Progressing New Zealand’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy in a COVID-19 context

A Families in Focus webinar

Content type
Event date

16 June 2020, 01:00PM to 02:00PM


Maree Brown




This webinar was held on Tuesday 16 June 2020. Please post your questions and comments below.

In this webinar Maree Brown discussed how the Strategy’s wellbeing framework can help guide government policy and service responses for children and young people in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Maree also talked about work underway to review which elements may need to be scaled up or given greater priority to respond to emerging needs as well as new opportunities.

While the AIFS Conference 2020 has been postponed, we’re not standing still. We’re using this time to delve into key family safety and wellbeing issues impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

These times have thrown us either closer than ever to our families or isolated us from them. They are confining us to home, redrawing boundaries between work and family life, and heightening the differences between the haves and have-nots.

To explore some of these issues in-depth, join us and a line up of outstanding speakers for the Families in Focus Webinar Series during the month of June. We’re delighted that keynote speakers who were due to speak at our postponed conference have given their time so you can get a taste of the AIFS Conference from the comfort of your virtual working environment.

Audio transcript (edited)

MS HOLLONDS: I'm Anne Hollonds, I'm the Director of the Australia Institute of Family Studies. On the screen I think as well as me you're already seeing Maree Brown. I'll introduce her to you shortly. I'm here on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations and I pay my respect to their elders past and present and to those of all the lands on which you're joining us from here in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

The Families in Focus series, webinar series, grew out of the pandemic. We had to reschedule our conference to June 2021 and decided it was a great opportunity instead to invite some of our keynote speakers to present this year, in June this year when the conference should have been happening but via webinar. By the way, registrations for our conference in June next year are already open via the AIFS website.

So today I'm delighted to introduce to you Marie Brown from Wellington in New Zealand. Maree Brown is Director of the Child Wellbeing Unit, New Zealand Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is leading cross sector work on New Zealand's first Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. Prior to her current role Maree held senior positions in Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Children, the Ministry for Social and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Maree spent most of her career in child and family policy roles.

Maree will tell us about progress on New Zealand's Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy in the current COVID-19 context. So to everyone listening please start posting your questions for Maree in the questions field now, any time, on the go to webinar platform. My advice would be to try and keep your questions short and concise. It makes it a bit easier for us to read them as we go.

You can also head to the hand out section on the site or the notes that Maree has provided. So welcome Maree.

MS BROWN: Thank you.

MS HOLLONDS: I hope you're well over there in Wellington.

MS BROWN: Very well, thank you. Although I did just hear just in the last half hour we've had two more cases of COVID, having had 24 days without any community transmission, so a bit of a setback in the last hour


MS BROWN: Apparently some people have arrived in from overseas and got a dispensation to go to a funeral. So I think a news conference is going as we speak in fact.

MS HOLLONDS: Goodness, yes. We've had a few more in the last few days as well, so I guess this whole situation, it just that it isn't over, that we've in fact got a long way ahead both in terms of the social impacts as well as the economic impacts of this health pandemic. So we're all in the same boat when it comes to this. So, Maree, I'm going to start by asking you just very simply what is the New Zealand Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy.

MS BROWN: Okay. Well, first of all, hello everyone kia ora koutou, nga mihi kia koutou. It's really lovely to be part of this series of webinars. I'm sorry I couldn't be with you in person for a conference but we look forward to that next year. So the strategy. Up on your screens you should have our plan on a page. Effectively the strategy is a plan, it's New Zealand's plan to improve the wellbeing of all children and young people in New Zealand.

What it sets out to do is to put in one place everything that's important for children and young people to have a good life, what we heard was important to them, what government's doing about it, the outcomes that government's trying to achieve and the plans and policies it's putting in place to help achieve those outcomes. And also it gives some ideas of what sectors can do as well.

It has a legislative base and it comes from some work that was done very early in the term of this government. The Prime Minister made herself minister responsible for child poverty reduction and the government introduced some legislation into the House within 100 days of coming into power. It was legislation that would require all successive governments to identify child poverty targets and report against those targets, but also all governments, this government and beyond, would be required to develop and implement a child and youth wellbeing framework, a strategy, a strategy that would seek to improve the wellbeing of all children and young people but with a particular focus on three groups. Those children with greater needs, those in poverty or experiencing the effects of socio-economic disadvantage, and those of interest or concern to Oranga Tamariki. That's our care and protection and youth justice agency.

