29 Jan 2024

Oranga Tamariki report shows more children harmed in its care

From Checkpoint, 5:35 pm on 29 January 2024

Oranga Tamariki (OT) says it is "horrendous and absolutely unacceptable" that more children than ever are being harmed under their watch.

The agency's Safety in Care report shows 9 percent of children in its care were harmed in the year ending June 2023, including neglect, physical and sexual abuse. It is a significant jump since the ministry's first report in 2019, when about 5.6 percent of children in OT's care were found to have been harmed. 

"We saw cases of children and young people requiring medical treatment, including hospital visits, in the care and protection residences and injuries that ranged from being knocked unconscious to bleeding lips and noses," the report said.

"Many of the assaults within the youth justice residences were also serious and included young people being assaulted by groups of other young people at times, and assaults that included the use of instruments such as chairs. We did see that some young people experienced multiple assaults on several occasions over time in residences."

In a statement, Minister for Children Karen Chhour said the report was a "disappointing read" and that having an increase in the number of children harmed in care was "unacceptable".

"Things are not improving in the children's space and in some instances, they are getting worse ... this is not good enough," she said.

Oranga Tamariki quality practice and experiences deputy chief executive Nicolette Dickson told Checkpoint she agreed with Chhour that the results were not good enough.

"We would agree that it is not good enough when children are harmed in care, we take it really seriously.

"It is horrendous and absolutely unacceptable."

Dickson said the report found 40 instances where children had been harmed by OT staff, which included a broad range of harm.

But she did not confirm whether all employees involved in those instances were still working at Oranga Tamariki when asked, instead saying that the appropriate process is followed which may result in staff no longer working there.

Dickson said the agency was ensuring it reported any harm raised because something worse than actual harm was for authorities to not believe it had happened.

The leadership and residences team were also working "incredibly hard" with Commissioner Mike Bush, who took over leadership of all Youth Justice and Care and Protection residences, to make changes, including increasing training for staff, providing stronger leadership and working with community partners to ensure young people did not end up in OT residences in the first place.

Chhour said "bad practice would no longer be tolerated", and she would work hard to ensure children were not slipping through the tracks.

She said it was "pleasing" to see Oranga Tamariki had been working to ensure a more consistent practice when it came to reporting incidents which occurred in residences through the 'report of concern' process.  

"I am committed to providing better training and resources to staff in the residences space, to allow them to do their job to the best of their ability and keep young people and staff safe."