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Rising number of local children placed in care

PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI
[email protected]

Oranga Tamariki has confirmed at least 70 Wairarapa children were in an out-of-home placement last year, the highest number of placements in more than 10 years.

The new figures come as the government moves to cease the controversial process of child uplifts, after a report made public last Wednesday.

Information obtained by the Wairarapa Times-Age from Oranga Tamariki showed that of the 70 Wairarapa children in a placement during the 2020 financial year, more than half of these [45] were placed with family or whanau, while a further 25 were placed in homes outside their family.

This was despite both police and Oranga Tamariki receiving fewer reports of child abuse in Wairarapa last year.

Although Oranga Tamariki confirmed some Wairarapa children were housed by Child and Family Support Services and in other types of placements, these numbers were not available as they could lead to identification of the children involved.

The number of children in an out-of-home placement had not been this high since 2008, when at least 76 children were in care. The numbers peaked in 2004, the year records began being kept, which saw at least 92 children in an out-of-home placement.

While the overall number of children in a placement was slightly higher in 2020 [70] than in 2019 [65], 64 per cent were in a family or whanau placement last year, compared with 45 per cent the previous year.

Oranga Tamariki confirmed no children in Wairarapa had died while in its care or custody since records began.

The agency received 788 reports of concern [ROC] in the 2020 financial year, a decrease on 2019’s 846 reports.

The highest number of Wairarapal ROCs, 1284, was received in 2011.

In its response to the Wairarapa Times-Age’s query, Oranga Tamariki said that anyone worried about a child could report a concern to itself or to police.

“When we receive a ROC, we may provide advice about support available to the whanau, refer the matter to other social services including our social services partners [or] make a referral to our Strengthening Families programme or our Children’s Teams,” the response read.

“If we think a more formal response is needed, we will complete a child and family assessment and/or investigation. A joint investigation with Police takes place when there are allegations of harm which meet our joint Police Child Protection Protocol.”

Further information obtained from New Zealand Police showed 82 ‘specified child protection’ incidents last year, a substantial decrease from the 147 incidents reported in 2019.

In fact, the 2020 figure was the lowest since police commenced reporting the data in 2014.

Masterton police recorded 59 incidents in 2020, Carterton reported 12, Featherston seven, and Greytown four. There were no child protection incidents reported in Martinborough in 2020.

However, the police response noted the number of incidents involving children was likely to be higher than recorded, as other incident types [such as aggravated assaults] did not specify whether the victims were children.

Last week, Minister for Children Kelvin Davis announced the government had accepted all the recommendations of the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board.

These changes would have a shift in decision making and resources at a local level, empowering communities to work together with Oranga Tamariki to prevent harm against children, Davis said.

The government department had been given a clear direction that uplifts or without notice orders should only be used as a last resort.

“This report will end uplifts as we have known them. While there will always be a need for some children to be taken into care, this should only happen after all avenues with community and whanau have been exhausted,” Davis said.

“Community-led prevention is the biggest thing for me from this report – our communities have the answers and Oranga Tamariki needs to work with them to stop children entering into care.”

The board was set up earlier this year to provide advice on how to fix the child care and protection system.

Davis announced the review in January, just days after Oranga Tamariki’s former chief executive Grainne Moss resigned.

“When I appointed the board, I asked it to get to the root of the problems with Oranga Tamariki and be completely honest with me about what it found,” he said.

“What they provided was a confronting yet powerful report and I am pleased to say the government has accepted all their recommendations.”

The agency’s failures had been well documented, including traumatic uplifts, poor relationships with Maori and social workers under pressure, Davis said.

Information available on the Oranga Tamariki website showed that from July 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020, of the 612 reports of concern received about Wairarapa children, more than half [314] related to tamariki and rangatahi who identified Maori as one of their ethnicities.

Of these reports, 257 were identified as requiring further action by a social worker.

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