CSIA visits the new Oranga Tamariki head office in Wellington

Travelling to the Land of the Long White Cloud you might expect to see snow-capped mountains, watch the All Blacks play, see cultural exhibitions or just check out the beautiful scenery.

Not so for us as we headed over for an entirely different reason, to visit the new Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children) in Wellington. Over three packed days we were given access to the people behind the reforms underway across their child and family services space.  We walked away with a range of insights about their reform process and how they created a burning platform for change.

What was also exciting is that they wanted to speak further about our own Commissioning for Outcomes work and how they may incorporate some of the concepts into their new ways of operating.

Oranga Tamariki, New Zealand’s Ministry for Children – where they started

Just like Queensland, some of New Zealand’s vulnerable children are living with high disadvantage and deprivation. They experience the combined impacts of long-term unemployment, resulting low levels of income, unaddressed physical and mental health needs, parental alcohol and drug addiction, and family violence. Many children also have their own complex needs arising from experiences of trauma as well as physical, learning, intellectual, and mental health disabilities.

Across New Zealand there are about 60,000 child protection notifications each year. Currently about 6,300 children are in statutory care and more than 7,000 are on voluntary agreements or progressing through family group conferencing arrangements.

The New Zealand Government stepped up in response to concerns about trajectories of children and young people in out of home care. Three years ago, the then Minister for Children convened an Expert Panel consisting of industry and government representatives to review the existing out of home care system, who together presented their findings back to back to Government.

The Expert Panel report was comprehensive. It set out recommendations for the future legislative framework, a new operating model for child, youth and family services, including the structures and future investments needed to provide better lives for New Zealand’s children and young people and their families. 

The recommendations have been transformational, enabling a generational change across the systemic management of child and family services. Two years on, new legislation has been passed and an independent Ministry for Children (Oranga Tamariki) was established earlier this year. This Ministry was given the mandate to implement the new operating model from the report, which places greater emphasis at the edges of the care system. They predict this will double the current investment envelope, with 50 per cent of this increase directed toward industry service delivery.

It’s fair to say that while there are similarities between our out of home care service systems, this report and approach has opportunities and learnings for this side of the Tasman Sea.

And from this trip we bring you five key observations about the New Zealand approach that have implications for the Community Services Industry.

1. Connections of First Nations People

Across New Zealand the levels of overrepresentation of Maori and Pacific children exceed 75 per cent. To tackle this issue, the New Zealand Government made a transformational statutory commitment to intentionally privilege Maori and IWI (Maori community and/or tribe) service providers, over traditional competitive procurement processes. This was in recognition of the inherent authority, knowledge, traditions and practices of New Zealand’s first peoples.

The government’s investment process will work closer with the Maori and Iwi service providers to develop the best outcomes-focussed approach to the different local needs.

This distributed investment model will consist of layers of local, regional and national services responding to both local needs, strengths and priorities.

Once Maori and Iwi providers have nominated their role and intention in service delivery, then the wider industry are engaged at various levels to support the delivery of any market gaps.

The approach provides opportunities to leverage local expertise, supplement with other services, and better hold both Government and community accountable for the outcomes experienced by those who are voiceless.

There is great insight for our industry in this distributed leadership model, including:

  • influencing the way organisations approach partnership arrangements
  • in acknowledging the role and authority of First Nations People and service providers
  • committing to a shared leadership approach to child centred collective service provision.

At its centre are the partnership principals of trust, mutual accountability and co-creation.

2. Data collection is critical

We know the importance of understanding the role of data in being able to quantify the size of a problem, the parameters of a service stream or even the scope of investment. It’s less common for us to be able to quantify and map the unique experiences, service pathways and life outcomes of the people receiving our services.

The New Zealand Government has been able to utilise its Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) initiative to predict the trajectory of children in out of home care. By tracking historical evidence and projecting forward drawing on these trends, they’ve concluded that the best outcomes are achieved for children who have three or less placements during their period of out of home care.

The new operating model has been designed to keep children from exceeding three placements by heavily investing in:

  • the edges of the statutory care system, both in early intervention (child first interventions not necessarily family-based)
  • transition preparedness, which will commence at first day of care.

3. Core commitment to outcomes

During this trip, I hosted a briefing on the CSIA’s industry-led Commissioning for Outcomes model and approach. The Ministry for Children were particularly interested in our work and how it could be applied to the investment outcome framework they are working with industry to develop.

They were enthusiastic about CSIA’s approach to the outcomes design work under the special homelessness and intensive foster care investment streams of investment. The Ministry team specifically highlighted the value of our systems excellence framework and industry readiness tools.

The New Zealand Government has had demonstrated commitment to outcomes-based investment under its Ministry of Social Development for some time, particularly in employment and income assistance programs.

4. Service users experience embedded in service design

As part of the Expert Panel Review, several young people and adults with a personal care experience were employed to participate in the secretariat, and a range of engagement mechanisms.

Their personal reflections and expertise formed a critical component of the review and the systemic reforms recommended as part of the new legislation. This is an untapped opportunity for our Community Service Industry to consider for service design and delivery.

After meeting with the Ministry for Children it’s evident that there is room for leadership across our industry to genuinely create more inclusive employment pathways for those with lived experience to guide and inform our organisation’s design and delivery of community services.

5. The key elements to implementation

Creating this new investment framework and bringing forth the voice of the First Peoples is just the start of the reform work in New Zealand.

As a nation, they have a strong historical precedent for recognising Maori leadership and authority. This can be seen from as far back as the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi through to the strong current bipartisan leadership amongst the political elite and government officials. They have been working together to make changes to child protection and youth justice legislation, as well as the development of a new child focus ministry and operating model. It’s even evident in the Child Wellbeing Strategy (for all New Zealand children) led from the office of the Prime Minister.

A key theme we saw on this trip is that the life outcomes for New Zealand’s most vulnerable children and young people is front and centre of the government’s broader social and economic inclusion agenda.

This focus comes out in the deliberately strength-based language used across all their work, moving away from a more traditional punitive system.

And to create system change, all parties need to be on the same page. Every government official and industry leader we encountered had a consistent leadership commitment to the new reform. From this, new levers have been identified and embedded not only in legislation, but in the operating model for the Ministry for Children.

Finally, there was the acknowledgement that new investment will be required to deliver the intent of reforms. There was commitment from across government to a new national, regional and local approach to collaborative industry partnerships.

I know you will appreciate with me that the translation of policy/program design to implementation is always the hardest nut to crack.

I am encouraged by the insights gleaned from the courageous New Zealand reform experience. It’s good to be reminded that the best implementation approach and design processes enable all stakeholders to grow imaginative and fit for purpose solutions. We saw a firm focus on the program and investment outcomes, and a keen understanding and clarification on what components needs to be tight and what can be loose.

Interested in learning more about the New Zealand community services landscape?

Three years ago, CSIA hosted a study tour to New Zealand for executive leaders from our foundation membership. The tour focused on the emerging social outcomes investment and economic inclusion policy agenda, and the evolving role of the Community Services Industry across New Zealand. Highlights included briefings with the then Treasurer, Ministries for Children and Social Development, and leaders of large IWI, HAPU and Maori organisations and key reflective workshops.

The study tour has been referred by many industry participants as being a significant driver for change in their own organisations, as well as a critical time of forming new strategic industry relationships.