18 Apr 2024

Oranga Tamariki services for at-risk children will get better after job cuts, minister says

3:20 pm on 18 April 2024
ACT Party MP Karen Chhour

Children's Minister Karen Chhour says the cuts would mean more money is spent on young people. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Children's Minister is promising Oranga Tamariki will get better at taking care of at-risk children - not worse - as a result of this week's job cuts.

The public service took its biggest hit yet on Wednesday, with a combined 1000 jobs on the chopping block at Oranga Tamariki and the Ministry of Education.

It is likely OT's evidence centre, responsible for collecting information about what works to keep children safe, will be significantly impacted in the cuts.

Of the 632 roles on the chopping block, nearly a quarter are managerial roles and more than a third advisory positions.

The Opposition said there could be no doubt this would compromise frontline services, while Children's Minister Karen Chhour believed it would actually improve them.

"We're looking at making sure that every cost saving that we do in the back office is re-directed to the frontline services," Chhour told RNZ.

A state care survivor herself, Chhour has been highly critical of the current system and said the cuts would mean more money is spent on young people.

Some of the job cuts related to getting rid of projects the former Labour government had set up - and slashing red tape so decisions would be made quickly, she said.

"Sometimes management structures actually get in the way of good decision-making. We need to take the decision-making out of the back office from people who may not have even met these young people to the frontline service professional [who] know these kids by name, know what they need, and can provide the services that they need."

RNZ asked Chhour if she could guarantee the cuts would have no impact, even indirectly, on frontline services.

"I actually think it'll be the opposite to what you're saying," she replied.

"Frontline services have been ignored and under-resourced for far too long. We need to make sure that every dollar we're spending is actually for the benefit of our young people."

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins said Oranga Tamariki had "regularly failed" children in the past and cutting the number of staff would make the problem worse.

"It's a pretty dark day for New Zealand children ... cutting that number of staff from Oranga Tamariki will almost certainly compromise their level of support that they're able to provide for those very vulnerable children."

Chief Children's Commissioner Claire Achmad said while some of the jobs on the line were office-bound, they were still important.

"This is work that really matters in the lives of children and young people. When it comes to functions like policy teams and evidence and research teams, that work is crucial to informing how the work that happens directly with children and young people actually happens on a day to day level."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was unapologetic when asked about the cuts in Bangkok on Wednesday, saying it was what people voted for.

"New Zealanders expect us to make sure that every dollar is actually directed towards delivering an outcome. So that's why you can be confident that as we go through the budget there will be an increase in support, resources and funding for Oranga Tamariki and education."

These latest announcements bring the total number of jobs axed in the public spending cull to more than 3000.

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