Oranga Tamariki's new child sexual violence services in limbo

10:34 am on 14 March 2022

Oranga Tamariki has not had any meetings with Māori to design new sexual violence services for children even as unmet demand ratchets up.

silhouette of mother and daughter holding hands in sunset nature

(File image) Photo: 123rf.com

The agency says it is still in a relationship-building phase with those it will contract with and has no target date for launching the services, four years after a cross-agency combating violence programme began, and 18 months after it originally planned to begin design.

A leading national Māori provider says the agency seems to have made "little progress" and lacks a strategy.

Existing crisis support and other sexual violence services are under huge pressure, and Oranga Tamariki (OT) is in charge of introducing new ones.

Children are the victims of more than two thirds of all the sexual violence charges that get to court, yet get virtually no support in court, where research has found adult lawyers often accuse them of lying.

The number of children and teenagers in care displaying harmful sexual behaviour has grown by 50 percent in the past five years.

RNZ reported in December that OT had to hand back to the government $4.5 million out of $11m earmarked for the new sexual violence services, because it failed to spend it.

OT defended the underspend, saying it had changed tack to co-design services with Māori providers, so it was working at their pace.

RNZ asked how many co-design meetings it had had.

OT, in a new OIA response, said none.

"No meetings have been held with iwi and Māori for this purpose," its general manager of public, ministerial and executive services Steve Groom said in the OIA.

"Our engagement with partners is focused on building trust and understanding and responding to their needs so that we can then support them to deliver appropriately designed services," said Rachel Jones, deputy chief executive of partnering for outcomes, in a statement.

"Discussions with our partners will, we expect, turn to covering off options to co-design services but no target date has been set."

It gave no timeframe for either starting co-design meetings or starting the services.

"No target date has been set," Jones said.

"It would not be appropriate for us to provide you dates that have not first been discussed and agreed with our partners."

Existing services are still running but these are not co-designed.

It is having talks across five regions: Te Tai Tokerau, Waikato, Wellington, South Canterbury, Otago and Southland; the agency would not name the providers for commercial reasons until after any deal is done. Partners were under pressure from the pandemic, Jones said.

OT hinted talks with providers could go on for at least another six months.

A pilot programme in South Canterbury is underway, helping teachers identify and manage harmful sexual behaviour in school.

The agency refused to tell RNZ where its spending is on the new services, after last year's $4.5m underspend.

The work fits under a government violence prevention programme linking 10 agencies begun in 2018, and which led to national strategy Te Aorerekura last December.

OT said it was focused on the regions, plus "at a national level, we are focusing on developing our relationship with Te Ohaakii a Hine - National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together (TOAH-NNEST)". This network covers a raft of tangata whenua services.

Spokespersons for TOAH-NNEST said they were pleased at the building of "new trusting relationships", however, services were still hugely lacking.

"There is a raft of resource deficiencies hampering those already working daily in this field including contract funding and sufficient specifically skilled and trained workers. Kaupapa Māori specialist SV services in particular are in short supply," said Joy Te Wiata for Ngā Kaitiaki Mauri and Maggy Tai Rākena for Tauiwi Caucus in a joint statement.

The $4.5m underspend was "disheartening" for struggling providers, they said.

"It is still unclear to TOAH-NNEST what Oranga Tamariki's overall strategy is to address child sexual violence ... irrespective of who it is providing supports and solutions. It is also unclear how Oranga Tamariki plan to address the tasks in Te Aorerekura [the national strategy] that require their input."

The agency had disbanded its sexual violence project team some years ago "and it seems that little progress to address the needs of tamariki and rangatahi who experience sexual violence in Aotearoa has been achieved since", with several working groups going nowhere, they said.

Their network "would love to see a focused sexual violence project group re-established at Oranga Tamariki".

In December, Children's Commissioner Frances Eivers said she would seek a briefing from OT about its "disappointing" and unexplained underspend.

New Children's Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers was welcomed into the role with a pōwhiri at Wellington's Pipitea Marae.

Children's Commissioner Frances Eivers says she will soon seek a briefing with Oranga Tamariki on its $4.5m underspend. Photo: RNZ / Matai O’Connor

Judge Eivers told RNZ this week she had not sought that briefing yet but would "in the near future.'

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is evaluating the impact from the extra $90m budget it has for sexual violence services since 2019-20.

It is focused on adult services. Just one of the six evaluation documents MSD released has anything to say about services for children.

The September 2021 report said providers noted there was "a stark difference between what's on offer for adults compared to what's on offer for children", with a particular gap noted for support at court.

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