Children’s Commissioner a beacon for those failed by state care system – advocates

Posted: July 6, 2022Category: Uncategorized

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A petition against a new law ending the role of Children's Commissioner accuses the government of not listening to the voices of those who have been through the state care system.

Boy and girl drawing with chalk home orphan child dream. children paint on the pavement. happy childhood on the street. isolation out.

File photo. Photo: 123RF

The Oversight of Oranga Tamariki Bill would see the Children's Commissioner position replaced with a board and its monitoring and investigation roles folded into other government agencies.

The petition claims, that if the Bill is passed, it would weaken independent oversight and the accountability of Oranga Tamariki.

Aaron Hendry who started the petition is a youth development leader from social services agency Lifewise in Auckland.

He said removing the Children's Commissioner's powers to investigate and monitor means it will be harder for rangatahi and tamariki voices to be heard.

"We think it's vital that it remains an independent voice to continue to highlight the gaps and where young people are being failed by the state."

He said the Bill was opposed by many who have been in care.

"There's huge concern within the lived experience community, within the social sector that the changes that have been proposed will mute this voice and will weaken the advocacy for young people and children."

Lifewise Youth Housing Team Leader Aaron Hendry

Aaron Hendry believes the demise of the Children's Commissioner's role will make it harder for rangatahi and tamariki voices to be heard. Photo: RNZ/ Eva Corlett

Karah Mackie was brought up in foster care for more than 10 years and often did not get the support she needed.

"[There were] Social workers not taking accountability, trying to avoid action when it was needed. I think a lot of my time in care was spent with me having to figure things out for myself."

She was among those concerned that the new Commission would no longer have the ability to scrutinise and hold Oranga Tamariki to account.

"By essentially lessening their ability to do that [independently monitoring issues] which will happen through this Bill, they are ensuring situations will be swept under the carpet."

Board will need to prove itself - advocate

The E Tipu E Rea Whānau is a non-profit organisation supporting the health and social needs of young people from all backgrounds.

Its chief executive Zoe Hawke said the bill will undermine people's faith in the Children's Commission.

"A sense of trust is needed and taking it away and putting it into government does not give our communities that sense of trust."

She said the new board will have to prove itself.

"There is still a sense of not having a voice, not having a say. If there are layers of accountability and independence in regards to the board, the young people we work with will certainly feel a sense of support," she said.

Karah Mackie said the government hasn't listened to those who have been through the care system and that was a big mistake.

The Bill which was opposed by all the opposition parties is going through its second reading.

In a statement the Minister in charge Carmel Sepuloni said the intention of the changes was to strengthen the system that holds Oranga Tamariki to account.

She said at all stages the Ministry of Social Development consulted with the sector, heard their concerns and made adjustments to the proposed system.

Minister Sepuloni said she has included in the legislation a review which must be undertaken within five years after the legislation has commenced.