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The Nation: Lisa Owen interview Grainne Moss

Press Release – The Nation

The head of the new Vulnerable Children ministry Oranga Tamariki says she doesnt know for sure how many more social workers are needed, although she says needs analyses are done all the time. Grainne Moss says she cant put a figure on it, because …On The Nation: Lisa Owen interview Grainne Moss


The head of the new Vulnerable Children ministry Oranga Tamariki says she doesn’t know for sure how many more social workers are needed, although she says needs analyses are done all the time. Grainne Moss says she can’t put a figure on it, because demands change so quickly.

Mrs Moss says reports of a shortage of 50 social workers in Auckland alone could be true. She also agrees there are problems recruiting social workers. But she says although pay is a factor, there are no plans to raise salaries.

Grainne Moss says the ministry is still a long way from its target of 1,000 more foster carers, but won’t commit to paying them more, saying carers “have said loud and clear to us that the first priority for them is actually support and training, so we’re working with them on that.”

Mrs Moss says she is confident she has the resources from government to make a start. “At the minute, I’m very confident. The money I have got at the moment will get me to where our early milestones are.”
Lisa Owen: The government is touting its brand-new Ministry for Vulnerable Children as ‘transformational and groundbreaking’. But given Child, Youth and Family has already been restructured 14 times and the number of children in care continues to grow, will this latest change be enough to make a difference? The ministry’s chief executive, Grainne Moss, joins me in the studio now. Good morning.
Grainne Moss: Good morning, Lisa.
14 overhauls. That’s a big number. How confident are you that this one’s going to work?
This one’s going to work because it’s not just an overhaul of Child, Youth and Family; it’s a far-reaching system change. It’s about changing the way all of the agencies work with children, and it’s also about changing how we as a community support our children.
So your success is going to be really important. How are you going to measure that? What targets are you going to meet?
It’s really important to measure the success. We have fantastic data that tells us about what the outcomes for children are currently, so we can look at things like their educational achievements, their employment achievements. So we’ll be measuring our success based on better outcomes for children.
So you’ll be putting numbers on it. The Rebstock report referred to reducing the cost of Maori children being in care – the future cost – by 25% to 30% over a five-year period. Is that going to be a target for you?
I think the important thing is is that, yes, there’s a cost, but those numbers tell a story, and they tell a story about people, they tell a story about children. And that’s what the important thing to measure is – are these kids being able to realise their potential? Are we getting services to them sooner? Are we preventing crises in their life?
But you are going to use those kind of measures, aren’t you? Fiscal measures.
I think you need to use a multitude of measures. You absolutely need to use a multitude of measures.
So reduction in youth offending. Is that one of your views?
Potentially. There’s actually been quite good success in youth offending over the last few years.
And lowering numbers of kids in care?
I think what we will see, hopefully, is over a generation that we can lower the numbers of kids in care. The important thing is to look at what is the best solution for each individual child. And what I’ve been absolutely privileged to hear is lots of stories from kids in care, and when the right placement is made for a kid with the right support, the right connections, their lives can be changed. So sometimes being in care is the right choice.
But you will have a series of targets that will be published, and your movement toward those targets will be made public?
Absolutely. That’s in the legislation. And the really good opportunity in the targets is that it’s incumbent on me to consult and actually set those targets with keys groups, like iwi.
Okay. You get a four-year grace period, basically, while you’re setting up, and then your first targets are potentially five years away after that. That’s almost a decade before you start knowing if you’re scratching the surface or not. Can we afford to wait that long?
I don’t think I have a four-year grace period, Lisa. I think that the—
But it’s four years where you won’t have targets to achieve.
Oh, I think there’s always—We’re currently measuring data, so I think we’ll be able to tell how we’re doing on the journey, and I think it’s going to be really important that the entire system evidences that there’s improvement, you know, tomorrow and six months and 12 months and 18 months… I mean, the transformational change that we want is a journey, and we would hope to see milestones on the way.
But that transformational change, if you look at the Rebstock report, as you’ll be aware, the very first part of that is 10 years away. The significant part of that is 25 years away. And if you look at our stats, one child dies almost each month. Can we afford to be taking that long to get this right?
I don’t think we are taking that long to get it right; we’re taking action today to create a new future for tomorrow. The reason that those targets are so long-term is because a number of the problems are incredibly complex and they are intergenerational, and we have to lean into that and recognise that they’re complex and a quick fix isn’t going to solve it. And if we try and do a quick fix, we will just be skimming over the surface and not fundamentally changing the support, the prevention work that we can do to help our families. For too long we’ve been the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. We really want to move to be preventing even the need for the ambulance.
Mm. Well, let’s talk about that a bit, because at the moment you’re dealing with a core group of about 20,000 vulnerable kids, and you are going to get involved much earlier now. In essence, the threshold for intervention or help is lowering, so how many more children do you think you’re going to be dealing with as a consequence of that shift?
I think the first thing is it’s not just about who Oranga Tamariki are dealing with; it’s actually, you know, who’s receiving universal help services, who’s interacting with the police. This is a system change; it’s not just about Oranga Tamariki. So we will be dealing with or working to support many more than the 20,000 that come into contact with Oranga Tamariki today.
But you must have an idea of the number in order to plan services, so how many more children do you think you’re going to be dealing with?
I think initially what we will be looking at is the kind of—probably double of that number.
Okay. The Rebstock report said about 76,000, they thought, as a shift. Do you think that’s realistic?
I think it is realistic, yes.
Because the other point is – what happens with the next 10,000 or the 10,000 after that who fall outside of that benchmark for intervention? But they’re still vulnerable; they miss out because there’s a cut-off. How worried are you about those kids?
What I’m really excited about is this is where it’s really key that the community can play its part, because communities touch children all the time – you know, families, sports coaches. And what we’re seeing— And this is one of the reasons, to be honest, that I took this role, because the feeling from the community of wanting to help is incredibly significant this time in New Zealand. So I don’t think any of those kids will not receive support; it’s where they receive it from, and it won’t just be from a government service.
But, say— The likes of Gareth Morgan says that this ultra-targeting is the intensification of discrimination. What’s your response to that? You know, some kids will get help; some kids won’t – from your ministry.
Yeah. The important thing is the right kids get the right help at the right time. And what I do feel is we now have information because we live in a different age than we did 20 years ago.
But does that happen now? Do the right kids get the right intervention at the right time?
Not all the time and not consistently. And that’s what we need to change.
And so you are going to need— With this greater number of children who come into your scope, presumably you’re going to need more social workers to deal with that. So where are you at with that? How many more will you need?
