Child Youth and Family (CYF) has a troublesome history of underperformance and botched care and protection cases, the most recent being its abject failure, along with the Police, to address the Roastbusters sexual abuse allegations with any semblance of professionalism.
So when Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced a high level review of CYF last week, my first thought was “It’s about time! I’ve been asking for this to happen for years.”
But on looking at the composition of the Minister’s Expert Review Panel and its terms of reference, my momentary elation rapidly turned to dire concern about what the review will recommend.
The Review Panel will be chaired not by someone with a background in child protection or youth justice issues, but by Paula Rebstock, an economist with a reputation as a privatiser and cost-cutter.
Yes, that’s the same Paula Rebstock who chaired the Welfare Working Group which completely ignored the best interests of children and young people and even went so far as making recommendations, adopted by the National Government, which increased the risk of abuse and neglect.
The other Review Panel members are the Commissioner of Police, the head of a Scottish charity, the Māori Party’s former Chief of Staff, and a Professor of Psychology. That there’s no-one there at all with a background of grassroots work with at-risk kids in New Zealand does not bode well.
Turning to the terms of reference, I didn’t have to read far for my concerns to be heightened. The second bullet point of the Review Panel’s scope reads:
- The core role and purpose of Child, Youth and Family; and opportunities for a stronger focus on this, including through outsourcing some services (my emphasis)
The terms of reference also talk about the “… development of an investment approach for Child, Youth and Family…” That’s management-speak for CYF targeting funding into areas that will save them the most money in future, rather than into areas that will keep the most kids safe.
There is no opportunity for public submissions to the Review Panel, and no requirement that it consults with anyone working on the ground with at-risk children. Even worse, there is no requirement that the Review Panel address the well-established links between child poverty and child abuse and neglect.
This review has all the hallmarks of Government having a predetermined intent to take CYF down a path of privatisation, outsourcing and cost-cutting; and establishing a Review Panel that will deliver the recommendations it needs to justify doing that – just as happened with the Welfare Working Group.
That is a recipe for corporate profiteering and continued or worsening fragmentation and dysfunction in the delivery of CYF services.
Our nation’s most vulnerable children and young people deserve better.