So even in the legislation there's a very strong focus on those with greater needs and mitigating impacts of disadvantage. Anne was asking me earlier where the sort of balance of effort's going, and this government is very much focused on a 70 per cent effort on those with greater needs, 30 per cent on the rest of the population, so the strategy and its actions reflect that focus of trying to address the greater needs first and addressing inequity of outcomes for children and young people.

You'll also see on that slide some underpinning principles across the bottom of the page, and that's really the things that we heard about the way that people want a government to work to effect change, the principles that should guide ways of working. So things like children and young people are taonga, which means it's a Maori word for treasures, that all children and young people have inherent mana and dignity and rights.

There's another principle there around how children and young people's wellbeing is interwoven with family and whanau wellbeing. Whanau is a Maori word for extended family and familial linkages to extended family. So it's a very strong theme in our workers, that we can't look at the wellbeing of a child or a young person in isolation, we need to be working to improve the wellbeing of the overall family.

So what the strategy does is provide a shared language and a shared direction for government effort. It's intended to be an overarching framework to drive all government policy and action that affects and impacts on children and young people and, as I said, it also is written in a way that can be used and picked up by other sectors as well to align their planning, their business plans if they want to, to the framework and to use the same principles.

It was very much developed in consultation with children and young people. We engaged with around 10,000 New Zealanders overall, 6000 of whom were children and young people, who told us directly what was important to them for wellbeing and what gets in the way. The strategy also has 35 indicators for measuring progress, and that was important. People wanted to know how will know you're actually achieving success.

So there's 35 indicators includes at least 15 subjective wellbeing indicators which are around children and young people's experience of life, not just administrative data from health or education or other sectors, but actually asking children and young people themselves whether they feel safe, whether they feel loved, whether they feel that their family is doing well, whether they feel included in the sense of belonging, whether they've had experience of discrimination or bullying for example.

So that's pretty much the strategy on a page. You might want to turn to the next slide, Anne. There's a few things. Yes, that one's good. The first strategy itself was launched last year so it's less than a year old. It was launched by the Prime Minister, who is the minister responsible for it. I've talked about the - or I didn't actually talk about the vision. That was very much this government's vision, that New Zealand is the best place in the world for children and young people.

I talked about the nine principles that guide the way we work. The six wellbeing outcomes were the outcomes that were very much derived from what children and young people told us, and I've mentioned the indicators.

And fortunately the strategy's accompanied by appropriate government action, which is what government's doing about it. There are over 65 actions and a further hundred and something supporting actions that are led by over 20 government agencies. So it's very much a cross government effort and each government agency is responsible for delivering on its action or actions and it's a collective responsibility of government, of Cabinet to deliver on this strategy as a whole.

The minister, so in this case the Prime Minister, needs to report annually to parliament what's being achieved under the strategy, with the first report, a voluntary report next year and an official report in 2022. The legislation also requires that the strategy is reviewed or refreshed every three years so that it can't become a static document. It can be reviewed and refreshed to reflect new and emerging needs, for example COVID, which we didn't know about when we wrote the strategy just last year.

I'll just talk briefly about the next slide. So one of the features of it is that it's high level leadership from the Prime Minister down. There's also joint ministerial responsibility for many of the policy pieces of work under the strategy. There's transparency, in that we need to report regularly to parliament, annually in fact, so there's accountability to the public on what's being achieved and what's not.

The Child Poverty Reduction Act, which is a companion piece, has three year and 10 year child poverty reduction targets so it certainly has a long term horizon. The child wellbeing strategy similarly, we've taken a long term view. Many of the issues that are impacting on child wellbeing were long term in the making and they would take several years to address so we're working to that view but with a focus on addressing the greatest needs first.

The advantage of that from our point of view is it has served to get everyone on the same page in terms of government action. There was a lot of activity already but this provides us with a shared framework and language for working together. We came up with five focus areas for ongoing policy work and 11 months in they are very much still our key priorities and I think even in a COVID context they remain really relevant.

So one of them is reducing child poverty. Secondly, mitigating impacts of socio-economic disadvantage. Thirdly, we heard a lot about the first thousand days and the first few years of life and how we needed to have more preventative approach to ensure that children are thriving from the get go, so that's a strong focus of our work.

