Linda’s message about the caregiving changes

Linda Surtees, CEO of Fostering Kids NZ, says the new system must honour the need for children to have stable homes.

On April 1st, we entered a new chapter in New Zealand’s caregiving community.

Child, Youth and Family was replaced by the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki, as part of Social Development Minister Anne Tolley’s sweeping reforms of the sector.

For many of us in the fostering and permanent caregiving community – change can’t come soon enough.

Our members often tell us that in the past their biggest struggles have been, not with the children in their care, but a broken system that does not meet the needs of our children and young people. The problem has been so bad in some cases – that caregivers have given up the role – telling us they are sick of battling bureaucracy.

The new Ministry is promising to change all that, redesigning the service to put the child at the centre of every decision it makes.

The early signs are promising – with the establishment of a Non Government Organisation – VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai – designed to give care experienced children and young people a direct line of communication with decision makers.

We fully support the child centred approach – good caregivers understand instinctively all children need to feel heard.

We also believe there is another part of this complex jigsaw, that must not be forgotten as we enter a new age.

In order to be successful – children have a fundamental need to form strong bonds with significant adults in their lives. This is known as ‘secure attachment’, it is more than a bond and has lifelong impacts.

Children in stable homes have a huge advantage because their caregivers give them the sense of stability and security which is essential to navigate the outside world. Children who’ve suffered the trauma of abuse, neglect and separation often struggle to attach in a healthy way. Misunderstanding the effects of this often results in them being labelled as ‘bad kids.’ They are not bad – but our failure to help them has been.

At Fostering Kids NZ, we believe that children need to be healed in care – not simply held in care. Our hope for the new system is a high level of training and support to ensure our caregivers are providing therapeutic homes. We talk a lot about attachment – because we see just how transformational it is for a child to feel safe and loved at home – and how damaging it is to be repeatedly moved.

Far too often, the old system failed to foster healthy attachments – with children in care going though an average of eight placements before a permanent home was found.

The new system – if it is to be successful – needs to honour not only the voice of the child – but their fundamental need to have a stable home – and form strong attachments.

No one is denying – this is tough work.

We believe efforts to heal family relationships should be swift and comprehensive – when it serves the best interests of the child. Taking a child into care should only happen when it is absolutely necessary for the wellbeing of the child or young person.  But, when we do have to do this, we should pull out all the stops to ensure they are raised in a loving and stable home.

As a group – foster and permanent caregivers are skilled at avoiding conflict and staying calm. It is something we learn dealing with hurt children struggling in a system that often does not have the ability to give them what they need.

But, we also know when it is important to draw a line in the sand.

This is one of those moments in history.

As a society we need to stop our children passing from home to home – giving them a chance to heal – by providing stability.

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