A plan to keep kids safe

Issue: Volume 93, Number 14

Posted: 11 August 2014
Reference #: 1H9css

The Vulnerable Children Act was passed into law on 1 July, and with it, educators will have more responsibility for protecting children at risk of abuse.

Doing more to protect children from abuse in New Zealand has been identified as the goal of the government’s umbrella Children’s Action Plan, and from this high-level goal, the Vulnerable Children Act has emerged, with the aim of significantly reducing abuse and neglect.

The new Act was passed into law on 1 July 2014, and in many ways, it can be seen as a significant departure from the status quo model.

The overwhelming message to come from the Green Paper commissioned to investigate child abuse in New Zealand – which attracted some 10,000 public submissions – is that no single agency can do it alone. All those who work with and for children – whether government departments, teachers, care-givers, or community leaders – must work closely together to maintain a careful vigilance that will prevent harm before it occurs, and to act swiftly should the worst happen.

With this in mind, the Vulnerable Children Act and associated legislation calls on the chief executives of five government agencies to accept joint responsibility for the best interests of our children, in acting together to develop, implement, and deliver a plan to keep our kids safe, in constant collaboration with family and whānau.

What’s changed?

The objectives of the Vulnerable Children Act are going to take time to implement and will be phased in over several years. But the initial goal is to get everyone working together and to break down the barriers that prevent agencies and people who work with children from sharing their knowledge. Ultimately, we want children to get better, faster, and more targeted access to services they need.

Joint accountability

Chief executives from five government agencies have been tasked with getting their heads together to come up with a plan that meets the objectives deemed highest priority for vulnerable children. These agencies are:

  • Ministry of Education
  • Ministry of Health
  • Ministry of Justice
  • Ministry of Social Development
  • New Zealand Police

The overarching aim of this cooperation is to get past the isolation within which each agency sometimes finds itself working, and foster open, effective channels of communication that will mean there’s no such thing as ‘that’s not our job’; instead, the message will become ‘I know someone who can help.’

The first milestone in this process comes in April 2015, when the five agencies will deliver their report to Ministers. From there, the plan can be put into action.

Child protection policies

All state services that deliver services to children, including those organisations contracted by agencies, will be tasked with developing a robust and transparent child protection policy. In addition to the five government agencies, this requirement applies to district health boards, boards of trustees of state and state-integrated schools, and the sponsors of partnership schools kura hourua.

The underlying aim of the child protection policy requirement of the legislation is to improve the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect. The National Children’s Directorate will support all stakeholders in developing their own policy, and each government agency will guide those organisations over which they have oversight to create high quality policy.

Finalised policy is required from all stakeholder organisations “as soon as is practicable”, with one exception: schools are being given more time and will have up to two years to implement their policy.

Safe children’s workforce

The vast majority of those who work with children do so because they want to help, but the government has seen the need to introduce more robust measures to ensure that only those who can add to a child’s life in a positive way are employed in any capacity involving young people.

The new legislation will introduce new requirements to ensure children are safe with those who work with them, by implementing:

a new standard safety check for all paid staff in the government-funded children’s workforce

workforce restrictions preventing people with certain serious convictions from roles that involve working alone with, or with primary responsibility for, children. This restriction is subject to an exemptions process.

These new measures will take several years to finalise, then implement, but the ball is rolling. There’s lots of work to do in the meantime, including examining the legal requirements that will keep all parties safe in terms of privacy. The exemptions policy will require some intensive examination as well.

Watch this space

Now that there is momentum behind the government-led drive to better protect our children, and as policy solidifies, there will be more information forthcoming from the Ministry of Education. Both the Ministry and the National Children’s Directorate will be working with sector representatives over the medium term to work out with schools what exactly is required of them and how they can help.

Children's teams

Everybody wants our children to live in safe communities where there are no barriers to their happiness and confidence. In the spirit of the new legislation, which calls for cooperation across the board, Children’s Teams are being progressively introduced to communities in New Zealand.

Children’s Teams bring together professionals from health, education, welfare, and social service agencies to work with children and their families. Trained people in the community refer children to local professionals who work with families to help and support the child.

Two parts of the service

There are two parts to the Children’s Team service:

The Children’s Team is a group of senior professionals from key agencies in the community, including health, education, welfare, and social services. The Team meets regularly to appoint a ‘lead professional’ to work with a specific child and their family.

A specific Children’s Team is tailored to the needs of a specific child and their family. This team works together for as long as is needed to support the child and their needs.

How children and families benefit

The Children’s Team will work together to tackle all the issues a child and their family may have – rather than just address one aspect of the problem. The interdisciplinary team approach means that the child will get extra support to ensure he or she gets everything they need.

How this model is different

The Children’s Teams recognise that no single agency alone can protect vulnerable children. Children’s needs are multi-faceted, and under this model, agencies have to work together, share information, and provide services in a coordinated way with families and communities to keep children safe.

This approach requires accountability at every level – from the chief executives of government agencies to the front-line workers interacting directly with the children and their families.

Go to the Children's action plan website(external link) for more information.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:49 pm, 11 August 2014

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