I think we will need more social workers. We will also need more professionals. What we’re finding now—
But social workers – if we can just look at that for the moment.
How many social workers have you got? How many more are you going to need?
We’ve got about 1250 social workers at the moment within Child, Youth and Family. So within the new ministry, Oranga Tamariki, we’ll have about that number to start off with. Then—
You’ve got that right now?
Right now, yeah.
And how many more do you need?
Well, in the community, we also have another 1500 social workers, so we have social workers working in—
No, but within the ministry, how many more are you going to need?
At the minute, the ministry actually funds all of those social workers that are in the community, so we’re actually funding 3000 social workers. How many more we’re going to need will depend on what the needs of the child are, because sometimes the child doesn’t need a social worker. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they need a psychologist.
But have you not done a needs analysis in terms of social-worker numbers? Have you not done that already?
Yes, we do that all the time. All the time.
So does that not tell you how many more you need? Can you not put a figure on it for us?
No, we can’t, because, actually, what we’re finding is practice is always changing and also the tools that people have are always changing. So an example – we’ve just rolled out a social-worker app, which means that social workers can go out, be in the family home, have all the notes, have much less paper, be able to sign—you know, the family can sign things on the day. And what social workers are telling us is that that potentially will save 25% of their time. So in effect, by using the right tools, you can increase the capacity and capability of your current social-worker pool.
But the thing is we’re hearing from social workers at the moment that they are stressed and overworked. They already work above and beyond the hours that they’re contracted for, and, actually, we’ve been told—The Nation understands that you probably need about 50 social workers in Auckland alone. That’s the feedback from your workers. Is that about right? Do you think that number’s realistic?
It could be right, absolutely. So what we’re doing is we’re working with the unions, we’re working with staff all the time to say, ‘What is the optimal number?’ The other thing is that—
‘Could be right’, though? Do you not know if you need 50 more social workers in Auckland?
We could always use 50 more social workers in Auckland. The issue is they need to be the right social workers at the right time in the right place with the right skills and the right tools and support. So it’s not just—You know, it would be—It’s not just about having more and more people; it’s about having the right people doing the right things at the right time, so that’s one of the big changes. It’s about really understanding – at what point do we need to intervene to prevent rather than just being the crisis at the bottom of the cliff?
Yes, and the thing is you have a starting salary of around, what, $45,000, $46,000 for a social worker – as a starting salary. How are you going to attract more of those people to your ministry when it’s a hugely stressful job and the financial reward for that seems pretty low?
Well, there is a scale for social workers.
$45,978 to $77,000 is the figure that we’ve been given.
Okay. And what we’re finding at the moment is that, I mean, a lot of our social workers come to work because they love making a difference and they’re highly motivated to do that. What we’re finding with the changes that we’re making – with that focus away from just crisis management into prevention – I mean, we’re starting to get calls from social workers all across the world, actually, saying, ‘Can we come and work in New Zealand?’
But if that’s the case, you’ve got this situation in Masterton where you can’t fill spots, and I’m assuming there may be other regional areas as well. You’ve got problems…
Yes. Yes, absolutely.
…filling staff positions, getting more social workers. Why not pay them more?
First of all, I do want to acknowledge that in Masterton there has been a challenge, and I think some of the families have been very let down. We need to change that, and we have taken a number of steps to change that, and we’ve actually already increased the number of social workers there. But it’s not just about a social worker; it’s about the right social worker for that community. And we need to take time to have the—
But you’ve no plans to raise wages for the social workers?
We are always in negotiations with social workers and with the unions around salaries.
Would that help you attract people to the job if the remuneration was better?
I think it would be one of the factors that would help. However, talking to the social workers, what they want is they want the capability to give time to families. And if we could do that– And that’s what we’re doing through some of the technology, but also if we could enable them to work earlier in people’s lives, that’s a really big difference for them, and that’s what they want to do.
When you talk about greater levels of intervention and being involved in people’s lives, the minister has told us that out of 3000-odd staff, only 25% actually work with kids. Of those, 15% spend their time with children. So is that the right kind of ratio? What should the face-time be with children and their families?
So the face-time ratio at the minute is between 20% and 25% for all of our social workers.
Is that good enough?
No, no, and that’s why we’re working with our social workers.
What would be the optimum?
I think the optimum is probably maybe around 40%, because there is time for supervision for social workers. There is time in terms of processing. They’re very complex cases. People need time to reflect and document as well.
But doesn’t that bring us back to the original question – in order to get that level of contact, don’t you need more people? More social workers?
Or you could just increase the 25% to 40%, and then you have more contact already.
Okay, so you are also looking to get more carers.
You’re wanting to get around a thousand more carers. So how are you going towards that target? How many more new carers do you have?
Well, what we are doing is working very closely with caregivers and organisations like Foster Care New Zealand. What they’re very clearly saying to us is they have a number of people who would like to be carers. Some of the gaps we have at the minute are actually the support that they require. What we’re finding is there’s a lot more children who have suffered trauma, and people need particular skills to be able to support kids that have suffered trauma. So we’re developing clear packages of support for our caregivers.
But that target of 1000 – we’ve known that for over a year now. So how much closer are you to reaching that? Do you know how many new carers you’ve recruited?
I know that last month we recruited over 60 alone in Auckland, so that’s a good start.
But the overall total? You’re not sure how close you are to—
We are still—We are still a long way away from our thousand.
You’re talking about that wraparound care package so that difficult cases, they get the support, but again, what about money? Carers get, what, about $200 a week, is it?
There’s a number of allowances.
But the baseline payment is about $200 a week. Private carers get around $600 a week, we’re told, so are you going to pay carers more?
The work that we’ve been doing with the carers – they’ve said loud and clear to us that the first priority for them is actually support and training, so we’re working with them on that.
Okay. At the moment, about 50% of the carers that you have are on benefits. So Anne Tolley told us that. What do you think of that?
Well, to be honest, at the minute, the numbers are slightly different. So we’ve actually—there’s a slight decrease in that number in terms of proportion.
Okay, so what is it now?
So it’s just—it’s under the 50%.
Okay, so just under 50.
What do you think of the fact that almost 50% of your carers are on benefits?
What I think’s wonderful is that people are prepared to open their hearts and their homes. What kids have told us very clearly is they want love. And if people can provide love, support and stability and security and safety for those kids, then we should look at anybody who would like to be a carer with the right support.
Absolutely, but I suppose the question I’m asking is that optimal? Because financial pressure and poverty is a significant contributor in families that have issues. So is that optimal, and doesn’t that raise the case to be paying carers more?

