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Statement of Intent 2006 - Our Environment


A number of factors contribute to New Zealanders being able to meet their potential and contribute positively to society. These include positive outcomes in a range of areas: Social, Health, Economic, Family and Whanau, Education, Cultural and Justice. Strong families, whanau and their members create their own opportunities and take advantage of opportunities presented to them. When they are achieving their potential and making positive contributions to society, supported by government, business, and the community where needed, then the work of Child, Youth and Family is eased.

This environmental scan looks at several influences that contribute to positive family or individual wellbeing. We have acknowledged key trends in areas such as Economic, Health, Education and Justice, detailed in the environmental scan for the Ministry of Social Development. Our interest in these trends tell us that the absence of positive economic and health outcomes in particular, present key risks to the wellbeing of young New Zealanders, and can in turn lead to their abuse, neglect, or to their offending. The focus of this environmental scan is on areas having the most impact on our work. These include:

  • Social and demographic in relation to children, young people and families
  • Care and Protection
  • Youth Justice.

Social and Demographic Trends

Child,Youth and Family faces a growing need for staff with the knowledge, skills and training necessary to work effectively with people from non-European backgrounds.

Recognition of our diverse client needs is reflected in our Differential Response Model, p135, and our Te Pounamu strategy and Pacific Peoples’ Responsiveness plan.

The actual numbers of children and young people will not necessarily drive the demand for Child, Youth and Family’s services, the quality of young New Zealanders’ lives will.

That said, we know:

  • the number of children under 18 years (Child, Youth and Family’s client base) is projected to decline by 2011. From 1991 to 2001, New Zealand has experienced growth in the numbers of 10 – 14 year olds. Numbers are projected to continue to increase and peak in 2006.
  • children and young people are becoming more ethnically diverse, with a growing proportion identifying as non-European. For instance, projections indicate that by 2021, 28% will identify as Maori, 17% as Pacific, and 15% as Asian. Fewer will identify as European (63% in 2021, down from 74% in 2001).
  • there will be an increase of Maori (younger and older) who will have enhanced Maori cultural and language proficiency, as a result of Maori education at all levels of schooling, and the recent significant increase in Maori participation at tertiary wananga.

Changing Family Structures

Child, Youth and Family will increasingly need to find ways to help children, young people and their families achieve stability while family structures are changing, and as families respond to this change.

Child, Youth and Family is implementing the Permanency policy, to help achieve more permanent and stable situations for children and young people in care, see p136.

In New Zealand, we know:

  • an increasing number of families will be extended by the general aging of the population and the accumulation of life-long members, including in-laws from first marriages and new “half-kin” from later marriages and partnerships.
  • children’s experiences of blended families is generally short. For nearly half, the spell ends in five years. Children in blended families, especially girls aged 10 - 16 and in families with step-fathers, tend to leave home at an earlier age than children in other family circumstances.

Many families adapt successfully to change, but there can also be levels of poverty, tension, instability and insecurity that put children and young people at risk.

Trends For Key Outcomes Areas

Overall, the economic situation for most individuals and families in New Zealand has improved. Some individuals and families still struggle with low living standards, particularly Maori and Pacific people. Child, Youth and Family services are likely to be most needed by families under such pressures.

We know that economic security and educational attainment in particular, are protective factors against risk of poor health and justice outcomes. For instance:

  • socio-economic circumstances and characteristics of where people live are the key determinants for health outcomes
  • job loss and the experience of unemployment can contribute to poor mental health and substance abuse; or conversely, have a positive effect if employment is found after a period of unemployment
  • low family income over a long period of time, not only contributes to poor health outcomes, but lower educational attainment also
  • low living standards have been identified as factors contributing to abuse and neglect, which means there is a risk that children in these families may experience abuse and neglect.

Child, Youth and Family’s work does not directly contribute to positive economic outcomes, or eliminate or ease low living standards. Instead, we rely on the work of other government agencies, business, communities, family and whanau, and individuals to improve social, health and economic outcomes for all New Zealanders. We work towards, improving the wellbeing of children and young people who receive our services, and easing further stress and tension that affect our client families.

Trends Within the Care and Protection and Youth Justice Areas

Trends within these areas inform or guide both the strategic and operational work of Child, Youth and Family.

