Holly Walker
Unacceptable abuse of children in care

I recently asked the Minister of Social Development written and oral questions about the number of children abused while in CYFS care in the year from 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011.

Her answers revealed that 71 children were abused while in care during that year. Unbelievably, 30 of these children were actually abused by their CYFS approved caregiver; a further 41 were abused by a third party while in the protection of a CYFS approved caregiver.

These are shocking figures, and made worse by the fact that we only know about them because they were manually collated (over 7 weeks!) from individual CYFS sites. CYFS keeps no national data on the numbers of children and young people abused while in its care. They only reason we know how many were abused in 2010-11 is because the Minister asked for this manual review. The Ministry of Social Development has no big picture idea of how many children have been abused in CYFS care.

These revelations raise serious questions about both the CYFS carer vetting process and the support available to children in care in New Zealand. This is especially so given recent government signals that they may be intending to increase the number of children in state care as part of the Green/White Paper process for Vulnerable Children.

Children in care are some of our most vulnerable citizens and we need to ensure the proper supports are in place for what is almost always an extremely traumatic time in young people’s lives. Children and young people placed in care often report feeling isolated and disempowered. This vulnerability has the potential to make them targets for abuse.

Furthermore, their feeling of isolation could well lead to situations where abuse is not reported. For each of those 71 children, there may be more who did not report what had happened to them. Given what we know about the holes in the system this may well be the case.

In this context then I was pleased to hear about a campaign being run by CARE café, who are trying to gather support for an independent network for children in care. A similar initiative has been run incredibly successfully in Australia by a group called CREATE.

The purpose of the proposed network simple – it provides a forum for children and young people in care to have their say about their experience of the care system. These kids are experts on the realities of the care system, their views should inform decisions about the system for its betterment.

The benefits of such a network are numerous; it connects children and young people in care to overcome those feelings of isolation through contact with others who have similar experience. It further provides opportunities for children in care to learn about how the care system works and their rights.

While the network is not directly focussed at preventing or encouraging reporting of abuse it is easy to see that it may well go some way to having such an impact. By empowering these young people and teaching them about their rights they may be less vulnerable targets of abusive behaviour. Furthermore by connecting these young people up to a network we open lines of communication and support which would hopefully allow a better picture of what goes on for kids in care and who is at risk.

Despite this proposed initiative being a fairly straightforward and inexpensive way to improve the lives of New Zealand’s most vulnerable children, the government has refused to support the network. Minister Bennett apparently told representatives of the campaign that the Ministry of Social Development was looking at implementing its own internal network.

It is however quite clear that such a network must be independent of MSD and care service providers – this is what CARE Café are campaigning for. An internal network would be a conflict of interest, particularly in light of the fact that CYFS has approved carers that have then gone on to abuse children in their care.

8 thoughts on “Unacceptable abuse of children in care

  1. Having fostered a few kids in my time (although 20 odd years ago) I think the CARE Cafe sounds like a great idea. I agree that it needs to be independent. In my time I had concerns about the vetting process for placements and it would appear nothing has changed. We should keep in mind though that CYFS are placed under extream pressure sometimes to place these kids urgently. Given a lack of suitable ‘on call’ foster parents it is not surprising that placements are sometimes unsuitable.

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  2. It’s completely unacceptable to have such a large number of children being abused while in the care of Child Youth and Family services, and there is no reasonable excuse for this occurring Paul Baily. How bad is the problem you might ask… It’s not until you crunch the numbers a bit more that the true scope of the problem becomes apparent.

    In the year to June 2011, there were 30 reported cases of abuse of children or young people in the direct care of CYF’s that were referred to the police.

    In an OIA request, CYF’s failed to provide information concerning the abuse of children or young people placed in out of home care (consisting of 77% or 3,885 of those in the custody of the Chief Executive in 2011), but this is likely to be at or above the levels of abuse by direct CYF’s caregivers. Therefore the 71 known cases of abuse are only the top of the iceberg.

    Paula Bennett has made the excuse that the level of abuse for those other 41 cases were not to a degree that warranted Police prosecution, but is any level of abuse acceptable… Especially in regard to people who’ve come from abusive situations already?

    And once a complaint about abuse is made, is anything done about it. In 2010 an Inquiry into Police Conduct, Practices, Policies and Procedures Relating to the Investigation of Child Abuse was launched because it was found that hundreds of cases were not being acted upon.

    After a number of changes were implemented, and the Police wrote a couple of articles, in 2011 the IPCA reported:

    The Authority regards the Police response to the Child Abuse Inquiry as a compelling example of its ability to positively impact on Police practices, policies, and procedures, for the benefit of both Police and child victims and therefore New Zealand society as a whole.

    However no further investigation into whether child abuse complaints are being acted upon in a timely fashion has been undertaken. My question is how exactly are the Police meant to conduct proper investigations if CYF’s isn’t bothering to collate and record the number of instances of abuse of children and young people? The simple answer is they cannot.

