Why Scotland can improve outcomes for New Zealand’s children in care

Following his recent visit to Scotland, Ken McIntosh, Principal of New Zealand’s Central Regional Health School, was so inspired by the Scottish system and our services for young people that he wrote a guest blog for CYCJ.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending time with Claire Lightowler and her colleagues at the Centre of Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ). I was in Scotland to visit CYCJ, HMYOI Polmont and Kibble Education and Care Centre as part of my professional development for 2016.

My role in New Zealand is Principal of Central Regional Health School (CRHS). CRHS was established in 2000 to ensure students who were unwell continued to access the curriculum. Initially most students presented with physical illnesses. This has changed to the stage now where up to 60% of students have a mental health diagnosis. Programmes are delivered in a variety of places ranging from the student’s home through to specialist units and the student’s school. In addition CRHS also delivers the education programmes at Te Au rere a te Tonga (a 30 bed secure Youth Justice facility for 14 to 17 year olds) and Epuni Care and Protection Residence (a 10 bed secure care and protection residence for 10 to 16 year olds). Both residences are operated by Child Youth and Family (CYF) – the Government Agency responsible for children in care. It is the work we do in these residences that prompted my visit to Scotland.

CYF has been restructured 14 times between 1998 and 2008 with reviews spanning 1988 to 2015. The Expert Panel Report: Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families released in April this year served to address long-standing issues.

Significant changes have been signalled in the report. These include a new operating model with a single point of accountability and children at the centre of system, interventions based on evidence of what works, direct purchasing of services and a broader remit than the current CYF; the age of care (increasing it to 18 with options to go to 21, and in some cases to 25) and  investigating increasing the youth justice age; a new structure and leadership model; a new advocacy service; a caregiver recruitment strategy; workforce development; changes to legislation and the oversight functions of the Children’s Commissioner and Vulnerable Children’s Board.

During my visit and discussions, I limited myself to four major areas – advocacy, partnership, communication and transition – and all under the umbrella of child centred practice. These are key to how CRHS works in the two residences, and how the school will work when the new model is implemented over the next five years.

The contrast between what I saw in Scotland and what is happening in New Zealand was striking. Clearly for there to be such major changes planned in the New Zealand system we have a situation that needs to change. The parts of the Scottish system gave me an insight into what our system might contain over the next five years.

At Polmont YOI the quality of leadership, shared vision, communication within the team, programmes focused on the young people being engaged and achieving success was so clearly evident. The mantra Unlocking potential: transforming lives underpins everything that I saw.

On my second day I was privileged to spend time talking to Claire and other members of the team at CYCJ. Having this opportunity to discuss what has happened, is happening and the plans for the future gave me hope that here in New Zealand the changes ahead for children in care can be successful. To have a group of skilled people dedicated to considering all things to do with youth justice, and to have that group supported by the government and a university, is so logical, practical and I believe effective. In New Zealand there is a drive for evidence based practice to inform decisions. There is much good will and many of us working hard to develop and deliver practices to support children in care (for CRHS this is around the role education has) but we are still working towards the cohesiveness that is evident at CYCJ.

The final two days of my visit was to Kibble. Given my focus on advocacy, partnership, communication and transition it was the perfect place to visit. The structure, the resources, the services and most of all the people were fantastic. Looking at Kibble and asking “what one aspect/service would I like to take away the most?”  It would have to be the Young Workforce Development. The breadth and depth of the programmes, support for young people and endless possibilities took my breath away.  The young people I met were engaged in purposeful learning that was clearly goal focused and part of meeting their wider social, health and education needs.

The observations that stand out the most are:

  • Quality leadership
  • People with the focus and passion to make a difference, who talk to each other and share a common vision
  • Resources and programmes that engage and support young people
  • Scope and flexibility to change when an approach is not working
  • A system focused on success
  • A wondering on: what affect will direct purchasing have on how we work in New Zealand

Thank you for your welcome, hospitality and sharing of information about the services and system in Scotland. It has given me much to think about and encouragement that as our system is reformed, outcomes for children in care in New Zealand will improve.

Pictured: Ken McIntosh

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Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
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(0141) 444 8622


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