Addressing racism and discrimination is very much a new area of work for government. We've never had a cross agency work program to address racism and discrimination before but it came through very strongly in our engagement that many children and young people were experiencing racism and discrimination in many settings in their lives including in schools. That included bullying as well.

Finally, extending whanau centred approaches to improve child and youth wellbeing. That means working, as I said before, not just with the child or young person in isolation but focusing on the family or the whanau as a whole and working to improve the wellbeing of the whole whanau in order to improve the wellbeing of the child or young person within it.

Program of Action is very much a living document. The strategy we've intended to create to last at least three years. The Program of Action, the actions are evolving as we speak and in response to COVID of course.

There's more information on our website about any of this so that's enough for now. I'm happy to answer more questions on it later.

MS HOLLONDS: Well, wow, Maree. I mean, that's a very short version of what is an enormous piece of work that you've been responsible for as the head of that unit for Prime Minister and Cabinet in New Zealand. I can see that it's a very complex multi layered approach and there are many questions that we would love to ask you but let me just ask one at this point. That is, do you know of anywhere else in the world, any country that's done something similar?

MS BROWN: Not quite. I mean, we did look around and including, you know, in Australia there's some really fantastic work that's being done in different states in Australia. We've looked at the Tasmanian model, we've looked at their ARC framework as I told you. We also looked at countries like Wales which has a legislation for the wellbeing of all Welsh citizens and a wellbeing commissioner of the whole country, which is even more ambitious again in a sense. That's at the legislation level, so a range of different reporting requirements under that.

We didn't find anything quite like what we've done at a nation-wide level for children and young people but yes, certainly variations of that strategy in unusual, you know, unlikely places I think. Uganda was one of them, which actually had some really interesting initiatives, but of course issues dealing with, you know, include things like genital mutilation and famine and hunger, so slightly different issues to contend with.

MS HOLLONDS: So you've really done a scan of what was available around the world and then created your own for the New Zealand environment. As you say, there's excellent work happening in different places all over the world, but what really stands out I think in New Zealand is how you've managed to get it in legislation and it is whole of government. So those accountabilities across the different portfolios seem to be an important element there. I wonder how hard was it to get that buy in, to make it whole of government?

MS BROWN: Actually, I should have mentioned the Irish strategy, that was the other one that was quite informative for us. They've done a lot of work and their strategy has been in operation for around six or eight years now I think it is, so we had Skype calls with them to ask them what worked and what didn't and one of the things was they had too many actions and it was really hard and too many priority areas. It was hard to advance on all fronts at all times. They'd kind of spread themselves a bit thin. I sometimes wonder if we've done the same but we've tried to reduce down the policy priorities to a manageable number.

In terms of buy in, I think what was really helpful, just going right back to the legislation that is underpinning it, is that it got virtually unanimous support in parliament. The legislation was passed with support by 119 of our 120 members of parliament so that was a huge affirmation I guess of the importance of, you know, all governments thinking about child wellbeing and reducing child poverty, and a real acknowledgement that meeting children and young people's material needs is only part of the solution.

We need to be thinking about wellbeing in a more holistic sense. We need to be paying attention to the social, educational, health, mental health, emotional, spiritual needs. We need to be giving them opportunities for voice and participation, we need to be looking to the broader environment in which they are living as well and the health of their environment, and we need to be giving them opportunities to live productive lives, so that training and development and support for transition from childhood to adulthood is all part of it.

That definitely helped, I mean, I suppose leadership from the Prime Minister and collective Cabinet response, which actually was the next thing.

MS HOLLONDS: I guess that would help. That would help to have that leadership from the top but it's not always easy to get that whole of government sort of effort. So, Maree, as you mentioned when you were talking earlier, in a way I think you were well placed to meet the challenges of the pandemic because you already had this framework in place, that you'd already spent quite a bit of time thinking about what children and young people and their families need and then you were able to build on that during the - just trying to sort of work out how to respond during COVID-19.

So what have you found about the impact of the pandemic on children and young people in New Zealand and how have you gone about identifying their emerging needs and how are you responding?

