powers effectively leaving the control of the state. It seems odd that this delegation of power is considered necessary to meet the aims of “enhanced access to appropriate specialist skills and expertise” and to to “help identify and meet the needs of vulnerable children and young persons”. There are many ways of enabling the input of other professionals via referral and contracting of their specific services (e.g. a psychologist contracted to identify and meet therapeutic goals) without enabling that professional to apply for statutory orders.

Finally, we understand that the single point of accountability held by the CE will be expressed via the use of contracted partner agencies including iwi organisations and NGOs, in order to improve systematic responses along a continuum. However, the proposed delegation of statutory powers seems to us to be going a step too far. The overall aims of the reform to align services across the preventive and intervention spectrum more closely with children’s needs may well be undermined by the proposed change.

Image Credit |Keith Miller

12 thoughts on “Submission on the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Advocacy, Workforce, and Age Settings) Amendment Bill

  1. This government has contributed to further declines in child safety and well-being in its push to sell NZ out to the highest bidder and to ignore the facts about child poverty.
    This enriching of the already obscenely wealthy has been clearly shown to be directly linked to negative impacts on the lower and middle classes and of course on children. The shameful numbers of children living in poverty in NZ are a needle in the side of Key and his minions so the sooner he can offload the responsibility for it onto NGOs the better.
    The submissions process will be a sham as it was for the TPPA submissions where the ministers were shown to barely read them while they tootled on their laptops.

    1. I totally agree Adrian. And at the same time,there are so many NGOs falling over due to lack of resources. In one year, I was without a job twice. It breaks my heart,as most of children in poverty are Pacific + Maori. The government is very reluctant to publish those stats.

  2. Kia ora koutou, I am absolutely hearing similar stories and anecdotes in my practice community; there are good people doing their best with what has been handed to them, but the basic principle of collaborative practice that we keep coming back to when analysing the reason for poor outcomes is still fundamentally missing in many cases. As is stated in this submission, if the spreading of statutory power across professions is an example of “working together,” or “joined up thinking” then the point has been fundamentally missed!State power simply becomes heavier and more cumbersome, and families will be running even more desperately in the opposite direction. Important that these stories are shared here by our colleagues to document reality, thank you!

  3. Kia ora koutou I am with an NGO in Whanganui that has a CT added to our community at start of Dec 2015. I totally tautoko all the concerns expressed here. We were assured SF still had a place in our community. We all know how that turned out! As per other comments my colleagues did not sign up to do C&P work but yep that’s what we’ve got as our local CYF use CT as a dumping ground for what is actually there work. Our agency has lost 1 worker and another looking for other work because this is not how they want to practice. The undermining of our profession is highly evident. I know its the same in Horowheneua. We need to push back on this bureaucratic mistake collectively if Wellington are going to take any notice.

  4. Kia Ora
    I’m shocked to hear that this is happening. Interesting I spoke to a Team Leader of CYFS who when I commented that their core role is child protection failed to respond to me. Now I can understand! Where is our chief Social Worker what are they doing about this ? More children at risk will he the outcome and no one to do the work. This is truly deplorable !!

  5. There are many truths in what has been raised here. I would like to take the opportunity to describe what that “power of delegation” looks like at the coal face as we speak.
    I am a S/W in a BOP town that has a Children’s Team. What is happening now is that referrals are coming into C/T at a steady rate(it is expected this rate will increase significantly)as CYF remove themselves from their ‘core business’ of protecting children.
    It is assumed that those acting as Lead Professionals on the C/T are qualified, registered and most importantly skilled in the area of child protection work. The L/P is a broker, lets be clear on that. Their role is to do a extensive assessment on referred person and then to gather other professionals/support around child/whanau to do the intervention. This process can take months.
    A similar process has been happening for many years and is/ was called Strengthening Families. The key differences are ,that the L/P has to now do a lengthy time consuming assessment and ,most important is the absence of the key ingredient-the family/whanau in this process. My understanding is that ,where there is a C/T,S/F is now gone. Reinventing the wheel and the new wheel is not smooth by any stretch.
    The referrals coming through are complex and there is risk. This is a fact. At times the risk is deemed high and when this has been challenged and referred back to CYF the response is now-‘this is your work,this is now the communities responsibility”.
    What is extremely concerning with this ,is the fact that there is not the skill set in the community to deal with this work. There is not the buy-in from the community to do this work. Many S/W don’t want to do front-line CYF work-they didn’t sign on to that work, they are not trained to interview children about an alleged sexual assault, they don’t want to go the home after receiving a Notification(this notification has come straight to C/T and bypassed cyf-this is being promoted as what is going to happen) to check if the drug taking allegations are true-they don’t have access to drug testing and lets not forget this is a voluntary service.
    So, my concerns are that there is an assumption from Wellington that anyone can do this work(as long as they are police checked)and that we JUST need to get on and do it.
    Not anyone can and WANTS to do this work and I applaud those who are aiming to stand up in this climate of trying to ‘dumb down’ our profession and push back and encourage those at the top level to not accept practice that is not good social work practice .This ‘acceptance’ of that’s the way its going and we just need to accept it ,just doesn’t wash -we need S/W at the top level who are going advocate for our profession and not accept some airy concept ,such as Children’s team that just doesn’t work-how long do you flog a dead horse?
    While the agencies sit around and decide who’s work this is-vulnerable children will be harmed!