Increasing Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect

New Zealand trends are consistent with trends in some OECD countries, in so far as child welfare agencies experiencing sizable increases in reported child abuse and neglect. Reports of abuse or neglect to Child, Youth and Family have risen, and the number of children and young people in care has increased.

  • In 2004/2005 we received 53,097 notifications, a further 23% increase from 2003/2004.
  • Some children and young people are more at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect than others. Maori children are more likely to be assessed as abused or neglected than non-Maori, although rates of substantiated abuse or neglect for Maori have been reducing. For instance, they dropped from 13 per 1000 in 1998 to 11.9 per 1000 in 2003, while rates for non-Maori increased over the same period, from 5.1 to 5.9 per 1000. Pacific children are not over-represented.
  • It is not certain that these trends reflect higher actual levels of child abuse and neglect. They have been attributed, at least in part, to increased awareness of – and lower tolerance for – the mistreatment of children and young people.

In New Zealand, the increase in police numbers by 1000 over the next three years, and police focus on prevention of family violence is likely to increase the demand for Child, Youth and Family’s services. To help determine and manage possible impacts, we will work closely with Police at a strategic level. See Managing our risks, p141.

Children in State Care and Kinship Care

Improving permanency and stability for children and young people in care, is an outcome for Child, Youth and Family. Work in this area is not only guided by our Permanency policy, but our Care and Protection practice framework, p136. We also rely on the practice of our social workers.

In New Zealand:

  • there has been a relatively steady increase in the number of children and young people in care. The annual rate of growth has been at about 3 – 5% for the last two to three years.
  • there is an increasing proportion of care placements with family or whanau (kinship care), rather than unrelated foster families, as this generally enhances permanency and stability for the young person; a trend consistent with some OECD countries. For example:
    • increasing reliance on kinship carers has resulted in the call for greater government assisted support for them.
    • in Northern and Western Europe, numbers of children in state care have been decreasing, largely as a result of a drop in welfare spending and poor standards of institutional care. At the same time, foster care has been increasing.

Youth Justice

Child, Youth and Family is committed to a family and whanau, community and whole of government approach in our Youth Justice work. This involves, for example, Family Group Conferences and Whanau agreements, p136.

Within the OECD:

  • More recently, there appears to be renewed attention to welfare measures that have the potential to reduce offending and re-offending. Some countries have recognised that focusing more intensely on investigation and legal sanctions has produced reactive Youth Justice systems that have not taken opportunities to address the causes of offending.
  • A focus on welfare measures in Youth Justice includes an increased focus on early intervention, more use of diversion and community-based sanctions, use of custodial sentences only as a last resort, a focus on proven rehabilitation programmes, and an emphasis on a “whole of government” approach to youth crime prevention.

New Zealand Focus

  • Referrals to Child, Youth and Family for Youth Justice Family Group Conferences have begun to rise again after falling for a short time. After rising for several years, referrals fell by about 5% between 2004 and the first half of 2005, and began to rise again from July 2005.
  • The focus of Youth Justice intervention is on increasing the options available for addressing youth offending and re-offending.
  • The Family Group Conference (FGC) is the key mechanism for addressing offending. While a study of Family Group Conferences in Sweden found FGCs had very little effect on re-offending, a longitudinal study of Family Group Conferences in New Zealand suggests they can contribute to lessening the chance of re-offending, even when other important factors (such as adverse events in early life) are taken into account.
  • Demand for Child, Youth and Family’s FGC’s are increasing.
  • Alternatives to custodial sentences are recognised as an important way of reducing the reliance on high cost residential services for young people who require intensive assistance, but do not necessarily require a custodial replacement.
  • There is an emphasis on the therapeutic process to help modify behaviours that can contribute to reducing re-offending.

For more details on Child, Youth and Family’s key Youth Justice initiatives, see p136 and p137.


Overall, the demand for Child, Youth and Family’s services is increasing. While all drivers for service demand are not fully understood, we can say the increase is due in part to the heightened public awareness and intolerance of the maltreatment of children and young people, and the impact of policies in other agencies. In a fiscally tight environment, we are responding to the challenge of better understanding the demand drivers, and finding ways to effectively manage and respond to that demand.

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