Community Scoop

The Nation: Minister for Children Tracey Martin

Press Release – The Nation

Lisa Owen: The National Party says it’s “completely inappropriate” for New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin to be in charge of an inquiry into the appointment of a New Deputy Police Commissioner. Wally Haumaha’s promotion is controversial; …On Newshub Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Minister for Children Tracey Martin

Lisa Owen: The National Party says it’s “completely inappropriate” for New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin to be in charge of an inquiry into the appointment of a New Deputy Police Commissioner. Wally Haumaha’s promotion is controversial; he publicly supported former police officers and convicted rapists Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum and made disparaging comments about Louise Nicholas, after she laid a complaint against them. Haumaha, who recently apologised for those comments, had been a contender for a New Zealand first candidacy in 2005. I asked Tracey Martin how much contact she’s had with Wally Haumaha in the past.
So it was news to me that he was a contender for New Zealand First candidacy, so that was news to me. And as far as contact I’ve had, I think I’ve met Wally once at Ratana, twice at Waitangi, probably 12 words in all three meetings is all I’ve ever said – like, ‘Hello. How are you?’ Because he’s been introduced to me, and then I’ve moved on.
Is there a conflict of interest, in your mind?
No, for two reasons – one, I don’t know Wally at all, but secondly, I’m actually setting up an independent Government inquiry. So I won’t be doing the inquiry; I’ll be appointing somebody under a terms of reference that is going as an oral item to Cabinet on Monday, and then that person will be inquiring into the process of which State Services Commission gangs and provides information to ministers for them to make a decision on appointment. So it’s not actually into any individual; it’s into a process.
Can you understand how there might be a perception of a conflict of interest?
No, I can’t, because I’m setting up an independent Government inquiry, and that means that I will receive recommendations of a person to lead that inquiry from crown law. Based on details given to me, I will appoint that person, they will run that inquiry completely independent from me, and it’s about a process, not a person.
Okay. Well, the deputy commissioner has admitted that he expressed support for two rapists. He made disparaging comments about a complainant, Louise Nicholas. How comfortable are you with that kind of behaviour from a police officer who has now been promoted to an even higher rank?
Actually, I’m not going to answer how comfortable I am as Tracey Martin, because I’m not doing anything to do with this as Tracey Martin. I’m actually the Minister of Internal Affairs, who’s now been charged by Cabinet to set up an independent inquiry into a process.
Into a process? Not into Wally Haumaha?
That’s right.
So there’s no conflict of interest in discussing Wally Haumaha? Because you’re looking at a process. So this is important – are you uncomfortable with his position?
I think that that piece of information was known by the State Services Commission, and it was not passed on to a minister, for a minister to actually consider pieces of information like that. That is concerning. That’s why we’re actually setting up independent inquiry.
Here’s the thing, though – when the then-Prime Minister, John Key, pulled the hair of a female waitress, you said that was unacceptable behaviour from anyone, let alone the leader of the country. Yet now you have a deputy police commissioner who has supported a pack rapist who treated women like meat, who thought they would get away with the crime because they were police officers. All the while, Wally Haumaha said that one of them was a big softie and the other one was a legend with women. Do you think he deserves to be the deputy commissioner?
I’m not going to answer that question because as the Minister of Internal Affairs or the Minister of Children or the minister of anything, it’s actually not an opinion I need to express, quite frankly. I don’t have any influence over it. I am setting up an independent inquiry into the information that was provided and should be expected to be provided to a minister to make these appointments.
You’ve spoken out on issues like this before. You spoke out regarding John Key. How do you think it looks to sexual assault survivors to have this man in this position?
I think that’s a really interesting question. Let’s go to the bits about speaking out on other things about John Key. So that was an action by Mr Key at that time, and it was an inappropriate action by Mr Key at that time, and actually probably at any time – to touch a female or anybody without their permission is inappropriate. With regards to…
So Wally Haumaha’s actions – are they not inappropriate actions to support these men, to say these things about an alleged victim?
