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Oranga Tamariki not meeting minimal standards for children in care - report

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Oranga Tamariki is still not meeting the minimal standards for children in care, a new report shows.

The data from the 2021/2022 Independent Children's Monitor shows there is yet to be any significant improvement in outcomes for tamariki in state care.

The report's executive director Arran Jones said the report was a chance for the agency to show it had made improvements.

"While it has made progress on its work programme, we are yet to see meaningful improvements in its data, or in the experiences of tamariki and others we heard from," Jones said.

There are seven key findings which include:

During the time of the report, Oranga Tamariki had custody of almost 99 percent of the 6398 children in care.

The report found only 65 percent of children were visited by a social worker under their assessment plan.

Jones said the high workload from social workers resulted in limited trust between the child, caregivers and whānau.

Oranga Tamariki Sign
Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"Social workers need support to spend time with tamariki and rangatahi in care," Jones said.

"We heard a range of reasons why this wasn't happening including workload, staff turnover, availability of resources and leadership.

"Spending time with tamariki and building stronger relationships will help address the needs of children, their caregivers and whānau, and, importantly, keep children safe."

The report noted it was difficult to understand the root of the cause since the number of tamariki and rangatahi in care has reduced, while the number of social workers has increased by 30 percent since 2017.

The agency could not identify whether basic human rights such as health and education needs were being met.

This included being unable to track whether a child has attended annual medical and dental checks, if impacted by mental health or if they were attending school.

Oranga Tamariki has been approached for comment regarding the findings.

"If tamariki and rangatahi aren't having regular health checks, then health needs are more likely to be undiagnosed and resources not made available," Jones said.

But it did find there was a drop in the number of tamariki registered with a GP from 60 percent in 2020/2021 to 53 percent in the last year.

The report revealed 32 percent of tamariki were placed before a caregiver assessment was completed, or before the caregiver was fully approved.

From a sample of 756 files, half the reviews were finished late while a quarter were yet to be completed.

Jones said the assessment reviews were crucial to the welfare and protection of tamariki.

"Considering the impact that a change in care placement may have on tamariki and rangatahi, it is critical that Oranga Tamariki has assurance in all cases that the home they are going to is safe and suitable for every child, and that they can report on every child in care," Jones said.

It revealed a lack of cultural understanding and relationships between the agency and whānau had a negative impact.

While the report noted there had been some improvements in support for caregivers, they were wanting better information sharing about tamariki and rangatahi.

Whānau, caregivers and rangatahi continued to call for better collaboration and communication between government agencies.

Jones said tracking Oranga Tamariki's progress into whether it was making significant changes to meet its obligations remained difficult.

"To learn from past mistakes, it is crucial that Oranga Tamariki close these gaps in knowledge as quickly as possible.

"Oranga Tamariki need to self-monitor and collect data in a way that fulfils its regulatory obligations and commitments to tamariki and rangatahi, and their whānau, whose lives are impacted by being in care," Jones said.