A twitter thread by @EmilyK100
The ombudsman’s report has now been now released about the handling of Malachi Subecz’s case. Between that and media reporting, we are learning more about the circumstances that led to his tragic death. These facts raise many questions in relation to decision-making at the often called ‘front door’ of the child protection system, as well as wider reflections on the broader system. What often happens in cases of child death is a sense of outrage, media frenzy and a growing ‘collective emotion’: in the aftermath this collective emotion generates a pendulum swing towards more risk averse decisions, an increase in screen-ins, a call for more or mandatory reporting, and more investigations and child removals. Of course we should be emotional, we should be horrified to learn of what Malachi suffered and his family’s best efforts to get him help. But unfortunately reforms in response to sentinel events are seldom durable, often ill-focussed, and can have significant unintended consequences.
There is currently a movement within Oranga Tamariki to devolve power and resources to hapū and iwi, alongside and together with devolvement to local communities. The focus is on a new system that is ‘locally led, centrally enabled’
This direction is shaped by the multiple reviews, inquiries and reforms over the last 3 years, particularly the Waitangi Tribunal findings, which recommended the child welfare system apparatus move away from a ‘notify-investigate’ system to one that is radically different in terms of structure, aims, powerholders and resource distribution. Calls to create meaningful partnerships with iwi and hapū were reiterated as a method to achieve this (they were already required under the 2019 amendments to the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989). Returning to regional and community-based commissioning of services, focussed on earlier prevention and local decision-making, are at the forefront of the change. These directions are similar to those happening elsewhere in the globe, where the weight of the deep inequities reflected in child welfare systems are calling attention to the inherent problems of focussing only on children in societies highly structured by class, ethnicity and gender; where to do so creates artificial and often harmful distinctions between what children need and what the adults who care for them need; and where the power connected to statute distorts relationships and challenges participatory practice. (for example, see the US debate here, the Australian debate outlined here Tied up with this is recognition of the long reach of colonisation and its repercussions today.
Anita Gibbs (Associate Professor, University of Otago) is a longstanding social worker, teacher, researcher and advocate for young people with FASD and their families. In 2020 she received the Universities New Zealand ‘Critic and Conscience of Society’ award for her outstanding work in this area. Anita is currently undertaking research with caregivers and stakeholders on the topic of living well with FASD across the lifespan.