MS BROWN: Well, the first thing I'd say is that of course identifying and trying to anticipate the needs of children and young people is incredibly important because of the potential lifelong impacts that negative experiences now might have on their wellbeing. So probably like many countries we looked around at the experience of countries with previous pandemics or national emergencies, what the evidence showed had happened and had been the impacts for children and young people. So our researchers were, you know, very quickly put to work to mine all the research that's been done internationally on previous similar events.

We also had the more recent experience of the Christchurch earthquakes here and a lot of work that had been post the earthquakes to identify, you know, what had emerged in terms of the needs of children and young people. One of the things there that emerged was that children that weren't even born yet during the earthquakes have exhibited high levels of anxiety and stress and really a cohort. So that's, you know, an interesting study in itself.

At the same time we were getting emerging insights from our frontline practitioners, from social workers, community providers, frontline workers, plus there were lots of pulse surveys, as I'm sure there were in Australia as well, of households in New Zealand of young people themselves during the lockdown period particularly about what was going on for them.

One of the positive findings I guess from a nationwide household survey, we had some input into the questions and we wanted to know to what extent households felt they were able to support the wellbeing of the children in those households during lockdown, and all but one or two per cent felt that they were well able to, you know, help support their wellbeing and were quite positive about their ability to do that.

On the same survey though one of the perhaps surprising findings was that of all the age groups that were asked from 15 years up, young people from 15 to 24 were the most likely to identify that they felt lonely or isolated during lockdown. I think we might have anticipated that older people might have felt most lonely and there was a lot of effort going in to do, you know, telephone trees and outreach to older people who are living alone, but in fact it was the younger people who were suddenly unable to have face to face contact with their peer support groups, you know, through school closures and, you know, the restrictions on all movement in sports and social life.

They were the most likely to identify that they felt lonely or isolated during that time. Another finding was that, again, perhaps not surprising, we had concerns, again based on previous pandemics, that there would be increased risk of violence in homes and, you know, homes under pressure, that children might experience or witness family violence or abuse in the homes and there would be fewer eyes on the children and without access to their normal, again, support structures and ability to go to school and tell someone else about it.

What we found was that reports of concern to Oranga Tamariki did fall during the lockdown period, which for us was several weeks, and it was, you know, that it's at the same time last year, and it's a little bit early to say whether those reports of concern will now change, the numbers would now increase again. It was emerging even that actually they're getting more reports from the education sector now that schools are back, that teachers and others are able to see what has been going on for some children unfortunately.

MS HOLLONDS: You've got a lot of measures in place to support families from a financial perspective as part of your response as well. Would you like to tell us a bit about those.

MS BROWN: Sure. So there's been a really strong focus from the outset, I think even before we went into lockdown when the government introduced an increase to core benefit rates to support very low income families and at the same time an initial wage subsidy for employers to help retain people in jobs, including families with children of course, and introduced a rent freeze for six months to help ensure that people could still stay in their rented accommodation.

So there's a very strong focus on kind of helping people meet their material needs, and that level of support was increased again during the budget in late May and there are a range of different measures to support people with housing costs, with loans if they were a business and further increases around things like winter energy payment assistance for low income people, a range of income support type things accompanied with a really strong focus on outreach usually provided by community organisations and sort of trusted providers to provide practical support, whether it was food supplies or emergency housing assistance, basically meeting people's essential needs in that first phase.

The other thing that government addressed and very quickly was the social sector to try and ensure that social service providers had the capacity to meet what they knew would be increased social service needs, whether that was family violence related or other kinds of needs exacerbated by the stress of COVID.

MS HOLLONDS: So, Maree, you also mentioned earlier about some early evidence that perhaps families, some families are doing well in terms of, or report that they're doing well in supporting their children. I wonder if there's other thing you'd like to say about other green shoots or evidence that may - I know it's early days still and it's probably too early to be actually measuring outcomes, but are there some signs that you're on the right track or otherwise?

MS BROWN: I guess, just going back to the COVID thing, I think the fact that we had known quite a lot about what some of the barriers were to wellbeing meant that in a post COVID phase government was very quickly able to activate some of the things it was thinking of doing anyway or was doing in a small scale way. An example would be free and healthy lunches in schools. So we knew and principals were telling us that with school lockdown some children might go hungry because they actually rely, or their families rely on the child - the family being able to get breakfast or lunch at school, and there was already a small scale pilot or prototype of a government provided healthy lunches in schools program going out to, or it was intended to go to around 21,000 children by the end of this year.

