Until recently children with behavioural and social needs were referred to and attended one of six health camps situated across New Zealand. Each of the six health camps had an associated school attached. In 2008 ERO evaluated the quality of provisions for children at the health camps and identified significant areas that needed to improve. ERO recommended that the Ministry of Education examine the role of health camps and their schools within the wider network provision of services for students with moderate to severe behaviour difficulties. 

Since ERO’s 2008 report, the Ministries of Education and Social Development have worked together to make considerable changes to the governance and provisions for children who have experienced trauma. The health camp schools were closed and the responsibility for helping children that had experienced trauma was given to Stand Children’s Services (Stand).

Stand is a charity funded by the Ministries of Social Development and Education to provide the service for children aged five to twelve years. Children usually stay for about five weeks in one of the seven children’s villages in Whangarei, Auckland, Rotorua, Gisborne, Otaki, Christchurch, and Roxburgh. 1

This 2016 review is the first review since the reforms to the service. It focuses on how effectively the service responds to the wellbeing and learning of children that have experienced trauma. ERO visited each of the villages in Term 1, 2016 and reviewed the approaches and processes from the time a child is referred until after they transition back to their returning school.  

Children ERO spoke with enjoyed their time at the village and many wanted to stay longer or return again. Some of the children were clear about why they were at the village and what they wanted to work on. A few children that had returned to their school were able to talk about what they were better at after they stayed at the village and how this helped them at school.  Families and Stand staff were able to share many examples of where children had increased their confidence or made considerable changes after their time at a village.

In most villages, the four teams responsible for the children’s care, therapy and education work together well to provide children with consistent messages, strategies and praise. Well understood and applied selection and information processes mean that when children arrive all the staff are well informed about the child’s interests and needs and most are confident to work with the children.  In many of the villages well established referral processes are successfully applied to ensure the appropriate children with the most complex needs in the regions attend the villages. In these villages referrals come from a wide variety of schools and agencies.

One village’s isolation limits the opportunities for experienced staff to build the trusting and positive culture seen in the other six villages. Ongoing staff changes, precipitated by the isolation, mean managers focus much of their time on seeking and inducting social workers. Many of the social workers are not employed long enough to gain the repertoire of experiences needed to successfully manage a range of approaches to benefit the children.

Children’s interests and their social and emotional needs are well known and responded to. However, the education team leaders and schools need to work more closely to ensure children’s learning needs and strengths are as well understood and catered for. Although children in many classes are working on lots of different activities designed to meet their interests, few are engaged in tailored individual programmes that build on what they have already learnt at school. As these children have complex needs, it is vital that schools and the Stand education centres work more closely together to ensure their success in the future.

Since taking over the responsibility for the service, Stand has made considerable progress with placing new systems, personnel and resources into and across the villages.  In many of the education centres, new staff and team leaders were appointed and had considerable professional development about supporting children who have experienced trauma. Teachers’ appraisal and curriculum guidance frameworks are in place but need to be further simplified.

Recent internal evaluation of teaching practices and reporting to schools has correctly identified necessary improvements. In each village, education team leaders and teachers have experimented with ways to combine therapy and education in their teaching programmes. Some of the good practices already evident in education ce

Two issues were identified that result from the health camp schools being deregistered to become education centres that are part of the villages. In some of the education centres leaders have difficulty accessing curriculum and other teaching resources that primary schools receive. Teachers also had very few opportunities to participate in professional learning and development (PLD) about teaching practice. As many of the children attending the villages are achieving below their peers it is essential that their teachers receive and use the most up-to-date professional development and resources.

1 The Rotorua site already existed before the changes but was not part of the health camps group.