Firstly: a quick thank-you to The Standard for letting me blog here.
Secondly: today our thoughts are (still) with Christchurch and the difficulties those there face. Especially those whose friends and relatives are still on the missing list.
I was going to have my first post on the economy, but that will have to wait until the weekend as I’m all inspired after hearing Judy Bailey give a Brainwave Trust presentation this week.
Most of the presentation was not new material to me – a lot of it has been covered at Labour conferences in the preparation for the evidence-led policy Putting Children First. Having 2 pre-schoolers also gives one an interest in the area.
But the incredible importance of providing the best possible start to our children in those very early years was good to have reinforced.
For a better future New Zealand we need to make all our children a priority. The Brainwave Trust rightly focuses on the need for cuddles, love and attachment, and their importance on the development of the brain – but as a society we have a responsibility to support parents to be able to provide that care.
This means a lot of things. From Working For Families, to lessen the stress of the extra costs of those early years, to freely available parenting classes for all who want or need them. Enrolment of all in Plunket or other Well-Child providers, and the ability to intervene early if things are going wrong. The restoration of free primary health for young children, and reduction of child poverty.
It certainly includes high-quality Early Childhood Education. Economically, at no point does investment in education provide the return that it does in under-5s; but far more importantly, socially it is vital. Here children learn to interact with their world. They learn the empathy that will keep them from crime. They don’t just learn the motor-skills to move about their world physically, they learn the emotional skills to move through life with resilience.
Instead of improving that education system, National have slashed $400million from it, raising fees and reducing access for those who most need it. They have also introduced changes to allow 75 children under-2 in a centre – meaning incredible stress for babies and no chance of making a vital attachment to a teacher.
Meanwhile they have reversed the child poverty improvements Labour made in their last term. People are no longer able to afford to take their kids to the doctor after-hours.
Parenting classes could easily have been integrated into Adult and Community Education Night Classes – if they hadn’t been almost entirely wiped out.
National have also shown no interest in working on a cross-party solution for our children that would greatly benefit our future.
Because those who have the gift of top-quality pre-school years will go on to be life’s successes. Much more able to cope with stress, to learn and adapt, to empathise, control their emotions. Those who have a troubled early childhood will instead develop a “fight or flight” brain – with no empathy or remorse, a high likelihood of crime and violence, low concentration impairing their learning ability, and low control of their basic urges resulting in poor health and addiction to food, drugs and other things.
Instead of wanting to help our next generation to be better, National prefer to bash beneficiaries – forgetting, like the Welfare Working Group, that the DPB is for the children, not the parents, and so any reduction of the benefit is punishment for our most defenseless little members of society. There is some twisted logic that sees that those whose early years are in poverty will likely grow up to have their adult years in poverty and concludes the way to help them is to reduce their income.
[Ben Clark is Labour’s candidate for the open seat of North Shore at this year’s election (as we covered here). He’ll provide us with a candidate’s eye-view of the campaign. Welcome aboard, Ben – The Standardistas]