At budget time the government announced that it was going to expand that significantly to 200,000 children this year to meet the expected increased demand and to address the financial pressures that were going to be experienced by many families. So that's an example of something that was, I guess, instigated by the strategy but was able to be scaled up quickly because the thinking had already been done.

In terms of other green shoots, one of the responsibilities of our unit is to kind of monitor the implementation of the strategy, including the program of action, and although our strategy has been in place for less than a year, as I say, mostly agencies pre the onset of the COVID pandemic you know were on track to deliver on all the things they said they were going to do in the timeframe they said they would.

With the, I guess the two or three months that agencies have been scrambling to deal with the immediate impacts of COVID some of those timeframes might be pushed out a little bit, but then some things have probably been expedited as well and I guess the food in schools is one of those. Another thing that we knew as an issue was digital connectivity, you know, access to IT. One of the things that schools did very quickly with the lockdown was to actually supply, where it could, digital devices to homes where they knew children didn't have them.

MS HOLLONDS: So a lot of very agile responses required in this kind of environment.


MS HOLLONDS: Was there something else you wanted to mention?

MS BROWN: I was just going to say in terms of child poverty reduction one of the things that we are required to do by legislation is report every budget day on progress against the child poverty targets. So there's a report on the Treasury website, actually on our website, which is called the Child Poverty Report. It was prepared mostly before the COVID pandemic and it showed that by - the projections were showing that government was broadly on track to meets its three year targets for reducing child poverty. But in a COVID context it's now too early to know what impact that has. So a question mark there now but that's something we'll be obviously looking at pretty closely over the next year.

MS HOLLONDS: That's right. As I said earlier, there's still a long way to go with all of this for all of us isn't there? Maree, I'm going to have a look at some of our questions now that have been posted so just bear with me for a minute. One is from a practitioner. Do workers focused on supporting children need to learn how to involve the family or how to work with children with a view of supporting children's wellbeing? So I guess this goes to the question that I had in my mind as well about, well, what is this strategy at this high level that we've been talking about, what does it actually mean for a frontline worker and how they're engaging with children and young people and with their families? So are there particular requirements for practitioners and support for them to work with kids in the context of their family?

MS BROWN: That's a really good question and I think I would say yes and no. It's not so much as an obligation but an encouragement. I think actually a lot of practitioners are, you know, are ahead of the policy makers and have been doing it anyway. In a way we were trying to capture best practice and for Maori providers they would say they've always worked in a whanau centre way both with the family and the child. In the education sector there's a very strong focus now on the wellbeing of children. It's sort of the central thing that education is about.

Around the same time as we were developing the strategy there was something called the Education Conversation, which was a huge national engagement exercise about the future of education. And when they asked parents and young people about what was the most important thing they wanted from the education system it was the wellbeing of their children.

MS HOLLONDS: That's interesting.

MS BROWN: Yes, that's right. In the care and protection sector there are national care standards which are very much aligned with the outcomes of the strategy, and there's actually a requirement for all children's agencies' chief executives to develop an action plan to ensure that children in care or on the cusp of care are achieving the outcomes that are set out in the government's strategy. So there's an alignment, a direct alignment to front line work.

I guess the other thing is that, you know, many of the actions and the action plans are directly for frontline practitioners and there are a lot of new funding and investment which enables them and supports them to work in that kind of way. In terms of guidelines on actually engaging with children and young people, obviously the Children's Commissioner is, you know, a really good source of best practice guidance in that. In fact when we were engaging to develop the strategy we worked very much with them and asked them to lead a lot of the engagement on our behalf because they are so good at it and they've got a lot of best practice guidelines.

MS HOLLONDS: And those actions you mentioned, for example, for frontline workers, they're all available on your website aren't they in terms of the actions under the strategy?

MS BROWN: Yes, that's right. Appropriate action.

MS HOLLONDS: So in terms of alignment there is another question here which is relevant, and that is, someone knows about New Zealand's 10 year early learning strategic plan which was apparently released in December 2019, and there's a question about what is the interface with that, between that strategy, the early learning strategic plan and the wellbeing strategy?