Again, I’m not going to wade into what is an attempt to get my personal view on something that as a minister, I am setting up an independent inquiry into a process by which whether those statements were passed on or not to another minister who had to make an appointment.
All right. Well, let’s move on to Oranga Tamariki. It wants to get a thousand new caregivers on board. So how many have been recruited since it was formed?
At this stage, I think there’s only been another 150 caregivers recruited. And there’s a really good reason for that. Before we recruit caregivers, we need to improve how we support caregivers. And when Oranga Tamariki was formed just over a year ago, that was not in place. We still haven’t got it in place. It’s a piece of work that is being done right now to make sure, with the care standards being gazetted and 52 million and a number of millions over the next so many years being put into place.
But can you afford to wait? Because we’ve talked to a number of social workers and caregivers. They are saying things like – these are direct quotes – ‘We are desperate for caregivers, and yet a recruitment drive is still not even on the table.’ So why aren’t you recruiting?
We are desperate for caregivers. We’re desperate for caregivers that are highly trained, can support children with incredibly complex needs that come from diverse backgrounds. But if we can’t support them well, then we would be bringing them in only to fail again. And it has failed to this point, and that is exactly why Oranga Tamariki was formed by the previous government.
So how long is it going to take, then? Because it’s been over a year. You say you’ve got 150. Based on that figure, it’ll be more than eight years before you reach your target of 1000.
Well, that would be if 150 was the target. That’s not the target. That’s what we’ve recruited to date, because that’s what our supports can provide. But we’ve also opened a 24/7 care line for caregivers so that they have, 24/7, somebody at the end of a phone with more direct access to social workers. We’ve also actually got the care standards – something that this country had never had, which was a minimum standard by which carers can hold us accountable for with the support that they receive, and children can hold us accountable.
In respect to that fine line that you’ve just mentioned, we have been talking to people about that. They’ve raised it with us. They said they’ve asked for it to be independent – a totally independent service. They don’t trust the ministry.
Well, and trust has to be built. And, I mean, we all understand. I don’t think anybody trusted CYFS at the end of the day, when Oranga Tamariki was formed. That’s the reason the previous government—
They don’t trust Oranga Tamariki either.
Well, and that is because Oranga Tamariki hasn’t had a long enough opportunity to rebuild that trust. So I would question an independent phone line when you’re calling for assistance from social workers – if people call into that phone line and they need us to connect immediately to the social worker of that child and have them at their home, that would put another step through if we had an independent body.
Okay. They have raised some serious concerns about the support that they’re getting. A lot of foster carers are telling us there is a complete lack of respite care, and social workers are looking after kids in motel rooms to give people a break or because there’s nowhere else for them. How often is that happening?
I don’t know how often that’s happening across the country, because it’s variable. I know in the Bay of Plenty , for example, that there are some- I met with the PSA delegates on Tuesday, I believe it was – Tuesday or Wednesday – and they articulated to me that this is a major concern for them.
Is it a major concern for you?
Of course it’s a major concern. None of us want children—One, we want children to be in long-standing, caring placements if they are with us. So the fact that the placements break down because there isn’t enough respite care, the fact that children with high and complex needs are being placed with some families that put them under excessive stress and we don’t get in there fast enough to support them – that is a concern to us. That’s why we are building another service.
Well, do you think that Oranga Tamariki is fulfilling the promises that they made to those kids when they took them out of their homes if they’re being put into a motel room with a social worker, rather than a family that loves them?
Well, no, I don’t. And I would have to say that Oranga Tamariki is working under the conditions that they’d somewhat inherited and has had one year to try and turn around what was a massively broken system. So for us to not be able to put young people in motel rooms, we need to have more caregivers. For us to have more caregivers, we need to be able to make sure they can be supported. One of the reasons I went to the United Kingdom was to look at how can we connect models like the Mockingbird model, for example, that’s come out of Canada and the UK so that we can create respite care among families, among caring families, so that we don’t have to lift children up out of a whanau that they already know?
