This Easter I’m at home reading papers on urban development and social development, in between trying to catch up on Masterchef and make up time away from my partner.
It’s a peaceful time, but I know many people are spending this Easter waiting in trepidation to find out if they’ll have a job in a few months.
Next week the government is expected to announce the outcome of the Child Youth and Family (CYF) Review. Many people I’ve spoken to expect a massive de-professionalisation and contracting out of services wrapped up in pretty packaging of “putting children first”.
I’ve heard CYF staff felt that progress was being made to improve their response for children but things have been going backward as all the attention has been on the review. This is bad for the staff and bad for children. So working through massive uncertainty, staff have been trying to ensure children get the support they need while not having a clue what is going on with the review or their own jobs.
Many expect to lose their jobs. These are social workers who have chosen to work in a chronically underfunded, high-risk, unpopular organisation engaging in essential and all too often heart-breaking work. I share the deep, deep concerns of many over the failure of our child protection systems and I want to acknowledge the social workers’ sacrifice and desire to provide better for our children and their families.
Mass contracting out of services, de-professionalisation, or even a Ministry for Children alone will not solve this crisis. This crisis needs strong social work leadership with youth involvement, reduced case-loads, a focus on rebuilding families and resourcing communities, and increased monitoring/support at every level of care.
Next week the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) will also be cutting funding to an unknown number of community groups who no-longer fit the government’s priorities. Managers and community workers all around the country are waiting, hoping they don’t get a phone call giving them three months’ notice for their funding.
Most community organisations in New Zealand haven’t had a funding increase in eight years. Quite a few will have got extra funding supposedly to cope with increased demand post the GFC. But while the demand hasn’t reduced, the funding has finished. Many organisations have had to cut services and use reserves over the last few years as the lack of even a CPI (inflation) adjustment has meant quite significant real terms funding cuts. So a lost MSD contract may well mean the loss of a service and jobs.
Hopefully not many groups will be in this situation but I have been speaking to quite a few who are hoping desperately that they’ll be ok.
MSD has been signalling a radical change for a long time now. MSD is going through every single funding contract and deciding which categories to put groups in. I’ve been told there are five potential categories:
- Increased funding, guaranteed for ten years. (It hasn’t been clarified whether this will include CPI adjustments. Earlier three-year contracts didn’t.)
- A one year extension of funding.
- Not a MSD priority, suggest you apply to another Ministry.
- No contract, but suggest you apply for project funding. This will all be contestable through the GETS system.
- Sorry, you will no longer be funded.
I know of several well respected organisations which have evolved out of community-identified need, who provide essential services/specialised advocacy, and represent thousands of New Zealanders, who are unsure if their funding will continue. Some are worried because they don’t seem to fit the government’s narrow priorities, there is a strong understanding that national organisations aren’t valued. Others have been warned that their media work threatens their funding, or they have struggled to meet MSD’s Information Technology demands on limited budgets.
None of these factors relate to whether the organisations are doing a good job, or are responding to an established community need. All of these factors are about central government politics.
New Zealand is very lucky to have had a strong, vibrant community sector. The number of organisations is often spoken of by government as a negative, but I’ve lived in countries without many NGOS and it changes a society – there is either more unaddressed hardship and exclusion or more, almost passive, reliance on government.
We’re not all the same. Just like we don’t all want to eat the same thing for lunch we don’t all want to join or go for help to the same type of community service/group.