I think what’s optimal is a really loving environment, and that’s the first thing we need to look for. That’s what the kids keep telling us they need. They need love, and they need safety. They need security and stability. So that needs to be our primary driver when selecting caregivers.
But carers still need money to put food on the tale and a roof over a person’s head.
Mm-hm, yep.
200 bucks a week – is that enough?
As I say, the caregivers we’re working with are telling us their main priority is the training and support.
Okay, let’s talk about Maori children. They’re two times more likely to come through your door, and it’s accepted that poverty and living in deprived circumstances has a lot to do with that. Your agency is what they’re saying – and I’m now quoting here – “the single point of accountability for vulnerable children.” So what can you do about poverty?
Well, what we are looking at is a far-reaching system change about getting support services to people who need them earlier. So it’s getting people access to employment earlier – we work very closely with our colleagues at MSD – ensuring that people have access to health services, so they can return to work. So the important thing will be to work and to really change the system in terms of how it supports vulnerable New Zealanders.
Mm, but you’re working with a government that won’t even set measurable targets for measuring targets, and that is one of the single biggest contributors to pressure on families.
What the kids have been telling me – the care experience kids have been telling me – is that the single most important thing for them is actually a safe, stable, loving home, and that enables them to realise their potential. So that will be my focus, is the safety of a loving home.
So a lot of what we’ve been talking about arguably comes down to money, and the recommendation in the Rebstock report over the next three Budget years – I think it’s $950-odd million – is redirected from Health and Correction. But that is spending money that you have not yet saved, because your savings don’t come until much further down the track. Some industry people that we’ve talked to are worried that all that’s going to happen is you’re going to be responsible for other departments being underfunded and overstretched. Are you going to be responsible for that?
Well, I do have an accountability for vulnerable children in New Zealand, and that is a new part of the changes to the system, and I am mandated to drive change for those children. The government has in the 2016 budget allocated another $347 million to vulnerable children, so I think that’s a great start.
A start. So how much do you need to finish the job?
To finish the job, we actually need to collaborate. We need to codesign a range of services that we don’t have yet. And that’s what we’re doing at the minute – codesigning services with iwi; codesigning services with community; codesigning services with caregivers. As we go through that codesign, then of course, we will cost it up. But we’ll also test it first, make sure we know what’s working, and then scale it up.
So how confident are you that the money you’re going to need to make this work is going to be available to you?
At the minute, I’m very confident. The money I have got at the moment will get me to where our early milestones are. And then through the codesign process what we will have is we will have robust service models that have been proven to work, and we will make our case for the resources. And what I have seen is the commitment to change the outcomes for vulnerable children in New Zealand. Look, I’ve been inspired and blown away by that commitment.