But what you are describing to me is a catch-22 situation. So at some point you have to break that cycle. So what can you do about this issue right now – the fact that foster carers say that they aren’t supported, that there is not enough respite care? What assurances are you going to take right now for them?
Well, that’s what that $52 million—part of that $52 million that has been put into the next financial year’s budget is for, is to make sure we build those services, working with our partners like Fostering New Zealand, like Barnados and so on. We build those support systems.
So how long will that take? Because you say it’s only been just over a year, but the Rebstock report said that we could expect real change within five years. So you’re actually 25 percent through that five years.
That is true. And I had a meeting with Dame Paula Rebstock and two other members of the expert advisory panel only at the beginning of this week. I also sat down with the previous minister of Oranga Tamariki and had conversations with her about how we’re doing, where we’re going, are we on track with the road map.
So how long?
We’re still looking at that four to five years to… not to change the whole of the system; all the way through, the system needs to be changed. All the way through, we have to give more voice to the children—
But are you 25 per cent through that change? Because it doesn’t sound like it when we talk to social workers and we talk to lots of people – social workers and foster carers. Are you far enough through at this point?
For the first year, I think we are, because there were things that needed to be put in place – the Social Worker Registration Bill, the Care Standards Bill. We needed to build those supports, we needed to get the conversation in line with the NGOs that we’re having. We’ve got 580 NGOs. Those were the bits we needed to do in this year.
Okay, so—
So in this coming year, I totally understand that our social workers want to see their caseloads drop and they want to see more support.
So are you doing the—Are you saying that right now it’s the best it can be?
Right now, from where we started, it’s the best we could get to in one year. But I have very high expectations, and it’s my job to drive these expectations around the standard of care that our young people should expect, the level of carers and diversity of caregivers that we have and how they’re supported.
Okay, well, you mentioned caseloads there. What is the average caseload currently for social workers at Oranga Tamariki?
Well, the goal, I suppose – what we were looking for – is between 15 to 20, but it depends on the complexity of the case. That is not what is the average caseload, but I’m sorry, off the top of my head I can’t tell you the average caseload.
Okay, because what we’ve been told – one foster carer said that the social worker they were assigned to didn’t meet their child for eight months. Another social worker wrote to us saying that social workers and psychologists are despondent, unsupported and fearful of the direction Oranga Tamariki is heading.
Well, that’s really interesting, and I’d really strongly encourage that social worker to write to me directly.
Isn’t it more concerning than interesting, though?
Well, it’s interesting because I actually just sat down with a whole lot of social workers only earlier this week who said they had left Oranga Tamariki. They’d left under CYFS. They’d come back under Oranga Tamariki and they could instantly tell the difference. They felt much more positive about the environment. So what I guess we’re seeing is we’re still seeing this massive variation across the country and we need to change that, absolutely – no question.
So how many more social workers do you need in order to get the caseloads where you want them?
That’s a really interesting question from the perspective of it depends on the complexity of the caseload.
But ballpark?
If you look at—No, no. If I can put it this way, if you look at the Hackney model, where they decided to create hubs where you had four to five social workers, a practice leader, a child psychologist and a fully funded administrator so that social workers were able to do social work, that will have an effect on how many social workers you need. So those are the conversations we’re going to be having this year.
So you can’t say how many more you need?
No, off the top of my head I can’t give you an exact figure, no.
Do you know how many caregivers and how many social workers have left since Oranga Tamariki was formed?
I don’t have the exact numbers on that, no. Not off the top of my head.
Wouldn’t that be essential information for you?
I have that information, just not off the top of my head.
Okay, well, maybe you can give that to us afterwards. So, we’ve also been told that graduate social workers are being advised not to join Oranga Tamariki because they will be sent into potentially unsafe, unethical situations without proper supervision. So how are you going to improve conditions to encourage more people into those jobs?
