Media Release 21 March 2012
Family First NZ says that the Government is calling for evidence of the need for an independent CYF Complaints Authority, but there is already stacks of evidence, and even social workers themselves acknowledge the need for an independent watchdog.
“It is difficult to understand why the government is so apprehensive about accountability for an organisation that can make decisions to uplift children and potentially destroy families – without even having to produce concrete evidence of abuse,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “And at other times, they have not acted when there was clear evidence that they should have.”
Information obtained by Family First NZ under the Official Information Act showed a 150% in ex gratia payments by CYF between 2010 and 2011 – from $334,912 in 31 cases in 2010, to $836,375 in 55 cases in 2011. Ex gratia payments are made where the Ministry’s actions or performance have been deficient to a degree that the individual has suffered loss or harm.
In September 2011, the Social Services Committee released a report recommending that the Government investigate establishing an independent CYF Complaints Authority. The Committee acknowledged that ‘people whose complaints reach the Chief Executive’s Advisory Panel have to be persistent to resolve their issues’ and that they were ‘concerned to hear that the ministry does not monitor complainants’ ultimate satisfaction with the process.’
“The current Advisory Panel has the inherent flaw of not being independent, and the Chief Executive still has the final decision as to the success of the complaint. The Panel can only make recommendations. This is inappropriate. And it is also grossly unfair when families are being separated, often just based on the subjective judgment of a social worker,” says Mr McCoskrie.
Figures provided by the Ministry of Social Development to Family First NZ under the Official Information Act showed that in the first two years after the Authority was established (July 2008), just eleven complaints had made it to the Authority and of those, two have been upheld and five upheld in part. Only one case was found in favour of CYF. Of concern was that 17 complaints were referred back to CYF to handle, and 12 complaints were yet to be dealt with – despite the potential urgency and ongoing effect that it may be having on the families concerned.
The Aotearoa NZ Association of Social Workers have called for an independent complaints process for social workers in their submission to the government on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children.
“Even social workers themselves see the need for an independent watchdog. CYF work in very difficult circumstances but it is essential that there is external accountability for their actions. We are being contacted by far too many families saying that either CYF aren’t listening or that CYF are a ‘law unto themselves’,” says Mr McCoskrie.
“We have long been asking for a totally independent Board similar to the Independent Police Complaints Authority. We desperately and urgently need an independent body to hear complaints about the highly sensitive nature of intervening in families. There is a Health and Disability Commissioner, a Police Complaints Authority, even a Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal.”
“An independent CYF Complaints Authority will ensure that appropriate policy and procedures have been followed, will be in the best interests of the social workers, and will result in public confidence and accountability for actions and decisions by CYF workers,” says Mr McCoskrie.