Teens as old as 19 could be dealt with by Youth Court under cabinet proposal

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley speaks to Lisa Owen about this week's recommendations for a radical overhaul of Child, Youth and Family.

National is investigating law changes that could see teens as old as 19 dealt with by the Youth Court rather than adult courts.

Social development minister Anne Tolley says cabinet is “cautious” but wants to do “everything we can do to keep them out of the justice system at a young age.”

Ms Tolley concedes Child, Youth & Family (CYF) reforms means the government is considering taking money from other departments before the savings forecast can be pocket, but adds the cabinet could yet approve “new” money.

“We may decide that it’s better to put in more new money and not take quite so much out of those agencies. That’s got to be worked through," she says.

She says she will stop private providers from cherry-picking; if they try to pick and choose children, they will “absolutely” lose their contract.

The minister says there is work still to be done but hints at pay increases for caregivers: “In many cases, we are going to have to pay them more.”

She says she’s now investigating registering social workers and has taken the unusual step of asking for a select committee inquiry, despite National previously opposing registration.

She can’t guarantee that the public sector will pay caregivers as much as private providers do.


RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Anne Tolley

Watch the interview here

Patrick Gower: Now, the radical revamp of CYF promises to be much more than just the 14th restructure in 28 years. That’s right, staggering, 14 in 28 years into how we are failing Kiwi kids. The Rebstock report posits setting up a new department, raising the age at which teens can leave care and contracting out more services, but what devils are in the detail? The Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, is here live with Lisa.

Lisa Owen: Good morning, Minister. Thanks for joining us.

Anne Tolley: Good morning, Lisa.

I want to start off by looking at something that you said to us just last September. Let’s have a listen to the clip if we can.

CLIP: Can you rule out today that you won’t be outsourcing front-line care and protection services?

Look, let’s put it to rest. This is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.

Okay.

But here we have outsourcing, so how do you square that away? Because you were specifically talking about front-line staff.

So we’re not outsourcing care and protection. What the report talks about is two things – first of all, a partnership arrangement with NGOs and iwi and community organisations as we have currently, and secondly, being able to direct purchase the services that children need when they need. But that will still be the operating system; the responsibility for those children will still be held by government.

Yes, but you’re talking about people or services that have direct contact with these children. 

Yes.

Psychologists is one of the examples you talk about.

Yes.

That is front-line services, so that is outsourcing.

Well, that’s no different from what we are now. What was being presumed last time was that we were going to contract some company to take responsibility for children in care. We’re not doing that. It is the government’s responsibility, and the whole focus of the expert panel’s report was a single point of accountability in government for the long-term outcomes of those vulnerable children.

So you say that using these people from outside agencies, NGOs, et cetera, that’s all about getting the best people?

Absolutely. Getting the best people for the children when they need it, that’s the whole— one of the major changes about what’s being proposed. At the moment, various people working with those children have to negotiate with all the different agencies, fit in with their criteria, and children wait in line. What we’re saying now, what Cabinet has accepted, is that we need to be able to purchase those services for those children when they need it, and it could well be from DHBs, it could well be from the education service itself, but it could be from NGOs, and it could be from private psychologists, et cetera.

Because the thing is, when the Government went to private providers to manage some of other services, for example, when you got Serco in to look after some of our prisons, in this government press release that I’ve got here, actually, at the time, Judith Collins says— she gave the same justification that you’re giving now, that it was to access world-class innovation and expertise to get the highest standards of professionalism. Well, that didn’t work out, did it, so what’s to stop that happening in this case?

Well, first of all, we’re not in the least bit talking about big companies like Serco for this. Again, the thrust of this is keeping these kids in their communities, so you’re talking about local services. But are you seriously suggesting that we should continue? One of the outcomes from the current system is that these children wait in line until they can get into the health system, so are you seriously suggesting that that’s better for those kids than if there’s a private psychologist whose services can be purchased to give immediate help to that child who has been damaged and needs that care? I’m going to go every time with meeting the needs of that child when we need it, so that’s what the focus is – on meeting the needs of these children, having them at the centre of everything we do, rather than ideological agendas which say you’ve only got to deal with the health system, the public health system. Actually, let’s deal with whomever can provide. And if the health system can provide that, I have no doubt they’ll step up, as they have with ACC.

But one of the concerns is that there is a risk of cherry-picking. You know, if you have a private provider, are they only going to take the easier kids? Because we know on The Nation—

None of these kids are easy.

No, none of them are easy, but some are tougher than others.

Yes, that’s right.

And, in fact, The Nation’s been told of a situation this week where a private provider wouldn’t take a particular child because they said the case was just too tough.

Yeah.

Will you stop that happening?

Well, that’s the whole point of it is that if you have an assessment done on a child’s needs, that you have the ability to purchase the services, and if you as a practitioner are not willing to provide those, what we’ve seen in ACC is that there is someone who will step up and provide them.

So—

And there has to be accountability of that. I mean, if the services that are being provided aren’t effective—

So will they lose their contract if they keep refusing to take tougher cases?

Absolutely, if they keep refusing. Why would you deal with people like that that are cherry-picking the good ones?

Okay.

But I say these children are not easy. What we are seeing is more and more of them with very high and complex needs.

Absolutely understood, but one of the major concerns is that the too-hard basket will still be full and it will be CYF who deals with those people.

Well, CYF is gone. You know, it’s finished. It’s gone. It hasn’t worked and we’re changing, so we’re now going to a system that works with children from prevention right through to transition.

Call it what you will, you’re still going to have a new core agency. So in terms of private providers, they are paying caregivers about three times what CYF pays them, about $600 a week versus about 200 from CYF, so are you going to give caregivers even payments across the board?

