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Perspectives from the field of Child and Youth Care

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NEW ZEALAND

Forty per cent of children in state care moved between three-plus caregivers in five years

Too many children in state care are being moved between caregivers and this instability has led many to turn to a life of crime and being unable to bond with their caregivers, youth advocates say.

New data obtained by the 'Herald on Sunday' under the Official Information Act shows each year between 2013 and 2017 more than 40 per cent of children in state care had three or more caregivers during the previous five years.

Oranga Tamariki's general manager of care support Paula Attrill said although the Ministry strived to place children in its care in a stable, safe, loving home as soon as possible, many kids were being moved too often.

"These are New Zealand's children that have been through the most horrendous experiences. They've got enormous needs in terms of behaviour, mental health difficulties, all sorts of things," she told the 'Herald on Sunday'.

Although some children in state care were moved between homes for positive reasons, such as when a permanent caregiver had been found for a child in emergency care, other times this happened at a point of crisis. A shortage of caregivers was also contributing to the issue.

Attrill said Oranga Tamariki was working to reduce the number of kids who are moved around and had launched several initiatives in the past year to better support caregivers, including setting up a 24/7 support line and working with iwi organisations and not-for-profits to provide more training.

However, the findings of the 'Herald on Sunday' investigation disappointed Dr Ainsleigh Cribb-Su'a, a clinical psychologist and chief executive of VOYCE Whakarongo Mai which advocates for children in care, who said moving from home to home could damage kids' development and wellbeing. Children uprooted from their home and community multiple times sometimes didn't bother unpacking or trying to get to know their caregiver, she said.

The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 and policies and procedures required Oranga Tamariki to place siblings in state care in the same home but Cribb-Su'a said many were being split up.

South Auckland man Allan Mauauri, who was moved between several foster families and boys' homes as a child and now works with young offenders – many of whom are or have been in state care – was not surprised by how often kids were being moved between carers but was concerned by the trend.

"That child who has been shuffled around, I bet you 100 per cent that child will have two outcomes – that child will end up in jail and that child will end up being an early parent and struggling for the rest of their lives," he said. "They will not have any formal education. They will end up being the scum of society. That's the truth. That's what I've seen."

Mauauri had to grow up quickly, didn't bond with many of his caregivers and often just focused on surviving, he said. "I never had time to be a child. I became an adult fast. And that's the problem with kids who get shifted around – they never have time to be children. "All a child wants is stability, guidance – just those basic necessities," he said.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said having a loving home shaped kids' entire life path – making them feel safe and helping them engage in education and develop friendships.
The new statistics reflected the findings of an expert advisory panel in 2015, which described Child, Youth and Family – the government agency responsible for the welfare of children in state care before Oranga Tamariki – as having a "dump and run culture".

Becroft said Oranga Tamariki knew this was unacceptable and was working to correct it.

"We will be following this issue very closely and would expect to see a big increase in the number of children who are settled quickly in the next couple of years."

By Brittany Keogh

10 June 2018 

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