"Ministry for Vulnerable Children" name criticised as replacement for Child, Youth and Family

Tue 02 Aug 2016

The Government has confirmed that Child, Youth and Family (CYF) will be replaced by a new Ministry after March 2017. The Government's proposed ...

The Government has confirmed that Child, Youth and Family (CYF) will be replaced by a new Ministry after March 2017. The Government's proposed name for the new agency is the Ministry for Vulnerable Children.

In an article for Stuff's Faces of Innocents series, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley wrote "We are acting on the panel's recommendations and by the end of March 2017, CYF as we know it will be gone. It is being completely rebuilt from the ground up, and will put children at the centre of everything it does, by improving their long-term life outcomes. The new operating model will no longer focus only on crisis management. It will have five core services – prevention, intensive intervention, care support, youth justice and transition support into adulthood."

The proposed name of the new agency has been widely criticised, with concerns that it is stigmatising, deficit-based and narrows the focus away from young people, families, whānau and communities.

Recently appointed Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft called the new agency name "cripplingly disappointing". He said "That name's been greeted with great disappointment. Although the department would be dealing with 'the most challenging and problematic' it would be counterproductive to stigmatise them as 'vulnerable'. Surely it would be better to have a name that is more visionary and hopeful and positive that doesn't talk about the problem now but looks forward to the future."

Judge Becroft followed this with an Opinion piece in Stuff, in which he writes "The name of any organisation is important. It reveals underlying assumptions, goals and philosophies. That is why a recently proposed name for the replacement organisation for Child, Youth and Family is unfortunate. The suggested 'Ministry for Vulnerable Children' is stigmatising and labelling. It is depressing, even crushing. It focuses on the problem not the solution. We do not call the Ministry of Health the 'Ministry of Sick People'. And imagine the reaction to a door knock from a badged Vulnerable Children's worker. Few in the NGO sector or the community seem happy with the idea." 

Judge Becroft called for suggestions for a different name from the public, including children and young people. Suggestions are being made in the comments on his article. Judge Becroft said, "To get you thinking, how about the 'Ministry for Children's Futures', or the 'Ministry of Child and Youth Wellbeing', or 'Awhi Rito', as examples? It is worth remembering that any name should be inclusive of some who may remain in state care or support until the age of 21 or even 25. And, the name will need to have a readily translatable Maori equivalent. After all, at least 65 per cent of those in state care or the youth justice system are Maori, and Te Reo is an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand."

Barbara Staniforth, University of Auckland Director of Social Work, said "The proposed changes to CYF herald a move towards a “child rescue” type philosophy with the predominant belief that children should be removed from “bad families” and placed in “good ones.” This moves away from a family-focused intervention that recognises that children are usually best kept connected to their whānau and communities with additional resources and support being put in place. This philosophy presents a simplistic neoliberal view about the causes of abuse and doesn’t recognise the systemic, social and economic forces that contribute to stress and difficulties for families."

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern said "The Government is stigmatising a whole cohort of young New Zealanders while leaving others behind with its creation of a Ministry for Vulnerable Children." Labour has suggested a Ministry for Children.

The Public Service Association said the proposed name Ministry for Vulnerable Children risked "removing the vital focus on whānau and communities." National secretary Glenn Barclay said "To properly support all children, we need to support their whānau and communities, and the narrow target implied by the new Ministry’s name risks missing this." He also said "People working at CYF have been clearly stating for years that workloads and underfunding are the biggest barrier to them being able to do their jobs ... The people working at CYF must be resourced and supported to help children and families, no matter what their agency is called."

Māori child advocate Anton Blank said “This does feel like reorganisation for re-organising's sake, so a bit of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

While not commenting on the proposed name change, Waikato Associate Professor Leonie Pihama has said that current approaches to the high rates of child abuse among Māori must address the trauma of colonisation: "Historical trauma caused by colonisation is the root cause of intergenerational issues, particularly child abuse within Māori families." She said "solutions needed to focus on reconnecting Māori" and "Until we deal with colonisation, until we deal with neo-liberalism, until we deal with the impacts of individualisation, deal with the impacts of oppressive gender ideas, until we are willing to do the hard work around that, I'm sorry to say that it's not going to change."

The head of the new ministry is expected to be announced next month. This change is part of the Government's proposed major reforms to Child, Youth and Family. For more information about the reforms see the previous NZFVC story Government announces reforms to Child, Youth and Family

For commentary on issues related to social work, see Reimagining Social Work, a blog by a "collective of social workers, social work academics, researchers and others who share a passion for, and a commitment to the development of modern, progressive, inclusive, democratic, and culturally responsive social work services in Aotearoa New Zealand."


Māori children in care were discussed on Waatea 5th Estate on 1 August 2016. Panelists are: Anton Blank, Child Advocate, Former CEO Te Mana Ririki; Paora Crawford-Moyle, Lecturer Social Work Massey University; and Liz Marsden, General Manager Ngā Puhi Social Services.

Select media

What's in a name? It's just the beginning, Opinion; Judge Andrew Becroft, Stuff, 06.08.2016

What's in a name: MPs weigh in on 'Ministry for Vulnerable Children', Stuff, 02.08.2016

Ministry for Vulnerable Children name 'stigmatising and labelling', Opinion: Judge Andrew Becroft, Stuff, 02.08.2016

Faces of Innocents: High rates of child abuse among Māori can be traced back to colonisation, academic says, Stuff, 30.07.2016

Colonisation link to abuse should be considered, Stuff: Waikato Times, 30.07.2016

Opinion: Andrew Dickens: Restructured CYFs must listen to frontline staff, NewstalkZB, 29.07.2016

Editorial: Minister Anne Tolley: Faces of Innocents: Social Development Minister Anne Tolley says Govt needs public's help to address child abuse, 29.07.2016

Faces of Innocents: Planned 'Ministry for Vulnerable Children' labelled "stigmatising" and "cripplingly disappointing", Stuff, 28.07.2016

CYF 'will no longer exist' - Parata, Newshub, 28.07.2016

New CYFS plan just rearranging the seats on the Titanic - Blank, Māori Television, 28.07.2016

Faces of Innocents: CYF to be shut down and replaced by a new ministry, Stuff, 28.07.2016

New Ministry missing the vital role of family, Press Release: Public Service Association, Scoop, 28.07.2016

Children’s ministry, but only for some, Press Release: New Zealand Labour Party, Scoop, 28.07.2016

Unfunded CYF a ticking time bomb, Press Release: New Zealand Labour Party, Scoop, 26.07.2016

Faces of Innocents: CYF facing 'unfunded cost pressures' of millions, Government admits, Stuff, 25.07.2016

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