27 Feb 2017

Calls for independent CYF watchdog

8:30 pm on 27 February 2017

There are calls for an independent authority to be set up to act as a watchdog investigating complaints and failures by Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

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Photo: 123rf

It comes after CYF admitted it failed by sending a toddler back into a P-using household where he died.

Law Society family law chairperson Michelle Duggan wants an independent complaints authority set up at the Children's Commission to oversee badly-handled CYF cases.

She said the idea came up when the Oranga Tamariki bill was put to Parliament, but had not come to fruition.

"The recommendation in that bill is that it be a complaints service within the ministry.

"The New Zealand Law Society, in its submissions on the bill, have said the best sort of complaints service is one that's independent.

"Look, Children's Commission seems to be the perfect fit."

Her comments come after a Child Youth and Family manager admited the agency failed multiple times when it sent a Southland toddler back into a P-using household where he died.

Ms Duggan said CYF resources had declined since the 17-month-old's death in 2015.

She worried other children's lives were at risk unless the government made a serious commitment to funding a truly protective government service.

"The ministry just isn't funded well enough to do all that it's meant to be doing.

"The job that it's given to do gets bigger and bigger and social problems become trickier. Yet funding levels certainly don't seem to increase," she said.

"It seems that social workers keep being asked to do more with less."

Masterton family court lawyer Belinda Inglis agreed. She said more deaths were to be expected if the situation did not change.

"There will be tragedy like that where there are terrible problems within CYF in resourcing and management, as we have at the moment in the Masterton office."

Ms Inglis was worried similar cases would happen in her area.

"There's a severe lack of social workers at present.

"That means they're working under pressure and can't do their job properly," she said.

"So, of course, you then have families and children at risk."

Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said a complaints body could look like the Independent Police Conduct Authority, which considered complaints against police.

"If we have an independent police complaints authority, we certainly should for a state agency that has the ability to uplift children, or sometimes they're not acting when there's clear evidence they should be.

"[It] goes back to the question: 'If families don't believe CYFs are acting or performing the way they should be, who do they turn to?'"

Mr McCoskrie said the Association of Social Workers had pushed the government for an independent complaints process.

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