9 May 2018

'Gutting' decision as at-risk kids' service denied funding

10:18 pm on 9 May 2018

The future of Roxburgh children's village now hangs by a thread after the government told local mayors there was no further funding available in the coming budget.

Bryan Cadogan

Bryan Cadogan Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The facility is run by Stand Children's Services and, along with one in Otaki, on the chopping block as Stand needs $3 million to keep them open. The decision on their future will be made next Tuesday.

About 380 children a year are likely to miss out on using the service if the doors close.

Clutha and central Otago mayors met with the prime minister, the minister for Children and the ministry's chief executive today in the hope an 11th-hour plea might save Roxburgh children's village.

But Clutha District Council mayor Bryan Cadogan said the government would not change its position, a decision he described as "gutting" as there were no comparable services in the entire region.

"What the village provides is a haven for 5-to-12-year-olds in their time of need when there's been identified challenges in their life," he said.

He had spoken to children's services in the Otago and Southland regions and had been told they were "stretched out like a violin string" and often used the village as a last resort themselves.

In government terms, $3 million is 0.00004 percent of the budget. It would be equivalent to setting aside $2.50 for the year, working a 40-hour week at the average wage.

"And it all comes down to a decade of strangulation and feebling of finances by the freezing and withdrawal of government funding."

In 2009, the National government gave an additional $1.5 million to Stand to keep the camp alive - but $5 million was the reported shortfall.

It was expected another additional $1.5 million would come the following year but it did not and has not arrived since.

National spokesperson for children Alfred Ngaro called on the government to save the villages.

"We took responsibility then, I think it's now for the current government today to also take up some responsibility for that too," he said.

The services provided by Stand were critical for the children who used them, he said.

Stand chief executive Dr Fiona Inkpen said without government intervention closure could have long-lasting repercussions for affected children.

"I hope that Oranga Tamariki and the Minister have looked very closely at the view that they hold that there are adequate services.

"From our perspective there are no alternative services for this particular service."

Stand runs five other villages but only one in the South Island. It is in Christchurch.

Mr Cadogan still held out hope.

"Can you ever turn your back on children that are vulnerable?" he said.

Last year 220 children went through the Roxburgh village and the waiting list stands at 85.

Queries to the Prime Minister's office were directed to Minister for Children Tracey Martin.

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Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

In an emailed statement she said the "key concern" was that children received services they required.

She said "a range of support services" were available in the lower South Island.

"It's also important to be clear that Stand's proposal to close the Roxburgh village is an independent decision, which is still in consultation. Under Stand's proposal they will still continue to provide an intensive social work service for children in the region."

Oranga Tamariki would monitor the 21 children who would be in the village to ensure there was no support gap, she said.