I think what we need to do, and we’ll sit down with the caregivers, the various organisations, and work through it. It’s a big stream of work, because if we want more people to step up and help us with these troubled young people, we’re going to have to trust them, we’re going to have to support them, and in many cases we are going to have to pay them more.

Because the thing is, unless you even up those payments, providers aren’t on an even playing field, are they?

That’s right. So we need—

So are you going to? Can you give us a guarantee that you’ll even up the playing field?

I can’t say that, because we’re going to work through all those details. You will see that Cabinet, and I’ve made all the Cabinet papers public— So Cabinet has agreed to— There’s 81 recommendations in the report. Cabinet has agreed to the high-level decisions that I needed them to make so we can get on and do the work, but there’s a big work stream coming out from those decisions, and that’s one of them – how do we better support our caregivers? Of course, you’d want a system that enables you to get the very best people, and that might mean that you have to even things out, but let’s have a look at that.

Okay, well, in terms of what you’ve described as radical changes, you accept that the benefits of those changes are going to take a while to filter through, don’t you?

Absolutely.

So I then would like to talk about how you’re going to fund these changes, because you’re deducting money from other departments – Department of Corrections, Education and Health, just to name a few. But you’re deducting that now, so you’re effectively spending the savings that you haven’t yet made.

No, we’re not, and, in fact, the Cabinet papers show that. The agreement from Cabinet was that I work with my colleagues, so the recommendation from the panel was, yes, we did that from this budget. It didn’t go on the Cabinet table until March, and the budget comes in in May. There’s a lot of work that we need to work through, and Cabinet’s agreed. I think the important thing—

But you are robbing Peter to pay Paul.

No.

Because you’re taking in the first instance, I think it’s 105 million in the first year from those departments.

Well, that’s the panel’s—

Up to 400—

That’s the panel’s recommendation.

Yes. Up to 421 million by 2019, yet the same report tells me that it will take a generation before you make savings of 50%, so you’re taking that money now for savings you have not made yet.

Yes. So we’ve got to work through that. That’s the social investment process, so you invest the money up front. And Cabinet has agreed, I think outstandingly, that we will be taking some money from those agencies. That’s never been done before.

They’re just going to have to wear that, are they?

Well, what we know is, from the work that we’ve done over the last two years, the universal services aren’t reaching these most vulnerable in our community, even though we fund them to do so. So what we’re saying is there might be a better way that we use that funding to reach these vulnerable people directly, and we’ll work out what proportion that is. But in the end, at the end of that work stream, the ratios of money that the panel are suggesting might not be the ratios that we put into place.

So in terms of those budgets that you’re taking those, like the Department of Corrections, it’s failing to meet its better public service targets already, so are they just going to have to suck it up that they are losing that money, even though they’re not meeting their own targets?

Well, I think the focus on money is the wrong focus. We’ve got to focus on what is getting the best outcomes, whether it’s for young offenders or for vulnerable children, so we’re looking at the results of the expenditure of that money. And as I say, sometimes we’re not getting the results from that universal provision, so we’re better to say, okay, we’re going to use that money more effectively by direct purchase or by direct resourcing to meet the needs of those particular groups of people we’ve identified.

Okay, there’s a couple of quick things I want to cover off. When you were last here, you said that you may well hire more social workers, but the report says you’re not going to significantly expand in-house delivery, so are you going to have more social workers or not?

Well, we’ll see. I can’t see we would be dealing with any less, but, remember, the panel have identified that a large part of the workload is the churn of children coming back through the system several times.

So you can’t say whether you’re going to have more or not at this point?

No, not at this stage, but what I can say is that, and I said it then, we will have a wider group of people working with those children from a range of professions, particularly to support the social workers.

The other thing that we talked about was registering social workers. When we spoke, you said that it wasn’t the right time. That was your words, but this report says that you’re working with registration bodies now.

Yes, I am.

So are you going to register social workers?

Well, I’ve asked the Social Workers Registration Board to do some work on this. Just this last week I went to the select committee because whatever we do has to be enduring. So I’ve quite unusually gone to the select committee with an issues paper that the registration board have produced on the issues around mandatory registration, what would that mean, what would that look like.

So do you support that? You’re interested in it?

And I’ve asked the select committee if they would do an inquiry into that and make some recommendations to me that I can then take to Cabinet.

What’s your feeling, though?

Well, I’ll see what they come back with, but I think where the registration board have got to is a good definition of what a registered social worker would look like, how they would be qualified, and I’m comfortable with the way that they’re progressing that idea.

Okay, well, the Government is also looking at raising the youth justice age to 18…

Yeah.

…and even giving, the report says, a judge’s discretion to send teenagers up to the age of 19 to the Youth Court. Is the National Government going soft on crime?

No, not at all, but what we know is that when young people enter the criminal system at a youth age, they are more likely to be entering the justice system as an adult, so everything we can do to keep them out of the justice system at a young age has long-term effects both for them and their families but also for the taxpayer. So it’s worth investigating whether the Youth Court has much more tools available to them to deal with young offenders, not the serious offenders. Of course, they can be sent up to the district court now.

Yeah, but the thing is, how do you think people who have had their houses burgled by an 18-year-old or the dairy owner who’s been robbed a couple of times by an 18-year-old— how do you think they’re going to feel about that, or even the front-line police officers who are dealing with these recidivist teenagers? How do you think they’re going to react?

That’s why Cabinet’s a bit cautious, but you’ll see, again, the panel have talked with victims of some of those young people and talked about some of the things that are happening already with ones up to 17.

So you say you’re going to be cautious about it, but you’re not ruling it out at this point?

No, no, no, Cabinet’s agreed to investigate it, and it’s all those sorts of issues we’ve got to work through.

All right, thanks for joining us this morning, Minister. Much appreciated.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.