Update on the current United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child work programme

How we are delivering on the UNCROC work programme

The New Zealand Government has an on-going programme of work to improve outcomes for children, young people and their families to give effect to its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

The three main areas that are covered under the current UNCROC work programme are:

  1. investigating raising the age that young people leave care to 18 years
  2. options for improving input of children and young people’s views in the formulation of legislation and policies associated with their rights under UNCROC
  3. options to facilitate the consideration of children and young people’s rights in the development of major policy and legislative initiatives, to ensure that New Zealand’s obligations under UNCROC are taken into account.

Set out below are the initiatives and actions that directly contribute to progress or achievement in the three areas of the UNCROC work programme.

The establishment of the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (the Ministry) on 1 April 2017 was the start of a four to five-year major transformation programme to build a more child-centred care and protection system focusing on harm and trauma prevention and early intervention, rather than crisis management.

Being child-centred is more than just words, it is a different way of working that will change behaviours and outcomes. It is all about having children's interests at the heart of everything the Ministry does. We are doing this by supporting children to have a say about the things that affect them, hearing their voice and never losing sight of what is best for them.

An update on the Ministry’s overall progress was recently published on the Ministry of Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki's website:

The jurisdiction of the care and protection system has been extended

Under the recent amendments to the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 [1], from 1 April 2017, a young person no longer has to leave State care at 17 years, and is able to remain in care until they turn 18.

This legislative change means the Ministry can accept reports of concern for 17 year olds, and young people can remain in care until they turn 18, giving them stability and support for longer. Caregivers will receive financial and other assistance for 17 year olds, and we can provide support, advice and assistance support to 17 year olds no longer in care. It will provide vulnerable young people access to the protection available under legislation, and increase New Zealand’s alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.

Budget 2017 included $71 million over four years to extend and support young people in care from age 17 to 18, following the Government’s decision to raise the age limit for state care.

In addition, from 1 July 2019 (or earlier by Order in Council), a young person may also remain, or return to, living with a caregiver until the age of 21 years, with transition support and advice available until the age of 25 years.

Children and young people's views fundamental to the model

The input of children and young people’s views has been fundamental to the development and implementation of the new care and protection operating model

Youth panels have been established to inform the transformation programme for the care system

In April 2015, the Government established an Expert Advisory Panel to review the existing care and protection system. Its recommendations to Government led to a complete overhaul of the system to ensure it delivers the best possible results for vulnerable children and their families.

Central to the development of the new operating model has been the Minister for Children’s two youth advisory panels. These panels comprise care experienced young people who have advised the Minister on the transformation of the care and protection operating model.

The first Youth Advisory Panel was appointed by the Minster to ensure the voices of children were included in the Expert Advisory Panel’s review. Te Whānau Aroha, the second Youth Advisory Panel, directed the Ministry to create a new way of looking at the world that now guides how we act. Six core values developed by Te Whānau Aroha, such as ‘we put tamariki first’, are being embedded across the organisation [2]. (See the Ministry of Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki's Six Core Values, below.)

A new Tamariki Advocate role has been established which gives the Ministry greater focus on embedding the voices of children and young people

With the creation of the Ministry and new requirements in the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, we are exploring ways to embed the voices of children and young people into decision-making at both individual and system levels.

The role of the new Tamariki Advocate / Deputy Chief Executive Voices of Children is to ensure that designing with others, particularly care-experienced young people, remains a core feature of how the Ministry works.

The Ministry is actively and regularly seeking the voices of care-experienced children and young people to improve current services and also to shape the future of the new operating model for the vulnerable children system.

At a systemic level, children and young people will participate in the design of services, policies and procedures

The Ministry is taking a new, child-centred approach to everything we do.

Children and young people have contributed to the development of a range of key changes that are currently being designed including national care standards, specialist foster care as an option for children and young people detained in custody, new model sites and transition services.

In April 2017, we worked with Creative Learning Scheme (the education provider at Korowai Manaaki and Whakatakapokai residences) and Kingslea School (the education provider at Te Puna Wai, Te Maioha and Te Oranga residences) on school projects for specialist foster care for remand. The projects were National Curriculum and NCEA-creditable and enabled young people in residences to be actively involved in designing the specifications for specialist foster care for remand and in testing our high level thinking in relation to:

  • the target client group
  • the characteristics of a specialist foster care home and caregiver
  • services for young people and their families.

The projects ran for two weeks, and 114 young people participated in them. As a result of these projects, young people’s input was central to the design of the operating model for specialist remand care.

The Ministry is putting more emphasis on children and young people taking part in decisions that affect them

Amendments to the principles of, and strengthened obligations in, the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 include requirements to encourage and assist children and young people to participate in, and express their views about, any proceedings or processes affecting them, and to take their views into account. This means, at an individual level, frontline workers will ensure children and young people are supported to participate in decisions that affect them, and that their views are better represented in Court and in Family Group Conferences. To achieve this, changes are being made to increase staff capacity so social workers can spend more time with children and young people.

The legislative changes also support the establishment of VOYCE - Whakarongo Mai, an independent connection and advocacy service for children and young people in care. VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai has been developed in partnership between young people with experience of being in care, the Government, the philanthropic sector and non-government organisations (NGOs).

The voice of the child is being prioritised

VOYCE Whakarongo Mai provides children and young people in care, or with care experience, with an opportunity and support to express their views about:

  • matters that are important to them relating to their circumstances
  • general matters relating to processes and services they have experienced under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

The Ministry recently conducted a trial of an app, Mind of My Own. The app helps vulnerable children to communicate problems they might otherwise be reluctant to express face-to-face through the use of prompts and a child-friendly interface. During the trial, the Ministry saw a significant increase in the use of its feedback and complaints system by children and young people. An evaluation is underway and will help to determine the future use of the app over the long term.

Considering children's rights is a legislative requirement

There is a legislative requirement to ensure that children’s and young people’s rights under UNCROC are considered in the exercise of statutory intervention

Amendments to Section 5 (‘Principles to be applied in exercise of powers under this Act’) of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 require any court or other person exercising powers under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 to respect the child’s or young person’s rights, including those rights set out in UNCROC, when exercising powers under the legislation.

This legislative change will come into force on 1 July 2019, or earlier by Order in Council.

The Child Impact Assessment tool is being finalised and will be implemented across agencies

The Child Impact Assessment Best Practice Guideline has been designed to enhance compliance to UNCROC. It enables government agencies to take children’s rights under UNCROC into account and to consider the impacts of policies on children when developing policy or legislation. The guideline encourages users to consider the four following questions:

  • What impact does the decision (including options and recommendations) have on children?
  • Will there be differential impacts on certain groups of children?
  • What do children say?
  • What happens after you have completed your policy assessment?

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) rolled out a draft Child Impact Assessment Best Practice Guideline in 2016. Champions have been progressing the use of the Child Impact Assessment tool within their agencies including, testing and providing feedback on it. They have found that it provides a framework for options that are being developed to be explicitly tested and assessed for consistency with the intent of UNCROC. It has been found to assist the user to consider the wide variety of impacts that policy changes may have on children and young people and to provide a framework through which policy makers can anticipate unintended consequences. MSD is incorporating agency feedback to improve, refine and finalise the Child Impact Assessment tool, and will plan for further implementation of it across agencies.

More about the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki


Footnotes

[1] The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 is the new name given to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989.

[2] The other five core values are ‘we respect the mana of people’; ‘we believe aroha is vital’; ‘we value whakapapa’; ‘we are tika and pono’ and ‘we recognise that oranga is a journey’.

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