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Why the CYF Complaints Authority is Needed

The Petition for an Independent Complaints Authority for Child Youth & Family, (CYF) New Zealand

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What Exists at Present,
What we request, and Why?

Last updated 31st September 2010 12.00am NZST

Please Note: The Petition is Closed
The debate and need for change continues.

We are not the only people who have concerns about the new and current Chief Executive's Advisory Panel. There was a media release from Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First, on 12 March 2009 with the heading "CYF Complaints Authority Fails Miserably" which from his experience Graeme agreed with, and published here.

What many people may not realize is that Graeme is not the first person to go through the new Chief Executive's Advisory Panel system and have a win of sorts. He has no problem with the people on the panel itself, nor the concept of an Advisory Panel, but here in lie the problems:

The last time people called for an independent complaints authority, we somehow ended up with a Chief Executive's Advisory Panel instead, and this was done with very little or any public consultation. We do not wish to see that happen again.

The public must not be lead to believe that any changes or system resulting from this initiative is close to what they want and as good as they were asking for. Nothing less than a fully independent system can ever be satisfactory, nor can anything less than this, as history has shown us, be workable, fair and just to both clients and CYF.

Because of the wordiness within the first and second drafts of the petition, we removed a lot of text that would otherwise have made the Petition itself very hard to read and grasp the intent of.

There remains however one section that we believe deserves mentioning here. A section about, the need for "independent auditing of Child Youth and Family Services or other strategies for ensuring quality child protection services."

This was raised by and put to the political parties, the responses or lack thereof you can read in PDF format here, in reply to to Question 32.
We totally support this concept.

The Children's Commissioner:

People also believe that under the Children's Commissioner Act 2003 No 121, that the Commissioner can help with CYF issues in relation to children. We have approached the Commissioner's office in the past only to be informed that if it is before the family court they can't intervene.

On another occassion we were told they can help children but not parents. We know of others who have had the same response. To date we are unaware of the Children's Commissioner actually helping address issues with CYF and children in their care. We welcome a response from the Office of the Commissioner if this is incorrect in their view.  Read More

The Social Workers Registration Board:

We were also feed a line about the benefits of the Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). I think it fair to say they have done little, if anything to change or improve things at CYF. I mean CYF are one of, if not the largest Social Services agency, yet when CYF make mistakes, they seem to be out of the boards reach when you want to call them into question.

The SWRB charge enough in fees yet the standards of social work practice do not seem to have improved greatly for all the rigmarole one has to go through to get registration. When you consider that we have the SWRB, and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW), codes of conduct/ethics and the State Services Standard of integrity as guidelines for all CYF staff, yet it all means diddly squat in reality.  Read more

Real life Examples of Why this is needed:

People having neighbourly or family arguments have in the past used the anonymous system in what can only be described as a vindictive and malicious manner. Partners have used their children as pawns during custody disputes to get back at each other in the same way.

Graeme has heard people say, "If I can't get the kids back I will make sure they don't either." This has happened quite a few times. He has seen this with both mothers and fathers. Grandparents and the extended family can suffer as a result which is really gut wrenching for all. This creates more victims and pain.

Even CYF would agree, that they are peeved when played like this, as it is a waste of their time and resources, and in the mean time they could be investigating real cases.

Children and teenagers have been interviewed without a person known and trusted by them being present. It has been alleged that leading questions and statements have been asked to coerce a response under duress. Some children/teenagers are easily intimidated to get a response, how can that be fair.

I understand why the family court has a lower burden of proof, and does not rely on innocent until proven guilty. Because if they waited until they got that evidence the child would be in more danger and possibly injured or worse in the mean time. With CYF the child's safety must be paramount.

The biggest problem I have seen is best summed up by the Press Release from the Sensible Sentencing Trust put out on Monday, 29 June 2009, 9:01 am, headed "CYF's inconsistency raises credibility issues." You can read about it here

There seems to be no logical reasons for some of the decisions made as the article relates them. Not only that, but if you watch my videos here, there are more examples of CYF inconsistencies, like a person previously found guilty of child abuse being given care of children. Granted people can and do change with the right help, when they have the desire at heart to do so, but this does not explain the greater error in regard to the "The List" and so on.