MS BROWN: So again, as a good example of a sector strategy which goes deep into one part of, you know, a child's wellbeing, and there are many similar strategies across government which reference the high level outcomes that the strategy is trying to achieve, but that early learning plan is very much about what happens in those first five years of life. So they are …

MS HOLLONDS: It's part of the overall wellbeing strategy, is that how it fits?

MS BROWN: It’s referenced in the strategy as a way of taking forward I guess the high level outcomes and aspirations that government has. It's very hard to (indistinct words), yes.

MS HOLLONDS: Just some questions here about outcomes, and it may be too early in terms of the strategy, but someone is wondering whether you've been able to detect an impact on reducing child protection numbers. I assume that's notifications or removals of children into out of home care. I'm guessing that's what that means.

MS BROWN: I think it's probably too early to say and to ascribe any kind of change to the strategy itself. You know, as with anything there are lots of moving parts and Oranga Tamariki, which is our child protection agency, is in itself a very new organisation with a sort of a transformation pathway which is at least, you know, a five year pathway, with the absolute objective of reducing the numbers of children needing to come into statutory care. You know we're only partway into that process. I would have to ask my Oranga Tamariki colleagues how those numbers are tracking so far.

But yes, certainly that's a work in progress. The strategy itself has only been around for 11 months. So what we've said generally about outcomes is that at a national level it's going to take some time before we observe those kind of shifts. There may be shifts in pockets and, you know, for subgroups or regions, but to observe national level changes will inevitably take some time.

So even our first evaluation of the strategy in three years is more about evaluating whether the strategy has been implemented as intended, whether there's evidence that government agencies, core government agencies and broader government is aligning to the outcomes of the strategy and driving towards, you know, those outcomes in their own work, whether other sectors, NGO, community sectors, business sectors, philanthropic sectors, for example, whether they are at all finding the strategy at all useful in their work and whether there's some community led practices that demonstrate the strategy in action. I think we can simply say a partial yes to all of those things, but it is early days.

MS HOLLONDS: Is it a 10 year plan, just remind us, is it a 10 year horizon?

MS BROWN: It's actually - we're breaking up a little bit. The strategy has a life of three years. The government of the day can choose just to continue it but it may want the opportunity to renew or refresh it every three years, that's in legislation, it needs to be reviewed or refreshed, and there has to be, after engagement with children and young and with Maori and with the Children's Commissioner as a bare minimum requirement. We would do all of that and broader as well. We would do another round of national engagement just to refresh.

MS HOLLONDS: Okay, so it's a three year plan that will then be revisited after three years. I have a question here from a researcher now. Where do you get the child centric data from? So are you using multiple agency type data or the longitudinal, you have a longitudinal study there in New Zealand as well? I mean, can you say a little bit about where the data is coming from on children?

MS BROWN: That's a really good question. What we discovered quite early on of course and we always knew, that we have a dearth of data, particularly subjective wellbeing data for children and particularly for under 15 year olds. So in the strategy document, if you're interested, I can't remember what page but towards the end where we talk about the 35 indicators we talk about the data sources that we will intend to use to develop measures and get data to report against those indicators.

Many of them are from our national surveys, things like the health survey, the general social survey, plus administrative data on things like educational attendance and a lot of our health stats, avoidable hospital admissions, those kinds of things. Where we struggled with them was on the subject of wellbeing space, as I said, so we have developed, in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Development, a new youth, health and wellbeing survey which was intended actually to be in the field, in schools about now, but because of COVID and lockdown it's had to be delayed. But that was asking a lot of the subjective wellbeing questions that we haven't had good ongoing data sources on.

There are lots of one off surveys of children and education based ones but they're not usually available at a national level. So this was an attempt to start a new series of data which would ask younger children about their wellbeing. We have some things, like, we have whanau wellbeing questions and our general social survey, but not much for under 15 year olds. It's a work in progress.

MS HOLLONDS: So just on that, just a question from me about the fact that wellbeing is often bit of a fuzzy term and it can mean different things to different people. I'm aware in a very diverse country like yours and ours where there are different groups of people with different cultural norms - backgrounds and norms and values so values may vary a little bit from group to group. How have you dealt with the diversity in terms of coming up with this strategy rather than having to go down the path of different strategies for different groups?

