CYF steps up, what about the rest?

An overhaul of Child Youth and Family (CYF) policies has been a long time coming, and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) applaud the recommendations by the Expert Panel dedicated to the modernisation of CYF, published in a comprehensive report. The Government's positive response to implementing the package of reforms, which will be phased in over an estimated period of five years, is also commendable. Significant proposals are ensuring assistance is more immediately available, concentration on reducing incidents of vulnerability among Maori children and making the state responsible for the care of children until their 18th birthdays.

Putting children at the centre of these policies is crucial for the system to work, and the changes proposed reflect that is what CYF intends.

But there are other areas of concern that need to be addressed before the number of children in CYF care will reduce - which is the ideal long-term outcome. CPAG Social Security spokesperson Associate Professor Mike O'Brien says that putting the child at the centre of other policies, particularly Working for Families, and a commitment to ensuring that families have access to adequate and affordable housing are fundamental to the success of these CYF reforms.

Any changes to CYF policies and provision of services for children requires significant additional resourcing by Government that must be sustained over a long period, to make a real difference. Since the budget cuts in 1991 which have never been adequately restored there have been 25 years of harm to too many children .

CPAG agrees with Deborah Morris-Travers from UNICEF who has said, "It is critical that funding will now follow children to ensure that their individual needs are met, but this model will also require Government to consider how it builds resilient communities and civil society with organisations that are agile, well-resourced and equipped to support families and children more broadly."

Providing adequately for children in care will happen only if there is a comprehensive health, education, housing and income support for the children and for their caregivers. Otherwise the positive changes made to CYF policies run the risk of failing long-term, and resort to an interim method of damage control rather than enduring solution.

Support for agencies dedicated to aiding young people with transitioning from state care must be enhanced, as the increase in age to 25 will mean a rise in workload for these organisations. Shifting public responsibility to the private sector, by contracting care out to non-government agencies such as Barnados may have the adverse effects of overwhelming such organisations. The proposed focus on prevention is also commendable, but this too requires funding of intensive support and family preservation services in the NGO sector. It is crucial that Government direct resources where it expects the responsibilities to fall.

Poverty is a serious issue in New Zealand; household incomes must be boosted . Many parents are unable to adequately care for their children who are taken in state care as a result. CPAG advocates improving the Working for Families tax credit system, removing all in-work criteria tied to the child- related payments.

Child Poverty Action Group insists that the Government continue to focus on alleviating poverty as a fundamental basis to improving the outcomes for all children living in low-income families or at-risk situations.