Oranga Tamariki has admitted that she sometimes asks the District Health Boards to keep children in hospitals longer than clinically necessary while they try to find a suitable placement for them.
It goes against the advice of Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis, who told the agency that a child in care should only be in the hospital for a medical reason.
RNZ revealed in July that a child in state care, who did not require medical treatment and was not unwell, spent more than nine weeks in a Waikato hospital because the agency could not find him in a safe place to go.
This was not an isolated incident.
Manukau Counties DHB said in a statement that children in care sometimes also stayed longer than necessary in their hospitals.
“There have been times when a child has stayed in the hospital longer than clinically required, where a safe place in the community took longer than expected. The longest stay because of this would be 5 days, particularly if the child was admitted at the end of the week and no placement was secured before the weekend. “
Glynis Sandland, spokesperson for Oranga Tamariki DCE Services for Children and Families, said situations like these were very rare but sometimes necessary.
“In some exceptional circumstances, Oranga Tamariki or the police may request that a District Health Board (DHB) delay the child’s discharge from the hospital, this is part of a Memorandum of Understanding, between the three agencies and is only requested in the cases where security is a serious issue. The request for an extension is to allow court orders to be sought or a new, suitable and safe location to be arranged, “he said.
In a response to the Official Request for Information, Oranga Tamariki told RNZ that he was not aware of any concerns about the level of care provided to the children in his care who are in the hospital.
He said that if there were concerns, they were being addressed locally.
“Specific concerns about tamariki while they are in the hospital are addressed by social workers, sites and hospital staff,” he said.
“We have social workers liaising with hospitals in DHBs across the country who support the work of Oranga Tamariki and the DHBs.”
Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis did not want to be interviewed, but said in a statement that he had made it clear to Oranga Tamariki that a hospital was not an appropriate place for a child unless there was a medical reason for it.
Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft agreed.
“If we talk about a matter of hours or overnight, that’s another story, [but] I would be concerned if there were longer stays than is clinically required, “he said.
“Hospitals are for children who need medical treatment, they are not an alternative form of foster care or general care, and that should not be happening.”
Becroft said the agency had assured him that it didn’t happen often.
“We have never had a complaint about it, I have reviewed it very carefully with Oranga Tamariki and depending on their information, they tell me it is rare, but I will certainly keep an eye on it.”
Social worker and former state ward Paora Crawford-Moyle said hospitals should not be used as temporary emergency locations.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave children in hospitals for days and days, maybe a night or two in exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“It’s about social workers having few resources, we don’t have the resources we need to find the locations, to have emergency locations available … Hospitals shouldn’t be the emergency location.”
“When you have a burden of 30 to 40 cases and you are dealing with children, often very young children, and you don’t have the time to do that job properly, that’s a resource issue,” he said.
Davis was informed in July that there were ten children in Oranga Tamariki’s care who were in the hospital for medical reasons, mainly for stays of a few days.