The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, and controversy surrounding some Oranga Tamariki uplift cases has brought this country's record on protecting children this year, once again into sharp focus. So what are alternatives to foster care?
A newly-released study, 'Fostering the family not just the child', argues residential intervention programmes for women and their children have the potential to change families' lives for the better, and are worth investigating robustly as an alternative to state care.
Co-authors Dr Charlene Rapsey and Cassandra Rolston, from Otago University's Department of Psychological Medicine, based their study on in-depth interviews with women using the three stage residential programme, Granger Grove.
Lynn Freeman talks to Dr Rapsey and Judy Mataia the Chief Executive of Granger Grove.
Dr Rapsey says the evidence is clear that children in foster care don’t stay in one family and tend to have poor outcomes on a wide range of issues.
“That impermanence in the system is quite damaging. It adds trauma to these young people who’ve already experienced a number of traumas. That made me wonder what we could do to improve outcomes for these children.
“One of those options was strengthening and empowering the family to maintain good care of their children. Mothers and children often want to stay together but the factors around care and protection need to be addressed.”
Dr Rapsey says Granger Grove and other facilities provided options for parents while intensively addressing care and protection issues for mothers and their child or children.
She says mothers in the Granger Grove programme told her the service was a long one, but they came to realise the changes they needed to make in their lives.
“Their experiences with services were not necessarily positive, but over time at Granger Grove they talked about developing trusting relationships with the staff. And the staff there described it as being like a family - the strength of the relationships the women developed with each other and the staff enabled them to relax and to show a degree of vulnerability that allowed them to examine the changes that they needed to make and the changes they wanted to make.
Judy explains that the women at Granger Grove are largely referred through Oranga Tamariki and part of the referral order is that they have an infant. She says there are almost always custodial orders on the children and the Family Court is heavily involved along with Oranga Tamariki.
“There’s a number of professionals involved by the time they even think about a Granger Grove referral. And [Dr Rapsey’s] right, lots of things have happened in their journey to that point.”
Judy says mothers stay at Granger Grove for up to twelve months and sometimes much longer. One mother was there for almost three years.
“They work through a really intensive programme about their own journeys and their own trauma but they do it together with their child. In some cases they might have two, three, four children and they all live on sight.”
She says they’ve had so major success stories that include mothers getting their children back who have been in foster care.
Dr Rapsey says that while a service like Granger Grove might be expensive in the short term, but compared with a child going through the foster care system and an increased risk of dangerous or criminal behaviour it’ll save the country money in the long term.