ANZASW reflections on the latest state of care report

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) appreciates the recommendations and insights contained in the latest State of Care report, “Supporting Young People on Remand to live Successfully in the Community,” produced by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

We fully support the view that early intervention is needed to reduce the numbers of children / tamariki and young people / rangatahi moving from state care into the youth justice system.

Accordingly, we also support the report’s suggestion that “services offering constructive support to the young person and their whānau [should be] available as soon as children first come to Oranga Tamariki’s notice.” Delivering on this recommendation in partnership with communities and family / whānau would very likely produce improved long-term outcomes for the child / tamaiti.

It is no secret that separation from family / whānau and community at an early stage in life produces long-term negative consequences.

While the Association acknowledges the Ministry’s efforts to engage earlier with children / tamariki, young people / rangatahi and families / whānau, we note the observation cited in the report that sometimes interventions can occur at too late a stage. We believe that for the best outcomes to be realised, interventions must involve full consultation with the community and family / whānau that surround the child / tamariki. In order for this to happen at an optimal level, community organisations need to be able to access greater resources.

We also agree with the view that, in cases where children/ tamariki young people / rangatahi are involved in the youth justice process, that the individual themselves, their family / whānau must be “active, informed and empowered participants at all stages,” in order to develop improved relationships and support better outcomes for all involved.

In addition to the above, ANZASW shares the concerns expressed by Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft regarding the high number of young people / rangatahi in the youth justice system who are being held on remand on charges that have not been proven. We agree that this may reduce the likelihood of rehabilitation and damage relationships between the state and young persons caught up in the justice system.

We concur with Judge Becroft that providing community-based housing and access to trauma-informed support for individuals in these circumstances would be a preferable default option, improving relationships with the state and enhancing connectedness.

The Association also recognises the need for support during the transition period from life in state care to living in the community. We therefore welcome the introduction of transitional support services run by Oranga Tamariki, employing 175 specialist staff and making available dozens of supported residential units, which will begin to operate in July, as well as access to advice and the possibility of living with a caregiver beyond the former cut off point of 18 years old.

It is estimated that around 3000 young people / rangatahi could be supported through these services, which are aimed in part at interrupting the inter-generational cycle of deprivation, itself a form of early intervention, as a high number of children in care have parents who had also been through the system.

As a report by Radio New Zealand, documented, some young persons / rangatahi who experienced state care have felt unsupported with few places to turn when they leave the system. We believe that this programme, while long overdue, can make a meaningful difference to young New Zealanders and look forward to its commencement.