Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

This week CYF social workers will be muttering, ‘another bloody review.’ But they’ll take it in their stride because new directions have become so characteristic of the department that old timers don’t even count them anymore. (I sometimes wonder if public service departments with a high political content would be better off if run by a version of Pharmac).

But what will tend to elicit some bitterness from social workers is the phrase, ‘child-centred’ to describe the focus of this latest new direction, as if it is a new insight. Still, there is a lot wrong with the current system. Far too many children come to notice time and time again before serious intervention occurs, inevitably too late.

Apparently the new report is over 300 pages long but so far the publicised emphasis appears to focus on children in the care of the State. Children are being shifted too many times as if they are parcels. I hate that kind of all too frequent comment because it is lazy and uninformed. Yes, in some cases it is through incompetence. But usually the problem is lack of adequate human resources. And this is not even about money.

I have been involved running foster parent recruitment drives and the training courses that follow. Finding two suitable applicants from an intake of twelve is not unusual. Some, once they are informed about the realities of being a caregiver, drop out. And others who do not have sufficient personal insight to drop out later may be found wanting. The job is tough.

I don’t know how the new direction is going to find more suitable caregivers. Bear this example in mind: When I was a social worker I had two toddlers placed with stable foster parents. It was a long-term placement. (By the way, one of the new directions in the 1980s was ‘permanency’).

Everything was fine until the husband, 38-years-old, dropped dead of a heart attack. I was asked to move the children immediately. I placed them with an excellent emergency foster parent. But obviously it was a temporary arrangement. So through unfortunate human circumstances these two children, still toddlers, were headed for their 3rd set of foster parents.

There are many ways in which foster parent recruitment and support standards could be improved but insisting that applicants refrain from dying, getting ill, moving house or getting a divorce is not one of them. And another major roadblock is the catchment potential. People with good foster parenting ability are extremely thin on the ground. As I said, it’s a tough job, which makes the current review decision to close the few institutions left for extremely difficult and violent young people puzzling.

Still, I wish the new direction well. And we must remember that it could be worse. Our first legislation for children in need of care and protection was back in 1867, when The Neglected and Criminal Children’s Act was established to create separate Industrial Schools for boys and girls, a provision for children under 16 years who were found to be destitute, neglected, begging, wandering or out of control. In 1925 The Child Welfare Act was passed into legislation. Almost 50 years later it was replaced by The Children and Young Person’s Act.

So it seems that looking back on the days of wandering and begging children we have come a long way. We just have to make our minds up about what works, what we can do to make it possible – and stick with it.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.