Wednesday, January 31, 2024

John MacDonald: Message to OT: don't promise what you can't deliver

There’ll be no shortage of people lining up today to bag Oranga Tamariki. But I won’t be one of them.

They’ve just put out their latest safety report which says that, in the year to June 2023, just under 10% of kids in its care were harmed.

This is up from about 5.5% five years ago.

And it follows the news last week that our child welfare agency doesn’t really know whether the kids in its care are going to the doctor or the dentist regularly or not.

And so, today, Oranga Tamariki is making all the right noises about the stats in its new report. It’s saying that it’s “horrendous and absolutely unacceptable” that kids are being harmed under its watch.

Which it has to say, doesn't it? Can you imagine the caning it would get if it came out and said, “what this latest report shows, is that just over 90% of kids in our care aren’t being harmed”.

Of course, it wouldn’t say something like that.

But if Oranga Tamariki thinks it’s going to turn the ship around and eradicate any harm being caused to the kids it cares for, then it’s in la-la land - just as much as the ill-informed people who think if Oranga Tamariki doesn’t have a 100% success rate then it’s a basket case.

Now I’m not an apologist for OT in any way, shape or form. And I know that if any of my kids had ended up on their books and came to harm in some way, then I’d be coming down on them like a tonne of bricks. I know I would.

But I think part of its problem is that some people running the place seem to have forgotten that it’s a child welfare agency and run it as if it’s some sort of professional development outfit.

There’s no shortage of people there rushing off on courses and people doing their PhDs and being sent-off to cultural competency classes. There’s also no shortage of big internal projects that just suck up people’s time and energy.

And, like anywhere, some of these projects are more critical than others.

But they can have the finest IT systems in the world, and they can have the best indoor-outdoor flow at its residences, but there are always going to be statistics and aspects of its performance that will never meet whatever expectations we might have of our child welfare agency.

The only way Oranga Tamariki would be able to get things right every time would be if it was run by robots and if it was looking after robots.

But it’s not. It’s run by people, looking after other people. And these people that it looks after, come from the most dysfunctional and tragic backgrounds.

There’s all sorts of abuse and trauma. Absolutely horrifying stuff. Which must be so hard for the frontline people at Oranga Tamariki who deal with this stuff day-in day-out, to compartmentalise and not take home with them at night. I couldn’t do it.

These are the same people who must feel like they’re under constant attack when the outfit they work for seems to be in the news all the time for cocking things up.

Because it happens. OT makes mistakes. It cocks things up. And it will always cock things up. I wish it was different, of course I do.

But we’re talking here about an organisation that gets 70,000-to-80,000 calls every year from people who think a child might be in danger. When you’re dealing with those numbers, of course you’re going to fail.

Of course, there are going to be slip ups. I’m not saying it’s good enough. But, sadly, it’s inevitable.

And then, once those thousands of calls of concern have all been gone through and once the kids end up in the system, there will be slip ups again.

Maybe the caregiver who looked so good on paper, turns out to be a disaster. Yes, OT needs to do everything to make sure the people they’re placing these kids with aren’t disasters. But it won’t get it right every time.

Maybe a child placed in residential care turns out to be far more emotionally damaged than first thought and they should be living somewhere more appropriate, so they don’t end up harming someone. Yes, OT needs to prevent that happening. But it won’t get it right every time.

Oranga Tamariki itself needs to accept that, and not fall into the trap of promising something it will never deliver. And we need to accept that.

John MacDonald is the Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch. This article was first published HERE


Anonymous said...

Isn’t there a practice of returning damaged Maori children to where they came from, for cultural purity? Better than have some one with education and integrity and a white skin bring up a Maori child.

Basil Walker said...

Actually I do not think John Mc Donald has a clue about the OT Issues . A radio shock jock having a crack at OT staff while pretending to be cncerned . Listen to Hon Karen Chour from ACT as she has focussed on the real problems of OT and it is about caring and loving a child who unfortunately is in OT care.