16 Jun 2016

First step in major CYF overhaul in Parliament

9:23 am on 16 June 2016

Legislation extending the amount of time a child is in state care for has passed its first reading in Parliament.

Anne Tolley May 24 2016

Anne Tolley told Parliament that international studies show children who stay in care longer have better outcomes in life. Photo: RNZ/Elliott Childs

This was the first step in the government's major overhaul of Child Youth and Family] (CYF).

In April, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley released a [http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/300878/new-plan-for-children-in-care-unveiled

report of a major review of CYF] which found the system "fragmented" and "broken".

The Children, Young Persons and Their Families Amendment Bill, which passed its first hurdle yesterday, would extend the age a person can be in state care from under 17 to under 18.

Ms Tolley told Parliament that international studies show children who stay in care longer have better outcomes in life.

"Young people who have spent time in care have spoken of their pronounced sense of vulnerability as they moved into adulthood. For these young people, the transition out of care often comes too early, too abruptly and with little in a way of a safety net," she said.

The government is still looking at ways to provide support for people up to the age of 25, said Ms Tolley.

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour's Jacinda Ardern said the age increase was something her party had wanted for some time.

"A parent would never say on the 17th birthday of their child, pack your bags, leave the house, I have no responsibility for you any longer.

"And yet that's what we do to our young people who you could argue need more support than anyone else," she said.

But Ms Ardern said the government also missed a major opportunity to increase the age of those included in the youth justice system to under 18.

"It makes sense to have young people as long as possible in the youth court because the youth court is a highly successful, interventionist, confrontational, personalised process," she said.

The Green Party was the only party to oppose the bill.

It was worried about a section which shifted the power to advocate for children from social workers to the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

Anne Tolley said the shift would allow for a broader range of professionals, like psychiatrists and paediatricians, to have a greater input.

Jan Logie.

Jan Logie. Photo: RNZ

However, Green Party MP Jan Logie said it was dangerous to move responsibility to a single point.

"Political risk aversion has resulted in really negative impacts on the practice of the social workers within Child Youth and Family.

"So if we put the single point of accountability to the CE of MSD, who's directly responsible to the minister, there's an absolute danger we're going to increase that result," she said.

The bill would also ensure the views of children were taken into account during decision making processes and also supported the establishment of an independent youth advocacy service.

But New Zealand First MP Ria Bond said not enough money was being invested into the area.

"If this government truly believed in putting the voice of vulnerable children first, then this government would also recognise the potential of the Children's Commission.

"This government has failed miserably to adequately resource what should have been the jewel in the crown," she said.

The bill now goes to the Social Services Select Committee for consideration and the government said more legislative changes will be introduced in later in the year.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs