Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dr Ian Hyslop: New child protection laws a regressive move

Dr Ian Hyslop is a lecturer in counselling, human services and social work at the University of Auckland

The Government's proposed reforms to our child protection laws are regressive, myopic and likely to have unfortunate outcomes for children who have been ill-treated in stressed families.

They have been narrowly conceived and signal a return to rescue-based fostercare. This, in my opinion, is a huge step backwards for child protection in New Zealand, particularly for Maori.

Cabinet papers released by Social Development Minister Anne Tolley set out these law changes to support a new "operating model" for statutory social work services within the new Ministry of Vulnerable Children.

But these reforms have involved minimal real consultation with the sector. They are the result of an expert panel review which began in April 2015. I was involved in a practice reference group which provided advice to this panel, nominally.

The outcome, I believe, was largely predetermined.

I worked in state social work for 20 years and witnessed the genesis of the ground-breaking Children, Young Persons and their Families' Act, 1989. This legislation addressed institutional racism (identified in the Puao Te Ata Tu Ministerial Advisory Committee Report of 1988) by making an understanding of Maori values and social structures central to working with Maori children.

The 1989 Act responded to the cultural alienation of Maori children in the care of the state by bringing Maori concepts of whakapapa and whanaungatanga into mainstream statutory social work legislation.

It required that placement of children outside of immediate family be with a member of their whanau, hapu, iwi, or at the very least with someone from the same cultural background. This vision has never been adequately supported or resourced and now, under these proposed reforms, it is abandoned.
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