MS BROWN: That's an interesting question. We had a lot of discussions on this as we were engaging with different groups. And you're right, some groups thought that you needed a separate strategy, for example, for Maori children. But probably the prevailing view among Maoridom was that it was much more important to have a national strategy, a government strategy that adequately reflected the Maori-Crown relationship and the unique status that Maori children have as Tangata Whenua -children of our land, in New Zealand, and that a strategy that worked for Maori children would work for everyone.

So if we focused on what was good for Maori children by extension it would be good for most if not all children, and that was the view that prevailed. And we, in terms of trying to reflect the different, I guess, you know, different definitions of wellbeing and different dimensions of wellbeing, I think I've been very clear that we were taking a holistic wellbeing approach, referencing the indigenous cultural frameworks and cultural wellbeing frameworks we already have, and they are referenced in our strategy.

All the dimensions including the dimensions that aren't always so immediately thought of, like, the spiritual dimension and Maori, it's the term wairua, which the translation spirituality is a slightly inadequate translation, but it's about essence and the life essence which is beyond sort of the material and the physical. So all those concepts are kind of embedded in the framework of the strategy. We want people to be able to see themselves in that and we work kind hard on the language and to adopt it or adapt it as we went along and then check it back with those groups to see if we've adequately understood what they were telling us.

MS HOLLONDS: That's great. So there was a question also about how did you reach the 10,000 children and - or it was 10,000 people I think and 6000 children and young people if I recall correctly what you said. How did you consult the children, what methods did you use, what strategies did you use to engage and get feedback? You've already said that you worked with the Children's Commissioner in terms of engaging with children. The final question in that section is; do you think the strategy would look different if the Department developed dimensions without consultation with children and young people? So it's flipping it to asking you to speculate; would it have been different if you hadn't have done what you did? So how did you do what you did and would it have been different if you hadn't of?

MS BROWN: I'll just answer the second question first. It would have been much worse if a group of policy people in Wellington had tried to develop it by themselves. You know, it added huge value to hear from and, you know, do authentic engagement with children and young people. So yes, there were around 6000 children and young people who engaged. We used a mixed approach from - probably one of the most popular things was postcards to the PM.

So the Prime Minister invited children to write to her directly on what was the most important thing for them for a good life, and she got around 1000 responses and she read them all personally and she used social media to talk about what she was hearing, to show photos of herself reading them, to encourage more, it was - yes, that was very effectively obviously and children could see that actually what they were saying, you know, was being read at the top levels of government. It was very powerful.

We also had a survey, an online survey of children and young people, we had lots of focus groups and, as I said, the Children's Commissioner worker with a lot of partner organisations to make sure that we were hearing from young people in alternative education and youth justice facilities. Some of my Oranga Tamariki colleagues worked to make sure we had access to children and young people and voices that we don't so often hear from. From disabled children, we worked with them, disability sector people through, again, the Children's Commissioner, to make sure we were hearing their voices. So disabled children, but also children living with disabled parents. So kind of get a range of perspectives.

The rainbow community, making sure we heard from rainbow youth. And quite young children, where we could, so working with schools, you know, a lot of primary schools who did classroom activities, to feed back that way. So, yes, a multimedia approach I guess.

MS HOLLONDS: A very comprehensive approach. I'm just having another look at the list because we're starting to run out of time now. There are some questions here about young carers and about young people generally in terms of support, particularly through the pandemic. Are there any additional things you'd like to add about youth and/or young carers as a particular subset of young people?

MS BROWN: In New Zealand there is a carer's strategy that has been developed and we've been a little bit involved in that but it's not my kind of real area of expertise. We know that, yes, there are real issues for young people who often need to leave school to care for older relatives. Is that what you're meaning by young carers?

MS HOLLONDS: Yes. They don't necessarily always leave school but they are responsible for caring of adults at home.

MS BROWN: In terms of youth activity and the COVID environment we saw amazing examples of that from, you know, pretty much from the first week where school groups were doing kind of online support, kind of networking with each other and reaching out to those they thought might, you know, need more support, to a lot of the frontline, kind of delivery of food packs and things, sort of student army type groups, but also young gang members. You know, the people that you wouldn't have necessarily expected to come forward were absolutely the most appropriate people to reach the hard to reach and many of them mobilised without too much prompting and often off their own back actually to do what needed to be done.

