First Children's Monitor report exposes shortfalls, Oranga Tamariki promises to fix them

Oranga Tamariki chief executive Chappie Te Kani has welcomed the release of Te Mana Whakamaru Tamariki Motuhake, the Independent Children's Monitor's latest report into state care of children. even though it criticises the agency, which deals with 99% of children in state care.

"The report acknowledges there are things we are getting right but also identifies areas where we need to improve," Te Kani says.

Children’s Commissioner Judge Frances Eivers rated the report as "an insightful piece of work that shines a light on the very real gaps in Oranga Tamariki practice for mokopuna and the caregivers entrusted to care for them.”

But Eivers says it is concerning Oranga Tamariki doesn’t have data on some of the essential aspects of the care for mokopuna but is buoyed by the ministry’s response.

The first annual ICM report into state care, which outlines how well agencies tasked with caring for vulnerable and at-risk youth are meeting national care standards (NCS) for mokopuna, spoke to tamariki, whanau, caregivers and a range of kaimahi working in the state care sector. Dingwall Trust, Barnados, Open Home Foundation and Oranga Tamariki are monitored by the Independent Children's Monitor. While the study looked into all four organisations, Oranga Tamariki came into special focus as it has responsibility for 99% of rangatahi in care.

'Some not-so-good stories'

In preparing this report, the monitor said it gathered data and information from the agencies with custody of tamariki and rangatahi and listened to tamariki and rangatahi in care, alongside their whanau, as well as professionals and caregivers.

"We heard some good stories and some not-so-good stories from tamariki, rangatahi, whanau and those supporting them, Independent Children's Monitor executive director Arran Jones says.

"We need to share and learn from these and support those delivering services to provide the best outcomes for our tamariki and rangatahi. It’s important that the people delivering the services have the tools and resources to do their job."

The report covers the year between July 2020 and June 2021, when just over 7100 tamariki and rangatahi were in state care. Some 4600 of those in state care were Māori.

“It’s the first time much of this data has been made public,” Jones says.

“Our key findings are clear on what needs to improve and the findings are most relevant to Oranga Tamariki as it has the care of ninety-nine per cent of tamariki and rangatahi.

Improve monitoring, agency told

"Specifically, Oranga Tamariki data and the voices in communities tell us that Oranga Tamariki practice is better at the time tamariki and rangatahi come into care but this needs to be sustained over the whole time tamariki are in care, as well as during transition," Jones says.

“The health and wellbeing of our tamariki is our core focus. We accept that improving our self-monitoring remains a key priority for Oranga Tamariki. Some of the commitments we already have in train to do this include carrying out more case file analysis, launching a new caregiver information system and releasing a new whanau survey,” Te Kani says.

Another area highlighted for improvement is how Oranga Tamariki records health plans, including enrolments at GPs of its rangatahi. The report noted 40% of tamariki and rangatahi in its care were not registered with a general practitioner or medical practice (compared to almost all tamariki in care of the other three agencies ), while it was unclear if those tamariki had annual health or dental checks.

"The majority of children and young people in care are enrolled with a GP. However, there are gaps within our own recording processes that means data collected as part of the monitoring report did not capture the status of GP enrolments. We are actively working with DHB's to remedy this," Te Kani. says

“Similarly, the monitor's finding that Oranga Tamariki answered five per cent of its questions for all children and young people in care as part of the ICM report is a data and recording issue. We are actively working on improving our systems to ensure data is accurately available.

Commissioner's tick

“Oranga Tamariki is committed to lifting the quality of care we provide and ensuring we meet the intent of the National Care Standards regulations.”

The first report into state care practices was expected to reveal deficiencies in data collection and reporting. It is also expected to take several reporting periods to receive the level of data and information required to draw trends and patterns.

Meanwhile, the Children's Commissioner says she is pleased to see Oranga Tamariki hasn’t shied away from the findings, and has committed to a programme of work to effect much-needed change.

“Today’s report is hugely valuable, but it is only a start. The unit’s next report will help us understand whether Oranga Tamariki has acted effectively and improved its practice," Eivers says.

The Children's Monitor will be reporting annually on the compliance of the agencies, with the intention of seeing positive change for tamariki, rangatahi and their whānau.