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Children’s Participation in the New Zealand Care System

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Presentation on theme: "Children’s Participation in the New Zealand Care System"— Presentation transcript:

1 Children’s Participation in the New Zealand Care System
Dr Nicola Atwool, University of Otago Tracie Shipton, Dingwall Trust Tupua Urlich

2 Legislation and Policy
Children Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 makes provision for children to attend Family Group Conferences Unless it would not be in the best interests of the child or s/he would be unable by reason of age or level of maturity to understand proceedings Voices of children and young people is one of 5 strategic priorities for 2012 – 2015 Children’s Charter includes the right to “HAVE A SAY ABOUT THINGS THAT THAT ARE HAPPENING TO ME AND TO BE TOLD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME” Policy includes an expectation that social workers will directly engage with children and young people in care and during the assessment phase of intervention

3 Children’s Experience
Despite legislative and policy provision there is little evidence of children’s participation in practice Research focused on the investigation process demonstrated that in 18.7% of substantiated cases of physical abuse the social worker did not sight the child and in 30% of cases the child was not spoken to (McKenzie, 2005) Office of the Children’s Commissioner 2010 review of quality of services for children in care found that most of the 47 children and young people who participated did not know why they were in care and did not have a coherent narrative of their time in care Many expressed uncertainty about the future, especially those approaching 17 the age at which care orders are discharged Half had seen the Children’s Charter but only a quarter had it explained to them McKenzie, K. (2005). Children talking about physical abuse. Can they tell it and is anyone listening? Childrenz Issues, 9(1), 17–21.

4 Barriers to participation
Adult assumptions leading to children’s exclusion Children need to be protected from what adults may say and do Children can be manipulated by their parents Children don’t understand/know what they need Children lack the maturity to make a contribution Loss of focus on children in care after 1989 Assumption that numbers would reduce due to emphasis on keeping children with family and kin care Loss of specialist knowledge about children in care Workload – significant increase in number of notifications since 2000 has exacerbated this Generic caseloads result in crisis work taking priority

5 Consequences Children and young people feel powerless and helpless
“There’s nothing actually that I would actually want. I don’t want anything in life actually. I don’t even care if I die.” Children become bystanders in their own lives Some children get angry adults judge their behaviour without considering the underlying issues Inevitable that motivation to co-operate with plans and adjust to new situations is reduced when there is no consultation Child is then seen in a negative light Places young people at a considerable disadvantage when the time comes to transition out of care Quote from one of the children interviewed in Children’s Issues Centre Research Report on Children in Kinship and Foster care. Smith, A. B., Gollop, M.M., Taylor, N. J. & Atwool, N. R. (1999). Children in Kinship and Foster care. Dunedin: Children’s Issues Centre.

6 Systemic Issues No independent body providing children in care with a voice Research can provide children and young people with the opportunity to have input but risk averse policy has until very recently been a barrier for researchers gaining access to children in care Many new initiatives have not been evaluated from the perspective of children and young people’s experience Policy and practice has not been subject to evaluation New Zealand has relied on research from other countries Issues of applicability given different legislation, policy and practice Indigenous children are over-represented in the care system and their unique situation has not been taken into account despite evidence about the devastating inter-generational impact Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Māori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare (1988). Puao Te Ata Tu (Daybreak). Wellington: Department of Social Welfare.

7 What can be gained by listening to children in care?
Improved outcomes for individual children and young people through active involvement in decision-making Increased co-operation Builds resilience Enhances self-esteem Reduces stigma Reduced risk that negative situations will be perpetuated Children are more likely to speak up when they have confidence that they will be listened to Improved policy and practice by increasing accountability for the consequences of decisions – too often adults rely on ‘good intent’ without considering the impact Consistency with core social work values such as empowerment and social justice

8 What children in care have to say when asked
Changes needed “Listen to young people and involve them in planning” “Keep contact with family” “Better choices in education, make sure kids stay at school” “Cut down on moves” “Children need to know what is happening and why it is happening” “We want to be treated as a person that has significance to themselves” Social Workers “Need to visit more” “Direct communication” “Need to listen more” “Need to get back to you, respond to requests” “Need to know who social worker is and be told if they are leaving” Children and young people in care interviewed as part of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner investigation into the quality of care during 2009–2010. Atwool, N. R. (2010). Children in Care. Wellington: Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Available from

9 What children in care have to say when asked
In 2006 four young people presented at an ACCAN conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in Wellington: “Please remember that we represent all young people in care. We are young people, not a caseload. We need you to see past stereotypical ideas of young people in care. We need you to get to know us as the unique young people that we are, and tailor your work around our individual needs, wishes, dreams and goals. We need you to know our rights and give us up-to-date information about our rights. We need your time, your energy, your nurturing. If you see us and treat us as the forming potential that we truly are, then we are more likely to blossom. Lastly, we need stability. If we have all of the above but do not feel as though we belong anywhere, and cannot establish roots, then our growth and development will be stunted. “ (Watts, J., Kumar, R., Nicholson, K., & Kumar, J. (2006). Stigma, rights resilience and stability. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 27, 12–19.

10 What children in care have to say when asked
This year at a Youth Hui, organised by Voices of Children in Care, attended by the Minister of Social Development young people in care had the opportunity to share their views about what they need. One of the presenters had been a speaker at the ACCAN conference and she expressed her disappointment that seven years later they were no further ahead: “the same stories told differently” This is a sad commentary on our failure to engage with children and young people in care in New Zealand at every level – practitioners, supervisors, managers and policy makers.

11 Positive steps forward
Care Café website Voices of Children in Care Group Youth Fun Day and Youth Hui – Auckland 2013 Increased political and public awareness

12 Care Cafe Website launched 2009
Developed with young people in care and those that had recently left care CYF funded establishment Mission – to provide a chance to learn about the care system, connect with other young people with similar experiences and share their views with care providers and policy makers. Initial nervousness from CYF – risk adverse

13 Voices of Children in Care
Group of passionate and committed individuals and organisations with many years experience in the care sector, child rights and advocacy. Aim to develop an independent body for children and young people in foster care in Aotearoa. Passionately believe c&yp deserve an identity, a voice and opportunities to create positive change in the care system. Youth Hui held July 2013

14 Relationship with CREATE
CREATE have been an inspiration and support to us Reason we were draw to their model over others: Respectful model of participation that includes training and follow-up with young people They work to find solutions to the issues facing children in care, not just raise issues They have a clear focus on connection and provide numerous connection opportunities for children and young people in care They provide a range of empowerment activities

15 Barriers Risk adverse nature of the statutory agency
Funder capture of NGO’s – fear of rocking the boat Services too busy just getting on with essential services Lack of government funding – not previously seen as a priority Access to those in whanau care

16 The way forward Youth Hui made a real impact on the Minister for Social Development MSD scoping options for an independent voice for children and young people in care Increased political attention on kids in care White Paper for Vulnerable Children and Children’s Action Plan – kids in care seen as a priority group Vulnerable Children’s Bill - legislating support for care leavers People starting to talk about the issue of supporting young people in foster care and our age of discharge – (Governor General, Coroner, media) VOCC to continue to advocate for an independent voice and keep the momentum going.

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