Family First NZ is repeating its call for a fully independent watchdog for Oranga Tamariki. Family First has been calling for such a watchdog since 2011, including 2018, 2017, 2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, and earlier.
We must have a mechanism that ensures two things – that families who have been notified to Oranga Tamariki as being at-risk are actually monitored in an appropriate way, but also to prevent abuse of families by the State. The success of any Complaints Authority will depend on its independence – it must have legislative independence, operational independence, the perception of independence, and advocate for both children and adults.
In documents released in 2018 by the Ministry of Social Development, they echoed the concerns previously raised by Family First NZ, saying, “Independent oversight contributes to building transparency, public trust and confidence… Where government has strong statutory powers – such as the power to apply to the Family Court to remove children and young people from their families, and to place them with caregivers or in care and protection residences – independent oversight is particularly important. It provides an additional safeguard to help ensure their wellbeing and safety is paramount.”
The MSD rightly recognises that other governmental organisations have independent watchdogs – the ERO, Health and Disability Commissioner, Independent Police Conduct Authority and Ombudsman. Both the Greens and NZ First support an independent agency with the Greens rightly saying that, “there is a lot of potential for things to go wrong in child protection, and just like the police, there really does need to be independent oversight.
It is difficult to understand why the politicians have been so apprehensive about independent accountability for an organisation that can make decisions to uplift children and potentially destroy families without even having to produce concrete evidence of abuse. At other times, CYF/OT have not acted when there was clear evidence that they should have. Where do families turn when they believe CYF isn’t performing? There is an internal complaints process but virtually nobody trusts it, or knows about it, or uses it.
In 2011, the Social Services Select Committee recommended that the Government investigate establishing an independent Complaints Authority for CYF. Another MSD report to the government in 2013 also endorsed the call for an independent CYF Complaints Authority, saying that a complaints authority is well overdue. The report said that there is, “no independent voice or agency of sufficient size and capability to speak for children and hold the system to account” and that a, “more accessible complaints system is required.”
A poll in 2011 found significant support (65%) for an independent watchdog for the then-named CYF (only 20% opposed).