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Changes in store for local CYF operations

By Beckie Wilson

[email protected]

A Masterton lawyer says the proposed improvements for the region’s Child, Youth and Family (CYF) office can’t come soon enough, but there are still at-risk children that need urgent help.

Family lawyer Gretchen Freeman has experienced communication difficulties with the local office which has put some of the children she represents at risk due to the lack of social workers not meeting the work load.

The office has experienced a staff shortage since July last year. It currently has eight social workers — down from 12.

CYF has announced a new Wellington and East Coast manager, Grant Bennett, to start on April 3 in the hopes of improving the office’s services.

After months of pressure from local lawyers, the Masterton District Court recently raised its concerns.

This prompted the Family Court chief judge to call for action from the Children’s Commissioner and the Ministry of Social Development.

The New Zealand Law Society has welcomed any solution that would offer relief for the lawyers. It has also proposed that lawyers from Palmerston North and Upper Hutt could take on cases if required.

Mrs Freeman said a group of family lawyers met with Mr Bennett earlier this week where he discussed his plans for resolving the issues in the office.

“This could be a positive sign, [but] it’s whether he can put it into place and manage that in a timely fashion,” she said.

“There needs to be people with significant experience to come back in to work alongside the newer social workers who have been employed.”

Mr Bennett had a plan to prioritise at risk-children, but she was unsure whether his office had enough experienced staff to come and do that.

“One would hope that things are on the up but it’s going to be a six to nine-month process, if not longer to manage that because of where things are at and that’s fine — but they still need to manage what’s happening now.”

She is acting for at least three children who have been significantly affected by the delays in social work despite repeated requests for action.

CYF deputy chief executive Murray Edridge said significant steps have been taken to ensure an improvement in the agency’s performance in the region — in terms of court proceedings and more widely.

“I am disappointed that we have not met the standards that the court, lawyers, caregivers and young people have a right to expect,” he said.

“We already have support personnel in place who are meeting with key stakeholders, including judges and lawyers, to ensure we get it right.”

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