Neither does it explain how, knowing the public perception in giving a convicted abuser care of children would bring the agency into disrepute, can be an acceptable practice.

I have personally witnessed the differences in the way in which people are treated while assisting people. I can not believe the differences. There is however one plausible explanation for this and the reason why we want independent witnesses at meetings if clients desire.

"Like in any other organisations there is the potential for vigilante renegades with their own agenda who want to purge the world of bad parents," (that's a quote from a Social Worker at CYF)

In some cases, people are cast into a self fulfilling prophecy. For Example, if you up lift a child, and the parents get upset, which would be a normal and natural reaction of any parent and then use this moment as evidence, claiming that this proves they are mentally unstable, is that right? Of course it is not.

Yet this did happen to Billy and Michelle Carter which you can read about here for the rest of the story and see part of the story under "Brit Social worker"

This is not a one off case, people with Mental heath issues have been victimised and cast as unstable by the way CYF have approach them. While other people without mental health issues have been terrified by CYF, as you can see in the video of the "Family Torn Apart" when most of the family fled the country in fear of CYF.

The fact is Social workers like all of us suffer from one main frailty, they are human and like all humans, are not prefect. They can overreact, make mistakes and be sexist, racist and not treat all people as equal which is the ideal. Our past can cloud our judgment and if we are not careful affect our practice. I have seen this happen and not deliberately I might add in some cases. We all have baggage but when it constantly affects our work in a detrimental way we become dangerous.

While CYF give their workers supervision to review such matters, it only works as long as people are open and honest or even aware of issues. Some have said CYF, can't see the woods for the trees, and their departmentalism and culture in their system hardly helps this as they are more like a secret society accountable to themselves only.

Another possible solution if independent witnesses are not available then CYF should offer to record the interview if the client wishes, which can be done on a Dictaphone if needed. Or say to the client they can record it themselves while CYF take hand written notes. That hardly seems like too much effort and might save a lot of trouble and extra work if it needed to be reviewed.

Provincial Panels

Some reading this might think it's asking to much, however we already have Provincial Care and Protection Resource Panels (CPRP)   However some of these panels have been criticised for suffering from nepotism and cronyism and being far from neutral. This would be something to be wary of if we extend their powers to also look into complaints locally. Given these panels should have known about the uplifts they are already bound by the privacy agreement and should have in depth knowledge of the case.

One main issue that stands out in relation to the Care and Protection Panels is this. If the panels are aware of the uplifts and placements that have been proven to be wrong, how can they really be a safeguard, if that is their function? One member told me they are only as good as the information they are given, bad information can equal a bad judgment call.

While the Paediatric Society of New Zealand said in their Submission to the Select Committe Considering the CYF Amendment Bill No.6,

“The experience of members of the Society has been:

CPRP function to "rubber-stamp" decisions already made by social workers.
Recommendations made at CPRP to social workers are often ignored.
When CPRP are seen to be functioning well, it is usually as providers of ideas about community resources that may be accessible to the social worker. They seldom participate meaningfully in decisions about investigation.
The Social Worker can present a case at any time through the investigation process. Presentation just prior to closure of the case is common and limits the usefulness of panel feedback.
For these reasons, many Paediatricians and other experienced medical practitioners have resigned from CPRP. In most parts of New Zealand, they no longer sit on them.”

PSNZ Submission to the Select Committee Considering the CYFAmendment Bill No.6 - April 2008

The document is worth reading and can be downloaded from this page; Look for the document
PSNZ Submission to the Select Committee Considering the CYFAmendment Bill No.6 - April 2008.

Another problem with the Care & Protection Resource panels.

The Panels can be sacked by the CYF managers, an example of this happened in Tauranga back in February 2007. You can read about that here  

This seems to say that if the Care & Protection Resource panels really do there job and hold CYF Staff accountable they can be labelled as to confrontational, to critical and will be dismissed.

Again we see proof that no matter which way things go CYF can get themselves off the hook, and remain unaccountable. As another example from the same article of how CYF can get it so wrong, acting in what seems to be an unlawful manner and still get away with it here is a good quote: "… the panel still ended up being expected to rubber stamp cases that had been already closed, contrary to the Act, which requires the panel to provide advice on all notifications"

This perception and understanding that the Care & Protection Resource Panels are but a "rubber stamp" is a recurring on going issue, and given the public don't normally get to hear what happens within these panels, what little we now know is very worrying to many.

