On Tuesday 12th January, I took a 45 minute stroll across West-central Auckland to the regional office of Child, Youth and Family (CYF).
They are a well-established Government department providing support services (including adoption) for key, vulnerable demographic groups.
I met with Caroline Lewis. Originally from the UK, she worked for Barnardos before moving to New Zealand in 2006.
Caroline was welcoming, open-minded and supportive of my work. She explained the context of adoptions in New Zealand - that a 1950s Adoption Act, which is still in force, defines a system that does not promote adoption from care. Instead, Day to Day Parenting Orders are granted, with additional Guardianship entitlements to cover choices of schooling etc. This is alongside legal entitlements for the birth mother. Adoptions are granted by way of direct applications, which can be used to help children outside of the country be relocated with other family members, for example. This comes with a set of perverse incentives. (education is subsidised for adoptees, for example). Openness is encouraged but not a legal requirement. Private foster care organisations are popular. Maori culture is understandably relevant; less than 10% of care givers are Maori, but over 75% of children put up for adoption are of Maori origin.
I drafted a few questions, the answers to which are below. They are not always verbatim responses, but a fair reflection of the overall discussion.
1) What does technology & adoption mean to you?
Coming from the UK, Caroline was particularly aware of the lack of technology in both practice and in systems across New Zealand. When she arrived, most processes were carried out using paper forms and internet access was limited. Today things are better, but the lag in making the most of modern day technologies and infrastructure is tangible, especially considering the lack of funds available to (re)invest in people and services.
2) What challenges or problems are most important to you and your teams?
As above! Providing good training to caregivers and practitioners is paramount. The realities of the care system and the expectations of care giving need to be made more obvious to parents and social workers. Trauma in particular is a difficult subject; hidden from view and liable to surface at any time during the life course of a child/adolescent/young adult or beyond.
There is currently a mandatory training programme (4 days) for all potential caregivers, but it is not suitably tailored for the various approaches to caregiving; be it fostering, adoption or otherwise.
3) What are CYF doing with technology that particularly excites you?
In spite of the lack of system advancements, CYF had been making use of Life Story Apps and similar software. Caroline is going to share details of this with me, but they appear to allow children to record stories and interact with their past in a creative way - positive sounding stuff. Caroline did mention that they needed to be adapted/modified from their original formats, so it looks as though there is still no specialist use of App technology for this purpose. I noted that this aligns with an apparent need for this type of technology to support story telling and creative therapy.
4) Nationally or internationally, what innovations are you aware of that you think worth finding out about?
Caroline stressed the important of resources and training for caregivers and practitioners. I agree - children need consistently good care. When they lose one or both birth parents at a young age, the developmental impact can be significant. They need to be replaced quickly. I would say that this is not necessarily the same as adopting a child into a new family quickly - like David Cameron is demanding in the UK. If we have a skilled workforce and an effective way of identifying young people and transferring them into supportive environments, then this will be a positive step in the protective and recovery of young people.
5) Is technology important?
Yes - of course! It supports smarter working.
Caroline and I agreed that improved technology requires funding; with budgets tight and cuts being made to public services in the UK, embracing effective technologies will take some work.
There is also a lingering suspicion in older generations, still, about the role of technology. This stems from a lack of understanding.
Thank you Caroline for the first face-to-face meeting of my fellowship.