    CYFS carer vetting process is important and so is training… Only 30% of all fulltime CYF staff are registered social workers. CYF’s has approximately 3100 full time staff with 989 of these registered. Around 1203 of staff are working directly with children or young people, meaning that 22% of CYF staff working directly with vulnerable people are not registered social workers. If you want better outcomes, you need to ensure that people are trained appropriately to provide them.

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  3. Part of the blame must be appropriated to the Government who under-fund cyf’s .

    There is a high case load, high levels of burn out and unsurprisingly a high level of staff turn-over at cyf’s

    perhaps co-operating more with the police and working under the same roof with the police’ child protection squad ‘ may be the best way forward, there’s a good example here : http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/7182359/Dealing-with-societys-most-vulnerable

    P.s the police in the link I have posted are a credit to the force and an inspiration.

    But the fact is the police never had a ‘child protection squad/team’ until 2010 and it took a scandal involving hundreds of never investigated cases of child abuse before the ( senior ) police were shamed into doing something.

    Senior police officers who allowed hundreds of cases of child abuse to remain uninvestigated for years are a disgrace and no heads rolled, ( instead promotions were given ) .

    Even now the police are stingy and should be putting far more resources into child abuse and community policing.

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  4. Unfortunately most here seem more interested in throwing rocks and scoring political points than seriously looking at the problem.

    Every year CYFs has around 50,000 reports of abuse to look into, and around 5000 children are removed from their homes.

    That’s 5000 kids they need placements for, and where posible, they try to keep them in the same family, or with someone they know.

    So if a family member or friend abuses a kid, but has no record of ever previously doing so, how is it possible for anyone (or in this case CYFs) to know this will happen?

    If background checks and references show up nothing, what additional checks should we do, and can we do, that would let us know about future risks, if there is no previous evidence of it happening?

    However a system of childrens advocates is definitely needed.

    What is won’t be, is what Holly said above ” fairly straightforward and inexpensive “. With 50,000 children abused each year (just those we know about) you’d need 500-1000 trained advocates if they had a case load of 50-100 children each.

    It would be massively expensive, and take a substantial number of years just to train that many extra people – let alone have people who are both trained AND have experience.

    I think we should start on an childs advocate system, but if you want a decent system, it’s going to take many many years to build up, and it’s going to be expensive, and it won’t be straightforward (nothing to do with dysfunctional families ever is).

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  5. photon

    Every year CYFs has around 50,000 reports of abuse to look into, and around 5000 children are removed from their homes.

    That’s 5000 kids they need placements for, and where posible, they try to keep them in the same family, or with someone they know.

    So if a family member or friend abuses a kid, but has no record of ever previously doing so, how is it possible for anyone (or in this case CYFs) to know this will happen?

    The problem is that CYFS should know that some of the people it places children and young people with have histories as abusers. Sometimes it’s a failure of other government departments to inform CYFS, but usually it’s an internal problem with how CYFS manages placements. Here are some examples:

    CYFs allowed girl to live with rapist

    The woman says she was abused by her Tauranga-based uncle – previously jailed for six years for his part in a gang rape – and one of his friends and is now HIV positive, as is her firstborn child, Marae Investigates reports.

    CYF ‘sorry’ over child-sex blunder

    A mother whose two toddlers were due to be put into care with a sexually abusive pre-teenager has gained an apology from Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

    The government body has promised to introduce “new rules and checks to ensure this cannot happen again”.

    Seven months on and nothing has really changed. It’s strange that you’re making excuses for why those 71 known cases of abuse occurred on CYFS watch. Those 71 cases of abuse were not by family members… By making such stupid excuses, you’re somewhat condoning the dysfunction that pervades CYFS, you’re therefore accepting the continued abuse of vulnerable young people.

    Instead of helping, in many cases CYFS is ensuring that the cycle of abuse continues… In my opinion there’s no excuse for such failures.

    BTW, your figures are wrong again photon… There were 150,747 alerts in 2011, with 22,087 substantiated cases. One of the reasons for the huge amount of referrals is that police are now meant to refer all children present at domestic violence incidents to CYF, around 57,000 in 2011. There were 3885 placements by CYFS in 2011, down from 5044 in 2007. Trust you to quote figures that are five years out of date.

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  6. Jackal says “Trust you to quote figures that are five years out of date”.

    But gives an example from ELEVEN years ago in 2001 and pretends it’s a current example of CYFs stuffing up.

    Jackal says “Those 71 cases of abuse were not by family members…”

    Do you REALLY expect anyone to beleive you know all the private details in 71 abuse cases?

    And you say it’s not family members, immediately after you’ve just given an example of a girl being put into care of her uncle and getting abused.

    You do a far better job of shooting your arguements down in flames than I could ever do.

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