These actions by CYF Tauranga, again points to nepotism and cronyism. How bad is that? Is that truly the action of an Agency that cares and desires to correct any problems that might be causing others distress, or harm in any manner?

Family Group Conferences FGC,s or ForeGone Conclusions

CYF, Family Group Conference Coordinators choose who and what information makes it to the FGC, which has some inherent floors, as people can be excluded at the will of the Coordinator or because the wider family was not notified a child is in care or even been told a FGC will be happening by CYF or anyone else.

The Coordinator screens the information to be presented and their decision seems to be unchallengeable. If you complain to CYF management the response is generally along the lines of, "they can not direct a FGC Coordinator," because it is said to be an independent role within CYF. Clearly then any FGC Coordinator can alone make or break a FGC and predetermine its outcome from these factors alone.

For that reason we believe care and protection coordinators should be answerable to the Care and Protection resource panels, if a dispute breaks out about what's relevant and who should attend the FGC. That means clients would need to be made aware of who to see if matters arise. We have also found that CYF have sometimes ignored their own guidelines on running FGC's.

There have been a few cases where it has been alleged CYF told some shocking whoppers and threatened people during the process in order to get them to agree a child is in need of care. Whatever is said at a FGC can not be taken out of the room under any circumstances, even if I said I killed someone nothing could be done with that confession!

I don't believe the FGC processes should be used to threaten people or for CYF to get away with unethical behavior nor should it be used for this. If CYF say during a FGC, the family had better agree the child is in need of care and Protection or we will restrict access and possibly move the child out of the area for safety, to me , that's blackmail. If facts are misrepresented or statements made to paint a far worse picture and coerce the family into agreeing there is a problem, and the child is in need of care, that's unethical, abuse of the system, the family and the child. Yet this has happened, and Graeme can publicly state this because he is not giving away specific details that might identify others, but is speaking to educate people.

If a family does not agree a child is in need of care and Protection the FGC ends at that point and matters go to the court. Consequently some only agree the child is in need under duress because they can't get a lawyer and if they agree on a plan they have more chance at getting a say in the child's life, and retaining contact with that child.

As you are aware if they don't agree the child is in need of care and protection it goes to court and CYF have the upper hand with better resources. While the family court lawyer's availability is not a CYF issue, it does impact on these matters and disadvantages the family's chance of getting a good hearing and justice. You can read about the FGC process here

Employed or contracted to CYF

The reason why we say staff employed or contracted to CYF is because some people say the care and protection coordinator who runs the FGC is not considered by some to be a social worker. The fact they are called coordinator and not Social workers is self explanatory by the title. Therefore as a coordinator they are not bound by the Social worker standards and come under a different category and a lesser standard some claim.

Some managers are just that, they are not social workers and believe they are exempt from the codes of conduct in their role, that needs to be addressed, are they exempt or not?

Given a manager can over rule a Social worker and can make decisions that impact on the child and family this issue really needs to be addressed.

Why CYF should want this.

Firstly CYF get bagged all the time in the media, for what they do, or in some cases don't and for their inconsistency and blunders, and believe me I have only highlighted a few of the many we can actually prove, or talk about.

CYF seem dismissive from the interviews I have seen and uploaded as aforementioned. They are often short on answers but great on the rhetoric, which are the classic traits of a deflector and spin doctor. While with the current system if a complaint is made and CYF is cleared by the CE Advisory panel it means very little because it not truly independent.

Members of the public can't get in touch with the panel unless they go thought the CEO; while the panel can only advise when invited to and report back to the CEO who has the final say. With all due respect to the Panel and those who make up it's members, this is not a workable system. For the result is still the same, with the CEO having the final authority, then it is CYF policing CYF.

We want CYF to have a good reputation for getting it right, as a place to go to for help and be seen as part of the solution not the problems of dealing with child abuse. While it is fair to say any agency that does a job like CYF have to will never be popular, they don't do themselves any favours in the way things have gone since they were brought into existence. The fact is CYF only exist because child abuse does, and so some call them a necessary evil, on some blogs. Other says the cure (CYF) is worse then cause and so on.

