Vulnerable Children White Paper
Yesterday the Government launched its white paper on vulnerable children at Jigsaw’s annual conference.
Volume 1 sets out the actions the Government will take. Volume 2 provides detailed policy rationale. Volume 3 details submissions on the Green Paper, and the fourth volume is the Children’s Action Plan, which outlines milestones for achievement to protect children.
In essence, the plan refocusses its energy upon the most vulnerable children. That’s welcome at one level certainly, but it is acknowledged that this will probably result in the de-prioritisation of other areas.
There are a number of key things that are going to take place, these include:
- Child Protection Line
- Childrens Teams
- Regional Coordinators
- Centralised database (Vulnerable Kids Information System)
- Grandparents who raise grandchildren will receive increased financial assistance
- Integration across departments – removal of silos for policy and operations
- Ability of judges to determine child at risk and remove from parents
- Increased professional development to raise awareness of detection of signs of abuse
- Non-mandetory reporting
- Non-compulsory standards of practice introduced
- Consultation with runanga to help place Maori tamariki with suitable members hapu
That’s just some of the changes proposed.
This is a welcome change of direction in so far as it seeks to address the needs of the most vulnerable children, but with a limited funding pool I am cautious that it will result in de-investment in other important areas. If those areas include long term work to reduce family violence rather than the “ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” approach I heard some providers describe this white paper as, then we are in serious trouble.
It’s a good thing that we do not have mandatory reporting as that’s been shown clearly not to work. And it’s also a welcome development, and long overdue, that there will be statutory change such that ministerial portfolios and their operations will no longer operate out of silos – but if their funding pools are still distinct and contestable, then it’s going to be interesting to see how this spirit of co-operation emerges. Violence Free Waitakere offers a bit of hope here we could all learn from – providers working together each to their strengths to achieve solid positive outcomes for their community.
The unified database and helpline are both positive developments, and straight away it’s easy to see how the two might be linked, and the difficulty in establishing a phone protocol that will be reliable in establishing what gets followup and what does not. Assessment over the phone for suspected abuse if clearly going to be hugely problematic, and robust and reliable protocols are going to be vital unless every report is going to be followed up – and it’s hard to see where the funding allocated allows for that. There are bound to be privacy issues emerging in relation to such a database. It’s important that it provides what it promises – better outcomes for our most vulnerable children.
Having standards is important and valuable, but creating an environment in which this becomes a competitive venture by making them commercial rather than compulsory. In other words, if some organisations can afford to train and register workers under the new professional standards, and others cannot, it may well create an environment of competitive advantage that will work against the co-operation sought. Some assistance in ensuring all workers are up to standard by the government wouldn’t go amiss here. We want our tamariki and their families to have the best help they can get, don’t we?
People have noticed there’s not much mention of maori in this white paper. Yet I believe that the focus upon this group of most vulnerable children is, without naming it as such, a focus upon maori and pacific island whanau. However, it’s going to be important within this to ensure that services developed, invested in, and delivered are appropriate.