CAPTION: New to the role: Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, regional manager Grant Bennett with Masterton site manager Miriama Henderson PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

Restructure for Wairarapa children’s services under way

By Beckie Wilson

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The restructure of the region’s former Child, Youth and Family (CYF) office could be just what some Wairarapa families will see as a light at the end of the tunnel.

After months of feeling left in the dark, families involved with the system are likely to see changes as staffing issues and caseloads are tackled.

Grant Bennett and Miriama Henderson have taken the reins to help restructure the organisation at the Masterton office.

The replacement of CYF, Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki, was launched at the start of April in the hopes of offering better support for the country’s children. The ministry has been restructured 14 times since 1992.

Instead of a ‘crisis management’ approach that CYF took, the new ministry wants to work ‘intensively’ with families before children get hurt.

As regional manager, Mr Bennett’s first step is to make sure staff and leadership foundations are solid.

He will then look at building stronger relationships and improving communications with other regional organisations.

A report done in 2015 by Minister for Children, Anne Tolley, found that the system only took a short-term view of children and was not good at responding to long-term needs resulting in children being “lost in the system”.

The government has committed to four years of service design. The first year was for setting up the new agency, next three to deliver on the aspirations of the report.

Mr Bennett has had a long-term involvement with Child, Youth and Family.

Now based in Napier with his wife and children, he hopes his experience will help the Masterton office thrive.

Staffing issues at the Masterton office were the result of a combination of many reasons.

“Some of it was cyclical . . . it’s a relatively small site, so if there are a few [staff] that leave to take up other opportunities or head overseas, it can leave a bigger gap — that definitely happened here.”

High workloads and complex issues were very difficult for previous staff, he said.

There was now a response team working at the office until October to help reduce the backlog of cases.

The office’s team is made up of 20 staff, including supervisors and coordinators, with 12 social workers.

There are four social work vacancies which will be taken by some of the response team.

While these changes would not be made overnight, he had already seen a turnaround in the past six weeks.

This restructure should have happened months ago when people first became aware of the issues, he said.

“It’s a big lesson: Where a site shows vulnerability for whatever reason, we need to be on top of that very quickly.”

Communication with family lawyers has also improved, he said.

“There was a lot of overdue court work, and that was our priority, we are reducing it now.”

“Some of what is frustrating people in this community, is what has frustrated people in other communities.”

Caregiver support and child placements would be assessed in the next three years.

As a previous CYF social worker, the new Masterton site manager, Miriama Henderson, hoped to involve the whole community in supporting those who needed help.

“For anyone to understand what we do, and to be successful, it is about getting out and working alongside the community,” she said.

“A big thing for me is about turning around the reputation.”

Mrs Henderson, who is a small-town girl with a “really big family”, has worked with local iwis and CYF in the past.