Well I don't agree with that at all. It's a pity that some of the very good social workers get tarred with the same brush as those who being the department into disrepute.

Court appointed, psychologists

I have some confess they were lead up the garden path when doing an assessment, like with CPRP the CYF reports given to them beforehand were slanted towards an opinion which clouded their judgment.One psychologist said, "it is a theory not a science," another psychologist rubbished this claim and therein is the problem. Two people can see the same person and have two different opinions

So it seems that CYF can not be held accountable to the codes of ethics/conducts, they can stack the deck with the CPRP, by feeding them unchallengeable views to rubber stamp, and then front up with a psychologists report to justify it all after the facts if needed. The only possible avenue of defence is your day in the family court with a defendant hearing. Provided that is you can get a lawyer, which can be in short supply, while those on legal aid get theirs on time.

Personal Statement.

We want CYF to have a good reputation for getting it right, as a place to go to for help and be seen as part of the solution not the problems of dealing with child abuse. While its fair to say any agency that does the work that CYF do will never be popular, they don't do themselves any favours in the way that the same or similar errors are repeated, with apparently no desire to correct procedures and practices so that such does not continually happen.

The fact is CYF only exist because child abuse does and while some people call them a necessary evil, and others say the cure (CYF) is worse then cause. We do not agree with that at all. It is a pity that some very good social workers get tarred with the same brush as those who bring the department into disrepute. It is a greater pity and should be an even greater concern that many social workers, leave the agency because of the errors they see carried out, supported and then repeated.

I became a qualified Social worker because one of CYF's own challenged me by saying, "if you had the training you would understand why we do what we do better." Well I have done the training and still don't get it.

According to CYF my training was not that good so I guess that's their excuse for me not getting it and a little dig at me for being outspoken about them. I have had CYF Social Workers tell me I need to learn to read, write and spell correctly, to be taken seriously before trying to tell them how to do their jobs. I have been told what I should breed with and why and how this could be done. A few asked me if I like sex and travel, which is one of the many ways the self-proclaimed higher qualified and better educated people than myself suggested I go get lost LOL.

Through other family members I have had dealings with CYF and witnessed their uncompromising attitudes and how they can't see how badly they treat people or come across. I have no ill feeling towards CYF, as this is about the children and what many others over time have pointed out are the problems with CYF, as I see them.

In the past others have claimed that this is just my attitude toward CYF. That it is a matter of sour grapes at not being employed. So let's set the record straight here and now.

For years there has been a public outcry for CYF to be truly held accountable. This has not only been from me, but as the above documentation shows; numerous other organisations and individuals. Any search on Google or other search engines clearly shows all these are but a scratch on the surface of the on going problems with the same and similar errors continually being perpetrated through the agency, its practices and procedures. Which can only remove all doubt; there are problems which need to be addressed urgently.

CYF have continually refused to address these procedures and practices. Despite numerous complaints every year. The most disturbing fact in this however is not that CYF cannot see and will not correct the errors, but the harm that has been done. The further harm that will continue to be done to New Zealand Children, Youth and Families, before the errors are corrected.

Finally this documentation has not been written by someone claiming to have all the answers, far from it. But rather as a qualified Social Worker and Advocate for well over 10years with a passion to see people treated fairly and justly. One who has extensive experiences with CYF on a number of cases beyond that.

The problems need to be sorted and the errors corrected, not because Graeme says so, not because any other individual or organization says so. Indeed not because so many others within New Zealand and elsewhere say so.

But for Our Children, Youth and Families. Perhaps then, people will be more willing to approach CYF for the help and the advice they often need but are at present fearful of seeking, having heard and read the horror stories of continual errors and the abuse perpetrated through them.

That said it is certain that the Ministry of Social Development will have an answer for it all. Which no doubt will probably be as it has been in the past, shoot the messenger, and the problem will disappear, for a while.


Please Note: The Petition is Closed
The debate and need for change continues.

Graeme has asked for feedback and collaboration from a number of other people, and welcomes your feedback or input, this document is therefore living, evolving and will change with each successive update.

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