    1. Thanks for your comment Joe. It’s great to have some feedback about how all the reforms are playing out on the ground. I’ve heard from others similar things about the now quite contentious interface between the CTs and CYF. The introduction of CTs was great in principle – a more coordinated service for those at the edge of CYF notification to stop the ‘churn’. How it’s playing out though seems fairly distant from the ideal. It appears hampered by the idea that the CTs will deal with very high risk cases and even accept notifications directly, but without access to the specific services that have the desire, power, resources and/or expertise to address those risks. Coordination alone isn’t enough. It seems where the work is framed as about who is ‘responsible’ for it, instead of ‘what kind of services do we need to provide to actually reduce risk/ improve family functioning’ (and resourcing that) then the outcome is these kind of turf battles with people on both sides feeling increasingly frustrated and embattled.

      The issue of family involvement is interesting – that family involvement is not stressed in CTs, but it’s voluntary, is a conundrum. Surely that leads to disengagement?

      These lengthy assessments without the resources to implement the intervention is also at best a partial solution and as you point out, can result in lengthy delays for any real response to the family. What’s the answer? More tertiary level services? (e.g. more specialised well funded NGOs that work exclusively with very specific issues eg. drug using parents?) or CYF reclaiming their role in assessing high risk cases? CYF developing its own in-house tertiary services? Or all of this? As we stated in our submission, it’s surely not enabling those in CTs to apply directly for orders themselves – a job they may not want and will lead to more conflict.

    2. Talofa Joe,
      I completely agree with all your concerns on the care & protection system now. I can personally say that I was asked by my agency to attend a children panel training. I went once, and what I saw as a professional counselor and a registered social worker guaranteed that no way would I go back. I will not support unqualified and untrained voluntary workers to assess,let alone set out safety plans or intervention of children at risk or already abused. The new costly data system in place to collect information is not only time consuming, just about impossible to navigate and what for I asked myself? I am still asking myself on why proper professionals who have worked hard to get where they are at do this work would consider voluntary? Its very insulting to our profession and undermines our body of knowledge.
      To do what we had already done before? I am sad Strengthening Families is gone, it worked well for many years, especially for Maori and Pacific, a community and integrated response that put the family in the middle. Over the last 5 years,I have seen the erosion of this when CYFS became the focus and used it as a prelude to Whanau Agreement and FGC. No longer a family goal focus but a compliance model

      1. Talofa lava Toalepai – it’s interesting that care and protection panels were one example given in the RIS statement as a possible site where another professional might apply for orders. Concerning indeed. One of my worries is that where there are many possible ‘appliers’ for orders in third party agencies, this extends statutory power into many more settings. There still needs to be some protected place where families and professionals can come together without that power in the room. SF was one way to do that. Or was anyway..

        1. This was not a care + protection panel.But training for the new Children Team. A roomful of community people,all with computers being trained to use a CYFS assessment framework

          1. Yes, your right Toalepai.Out of a room of 40,we had no one at the end that was interested in being a Lead Professional. There is no selling point to this new ‘way’. It is a concept with no structure or body to back it-a quick, make shift exercise by someone with no idea of social work, that is shifting the pile of referrals from the desk at cyf to the children’s team desk. Plenty of brokering but no doing.When will the system change from being a dictatorship(you will do it this way) to a collaborative exercise where professional ,social workers voices, skills and experience are taken into consideration? This new way is another directive from Wellington-and they wonder why people aren’t buying in?? Go figure!!

  6. This will be very useful to know
    Who or what is going to rescue our children at risk and those that are being abused
    Only government bestows those statutory powers.
    This country has signed and ratified the UN Convention of Children’s Rights. Where does that come in? We slip even further down the scale of countries that neglect and abuse their children. Not long ago, there was a huge outcry that we are sitting third down with third world countries on this line. Does this not matter anymore? We are not concerned about the shame?

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