2 February 2024  Media Releases

Chief Children's Commissioner: We still need to get the basics right for children in state care

When a child is taken into care by the state, the state must do a better job than the home that child was removed from. Yet we’re still not getting the basics right for children in care.

These young, precious lives are full of potential. All of us should have a deep sense of collective care for these children. After all, is it not a reflection of us as communities, as a society, a nation, how we treat the youngest amongst us, our children and young people?

Getting it right for mokopuna in state care means starting with the basics and doing them well. These are things like safety, connection to whakapapa, access to education and all aspects of health - mental, physical, spiritual, whānau.

It’s about providing disability support and inclusion, a consistent social worker, and wraparound services for a safe and sustainable return home to family and whānau.

These things, among others, are just the minimum standards that all mokopuna in state care and their caregivers can expect and are entitled to under the National Care Standards.

Sadly, the reality right now is that our system is still far off getting the basics right. Progress is beginning in some areas, but it hasn’t been fast enough. The system is not enabling the scale of change that we need to see happening. Big gaps remain and are clear to see in the latest report published this week.

As well as showing that the basics aren’t even being met for many mokopuna in the ‘care’ of the state, this new report is the second this week showing that the very system that is intended to prevent harm to children and young people – and to protect them when it does occur – is in some instances causing more harm and suffering in these young, precious lives.

Mokopuna Māori are experiencing harm while in the state care system at more than double the rate of other children in that same system.

In my work as Chief Children’s Commissioner, I’m often listening to and speaking with mokopuna in their places and spaces around the motu. It’s the greatest privilege of the role, and something I’m committed to continuing to do over my five-year term.

Children in state care have been clear: they want to be safe and have their basic rights and needs met. They tell me these are the building blocks for recovery from the trauma and disadvantage that they have experienced before coming into care.

It’s as simple as that: they want to be loved by and safe with those who care for them.

Getting the basics right for mokopuna in care means our state care system fully implementing the National Care Standards, with urgency. After all, they are minimum standards and I believe they are achievable.

They are the rights of every child and young person in care – a logical starting point, to ensure a care system that demonstrates care in action, for children and young people who wind up in it through circumstances always beyond their control, but with their whole lives ahead of them.

Lives which can, and should be, as wonderful as possible – a living expression of the dreams of their ancestors, their tīpuna.

We must listen to what children and young people in care, and those who have been in care are saying clearly: please do better, urgently. This is about their lives, their rights, every day. More must and can be done. Let’s start with the basics.

- Dr Claire Achmad is the Chief Children’s Commissioner at Mana Mokopuna – Children and Young People’s Commission.