To be attributed to Chappie Te Kani, Oranga Tamariki Chief Executive.
Oranga Tamariki acknowledges that our residences need significant improvements and as a result has commenced a major change programme focused exclusively on this area. Ensuring that our residences and homes are safe is a top priority for me and Oranga Tamariki.
Today we are releasing the independent external rapid review of Oranga Tamariki secure residences, which provides a thorough assessment of our residences and community homes. The report suggests significant high-level changes and improvements to make these places safer for young people and our staff.
I accept the report and its findings in full. I agree that the problems within the residences and homes cannot be addressed in isolation and Oranga Tamariki is in the process of considering all the reports suggestions.
However, because this involves the safety of young people I didn’t want to wait until this report was completed before taking action. There has already been significant effort and resource redirected towards our residences.
In late-June, at the same time as the review was announced, I stood up an Incident Management Team (IMT) to manage complaints, allegations, triage issues and to get urgent work and change underway.
This involved quickly establishing a report line to collect allegations and complaints – ensuring the immediate safety of tamariki and rangatahi, and that action is taken to investigate where necessary.
From the 19th of June 2023 the report line received 46 complaints or allegations involving staff potentially causing harm to young people in care. These complaints ranged from inappropriate language, to supplying contraband to the more serious alleged physical and sexual assaults.
Some of the complaints were historic dating back to 2015. Of the 46 complaints, 28 were referred to Police for investigation. The remainder have been dealt with as employment matters.
We have continued to work with Police to investigate the most serious of these allegations, including the two incidents of sexually inappropriate behaviour that led me to commission the review in the first place. We have worked closely with the rangatahi involved and their whānau to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
22 kaimahi have been removed from our residences since 1 June 2023. There have since been three staff members charged by the New Zealand Police for offences under the Crimes Act 1961.
Additional actions taken since I announced the review include:
- Adding additional leadership with substantial social work experience to have day to day oversight of the Residences and Homes.
- Formal and independent debriefs for significant incidents such as rooftop incidents to ensure that there is a lessons learned approach.
- A leadership reset with all senior Residence leaders to ensure all staff understand the expectations of care for all tamariki and rangatahi and are getting the support they need to deliver that care.
Complaints and Allegations Process:
- Establishment of a triage panel including senior leaders from social work, HR and Employment Relations to conduct preliminary assessments of all allegations and complaints received through the IMT and determine necessity and avenues for investigation including referrals to Police.
- Working with senior Grievance Panel members to work on a new process for young people in care to report or make complaints. The new process was consulted with rangatahi and a range of stakeholders and will be piloted in three residences in early October.
Health and Safety:
- Strengthening security at our residences to ensure the safety of rangatahi. This has also involved a complete refurbishment of all units in Korowai Maanaki and completion of a soft furnishings national roll out.
- Strengthened vetting processes for all staff, implementing new recruitment processes and review of drug and alcohol policies.
- We have new processes for handling medication, use of search powers, prevention of self harm, and responding to incidents involving violence.
Whilst the immediate actions we have taken are beginning to address these issues, I recognise there is substantially more work to be done.
It is also clear that there is an urgent need to ensure our approach to residences and group homes is fully integrated within the organisation’s change programme. Mike Bush’s review offers a logical approach to how this can be achieved.
To ensure that the momentum of change continues, as well as continuing to lead the residence group until December 2023, I have asked Mike Bush to stay on in a governance capacity and be the independent Chair of the Transformation Governance Group to support the Leadership team through this next critical phase of change into 2024.
Most importantly, I want to acknowledge the rangatahi and tamariki who have been or continue to be cared for in our residences. You deserve the very best of our care and support.
The review reinforces the voices of many rangatahi who have called for change, who have asked to be understood in the context of their whakapapa and who have bravely shared their own experiences so that things can be different.
My leadership team and I are committed to making sure your voices are at the centre of how we respond, both now and into the future.