But if the money is not forthcoming, or you don’t think you’re getting enough, are you going to make noises about that? Are you confident that you can speak out and get what you need?

I think I am—I’ve been supported to say, “You tell us what you think the Ministry needs, Grainne, and we will work to help you.” The other thing I think’s really important is we do have the launch of VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai which is an independent advocacy group for children. So they will be able to express what it is that they need and where the system is working well for them and where the system isn’t working well for them.

Your department now is no longer a social welfare department. It’s a social investment department. So, what is the difference? Can you explain to us what the difference is?

The difference is about moving away from that crisis management, moving away from being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and saying, how do we intervene earlier to support and prevent bad things happening? And how do we ensure that we spend the right money at the right place at the right time for a better outcome for kids?

And as part of that, though, an actuary model, or in simpler terms, a formula, is being worked up to show how much vulnerable children cost us into the future if their lives are not changed, versus what we save if there are positive outcomes. Can you see how that makes people – some people – very uncomfortable?

I can see how it makes people uncomfortable, but I think we really need to look at all the information that tells us what works for kids, and this is one of the pieces of information that tells us what works for kids. We’ve had some really good data around if you intervene in a certain way at a certain time, you get a better outcome, and therefore, we should be rediverting resources to the things that work for kids.

All right, thanks for joining me this morning. Best of luck.

Thank you, Lisa.

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