Well, again, that’s the first time I’ve heard that, so I’m not— who’s advising them not to come to work for Oranga Tamariki? When I’ve sat down with—
Other social workers that we have spoken to.
Well, I’ve been in many social—I’ve been in many Oranga Tamariki offices and speaking directly with the social workers, and they have said that they are the new graduates and, again, they are explaining to me that the feeling of the place is so different.
So are all graduates supervised when they go into homes?
I would have to want to clarify that for you. I don’t do operational matters, so I would have to clarify that for you.
All right. Well, it has been, as you say, more than a year since Oranga Tamariki was formed. I’m wondering what exactly has changed for frontline social workers and foster carers, because a lot of them tell us nothing has changed.
Well, if I were to outline what has changed, I suppose the $3 million to actually raise the—raise some of the amounts of money for salaries of workers on the front line with our NGO partners; the greater dime—the greater co-design with some of our iwi partners around how we look after our Maori children that are in our care; the number of social workers has increased as a net, so we have got more social workers on the ground; the whakapapa navigators we put into some offices; and, really, the hui that we had recently to reach out to our NGOs who are supporting our carers and say, ‘Let’s work together and co-design and be really clear about what we need.’
Because a lot of people in that answer would have just heard bureaucratic speak. They didn’t hear you say that life is better for kids in care, that social workers and foster carers are getting more support and are less burdened with high caseloads. They didn’t hear any of that.
And some are. I mean, some of our social workers definitely have got better supports. We have put in a 24/7 line for our carers to try and give them greater supports, but are we there yet? No, we’re not there. So I don’t want to make a definitive statement and say that everything is fabulous one year in with Oranga Tamariki. It’s not. It’s absolutely not, but we’re on a four to five-year pathway.
Some people think it’s worse than it was, and this again is a quote from a social worker: ‘It is a shambles. Everyone is running in circles.’ We asked, ‘Is it better than it was before?’ ‘Hell, no,’ was the response.
Well, that’s interesting, because again, I’ve spoken with other social workers. And I say it’s interesting because I don’t want to discount that person. That’s very likely their reality, but I’m also speaking with social workers who have said, ‘The tone is different. I feel better-supported. I now have a purchase card so if I want something little for children, I can just go get it without doing three lots of paperwork.’
Do you think you’re getting a realistic idea of what is actually going on inside this organisation? Because everybody that we have spoken to – and we have spoken to a number of people – they say that social workers and carers are on the verge of – their word – revolt.
I think I am getting a realistic perspective because I’m not speaking to these people with—They haven’t been selected by the CEO of Oranga Tamariki. Some of them are personal friends that I’ve known for a long time. Others are foster parents that have come to see me in my office in Warkworth and tell me how things are. Is it perfect? No. Were expectations incredibly high that we would be able to, when Oranga Tamariki was formed under the previous government, would we make change like that? This is a system change that was so badly broken that it’s going to take us time to turn it around.
And I think people get that, but they are still concerned at the speed of change. Just before we go, the Rebstock report made about 80-odd recommendations. Can you tell us now how many you have actioned? How many have been actioned?
And, again, I think if we were talking about the systems that we—the recommendations that were put into place for a four to five-year period, the fact that care standards have now been gazetted; the fact that the registration—the Social Worker Registration Bill is on its way; the fact that we have—we’re working on co-designing transitions for our young people; the fact that we’ve increased the age—
You don’t have a number? You don’t know how many?
No, I couldn’t give you an exact figure. I mean, if I’d have known before, I would have been able to bring you a sort of a little list, so I apologise. I’ll come back to you with that.
All right. Thanks for joining us this morning, Minister. Much appreciated.

Oranga Tamariki did get back to us with those numbers – revealing between 20 and 30 children in its care are housed in motels every day.
A spokesperson said in a statement “while we acknowledge this isn’t ideal, sadly for some children a motel is the safest temporary placement while we find them a more permanent loving home.”
It also confirmed that while it hired 446 new social workers in the past 15 months, 246 social workers left the ministry in that same period.


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