So one of the things that government is trying to do is actually learn from that and build on that and actually support those people, you know, have shown real leadership in their communities. There's a lot of new investment into communities, sort of be informal non-traditional providers I guess, to say actually say, well, what else would you like to do? You know, they've shown great leadership, we want to actually support you to do more of that kind of thing if that's what you'd like.

MS HOLLONDS: I'm going to finish up with one of our listener questions, which really goes to that piece about where are we putting our money, where are we investing when it comes to children and young people? You know, because we have to we're often investing it quite late, we're reacting late with our child protection system, you know, because it's necessary to do so. But the listener is picking up that what you're trying to do is turn the dial to investing in more prevention, more upstream prevention and early intervention. Whether you have any comment on how that's being achieved, that shifting the dial upstream, to what extent has it been achieved and how did you do it?

MS BROWN: A great question. I don't think we're there yet. I think ever since I've worked with child and family policy we've been talking about doing this. I think we've got a better opportunity perhaps now than we've had before to achieve more step change in this regard, and certainly a government that's very much focused on shoring up our core universal services as our frontline kind of investment, whether it's the early childhood education sector, the health sector or family support generally. There's certainly a lot more investment going in, but we certainly still have a huge, you know, much more investment going into, you know, hardy and remedial activity, and that's not where we want to be either. So it is a work in progress.

I talked about the transformation path that Oranga Tamariki's on. It felt in the first couple of years it really needed to shore up its statutory services to get its care and protection and youth justice system and its transition services, so that's the services for young people exiting care, to improve the quality of all those things. And then the next phase was to focus on intensive intervention, so to avoid those who are on the cusp of needing to come into care needing that care because they would receive the support from non government providers, adequately supported to stay well and to have their whanau or family supported to keep them at home.

Then the next phase, to early intervention, which is where the focus is at now. So, again, it's a work in progress, but it's definitely the intention to get much more of the investment upstream. Whenever we look at our investment across the life course so much more of it is, and remedial responses and in the latter part of the childhood years rather than the beginning.

MS HOLLONDS: Maree, time to give you a rest now. You've done a fabulous job fielding questions from right across Australia. Often we find, you know, internationally I'm told later where these people were joining us from. So you've done a great job, thank you so much. We'd love you, if you were willing, when you come to our conference in June next year in person, if you could give us an update a year down the track. You'll have more data and more stories and more insights to share and we very much look forward to welcome you in June next year face to face we all hope. In a year's time we hope we'll be able to do that.

So before we let you go I've just got a few final sort of housekeeping things to mention. That's, firstly, for everyone listening, there is a brief survey that's going to pop up when you log off. We'd love you to fill that in. As we've mentioned, our conference is in June next year. You can already register on our website and there'll be more information coming about that shortly.

Last week we had a webinar, our first webinar with Richard Weston from SNAICC, and that will be on the AIFS website if you missed it. That was a terrific session. Next week we have two webinars. One will be with the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria and will include some young people who will be joining us, and that's very relevant to, again, to what we've been discussing with Maree, and we'll be hearing from them about how COVID-19 has affected their lives. That's on Tuesday. Then on Thursday next week have a session with Angela Lynch, discussing how COVID-19 has been impacting on people experiencing domestic violence and the services that are trying to help them. So two very important sessions next week.

So again, Maree, thank you so much from all of us here in Australia. It's been a delight as always to have a chat with you. We wish you all the best with the next steps with your strategy and we'll be watching and listening with great interest to keep learning from you as you go forward. Thank you so much.

MS BROWN: A pleasure. Thanks very much, Anne, thanks.

MS HOLLONDS: Thanks. Bye everybody.




The transcript is provided for information purposes only and is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the transcript undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. Before using the material contained in the transcript, the permission of the relevant presenter should be obtained.

The Commonwealth of Australia, represented by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), is not responsible for, and makes no representations in relation to, the accuracy of this transcript. AIFS does not accept any liability to any person for the content (or the use of such content) included in the transcript. The transcript may include or summarise views, standards or recommendations of third parties. The inclusion of such material is not an endorsement by AIFS of that material; nor does it indicate a commitment by AIFS to any particular course of action.


Director, Child Wellbeing Unit, New Zealand Dept of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Maree is Director of the Child Wellbeing Unit in the New Zealand Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is leading cross-sector work on New Zealand’s first Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy. Prior to her current role, Maree held senior positions in Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children, ­the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. She has spent most of her career in child and family policy roles.