Realities of the CYF review

Social Worker Action Network coordinator and PSA organiser Amy Ross explains what’s going on.

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley

Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley

You may have heard over the past few weeks about a modernisation or overhaul of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) by a panel appointed by social development minister Anne Tolley.

On 1 April 2015 (yes, April Fools’ Day), the minister announced that she was setting up a panel to put together a business case for the modernisation of CYF. The panel includes Paula Rebstock as chair who serves on a number of boards including as chair on both the ACC Board and the Work and Income Board; Police commissioner Mike Bush; Duncan Dunlop chief executive of Scotland’s Who Cares charity; Helen Leahy, specialist adviser for Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu; and Professor Richie Poulton, chief science adviser to the Ministry of Social Development.

Unfortunately, the omission from the panel of any social workers, those with experience of receiving CYF support, or Māori representatives was not an April Fools’ Day joke and means that people with vital information about the system – and the people the system serves – will not have a voice on the panel.

Both the narrowness of the panel’s make-up and its terms of reference suggest that instead of wanting to truly grapple with how CYF services can be fit for purpose into the future, the Government already has a clear agenda. For example, the terms of reference mention contracting out more services, a greater focus on results, possible legislative change and a review of the professional skills needed by CYF staff.

The emphasis on contracting services raises the question of who will provide these services?

The mention in the terms of reference of “results” is also of concern. Everyone wants good results, but the question is how are those results defined? In the Welfare Working Group that Paula Rebstock also chaired results were defined as people “off benefits”. Will we be looking at such a tick-box exercise for child protection?  

That concern seems well founded with the minister’s focus on an “investment approach”. Is the review just a cost-cutting exercise or is it truly about improving the lives of New Zealand’s vulnerable children and youth? Putting money and effort where it’s likely to have the most effect is sensible, but cost is only part of that equation.

There is also apprehension about legislative change. The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 has social workers specifically written in it. Could we be facing a similar situation as what occurred with probation officers when the Department of Corrections was created? As part of that change, the role went from being a specific profession (with a recognised qualification, a professional association and a code of ethics) to being considered a generalist technician role.

This panel’s mandate must also be understood in the context of the draft report from the Productivity Commission on More effective social services. In many ways, this report seems to signal how the Government intends to fund and support social services. Talk of social bonding schemes, private providers and voucher systems are threaded throughout the draft report.

We don’t intend the panel to remain unchallenged. Our Social Worker Action Network is mobilising social workers and their representatives across the country. We are working to make sure that social workers have an opportunity to influence the panel. Recently we met with Paula Rebstock and are now organising forums in Auckland and Wellington for social worker members to hear directly from the panel about the process for the review.

To find out more and get involved contact