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Record number of children in state care

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There are now more than 6000 children in state care - an all-time record high.

But Oranga Tamariki, the ministry that replaced Child, Youth and Family a year ago, is struggling to recruit enough caregivers to keep up with the increasing demand on its services.

Figures provided by the ministry show that at the end of February, Oranga Tamariki had about 3800 caregivers on its books.

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In the past year, it recruited 130 whānau carers and just 22 non-whānau carers. That was despite the number of children in state care increasing from about 5600 a year ago, to 6100 at the end of January.

Oranga Tamariki said about half of that increase was due to the age of state care rising from 17 to 18 last year.

The ministry's general manager of caregiver recruitment and support, Janet Smart, said there was a caregiver shortfall. 

For every extra child in state care, ideally there would be an extra caregiver, Ms Smart said.

"That would then give us some more options to give caregivers, say, respite relief when they need it," she said.

Jonelle McNeill from Barnardos, which is contracted by Oranga Tamariki to provide foster carers, said there was a large unmet need for caregivers.

"I understand for Auckland, at any given time, there is a shortfall of up to 20 caregivers, particularly for children who have got challenging behaviours."

Looking after some of society's most vulnerable children was not easy, Ms McNeill said.

"It's a really tough job ... but not just anybody can be a caregiver."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said he was not surprised Oranga Tamariki was struggling to attract new caregivers.

"Historically I think the confidence in the old Child, Youth and Family from the community had just about broken down. I think Oranga Tamariki knew that, I think April 1 last year was just a start date to begin change."

That change, he said, was never going to happen overnight.

Before any sort of public recruitment drive for caregivers could begin, Oranga Tamariki had to make sure the right training and support structures were in place for them, Judge Becroft said.

Support and training and caregivers has been a long-standing concern.

Oranga Tamariki said it had piloted a 24-7 caregiver support line, which would be rolled out nationally in the first half of this year.

It is also revamping training programmes and offering specialised support for some caregivers.

But one caregiver - who didn't want to be named - said she was still waiting for that extra support to come to fruition.

"It's really difficult to get hold of anybody often. You're calling a call centre, they try to get through to the local office to whoever's on-call. It's just a battle trying to get hold of anyone to try and get any answers about anything."

There was a lot more that could be done, she said.

"Regular contact, checking in with us to see how we are emotionally, to see how we're managing this child to see if we need anything, but you don't get anything.

"It's literally like that movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople - I laughed when I saw it - they drive up, they dump the child, they stay about five minutes and then they leave, and that's the last you ever hear from them."

Oranga Tamariki said at the moment caregiver recruitment happened at a local level to meet local demand, but it was planning a wider campaign next year.

It said it would also be bringing in a centralised application process for the 200 to 350 people who inquire each month about becoming a caregiver.

This was originally published on RNZ.