Paula Bennett, in her rush to action, has a Green Paper that intends to create a White Paper that may result in some legislation that she hopes will help “vulnerable children”.
But, much as National have spurned attempts from other parties for a non-partisan action on child poverty and looking after our nation’s children, we should still make our best endeavour to inform this process and hopefully improve our children’s lot.
The Green Paper has a website, asking for feedback – which must be received by February 28.
You may wish to skip the Paula Bennett video, but there are nice easy ways to give feedback: a short survey, a long survey, email for longer submissions [ yourresponse AT childrensactionplan DOT govt DOT nz ], facebook, or even good old fashioned post (The Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, PO Box 1556, Wellington).
I’ll be emailing a longer submission, not least because the short survey’s first question seems to start with a false dichotomy: Has government got the balance right between supporting parents and families/whanau and protecting children? I would have thought protecting children would all be about supporting parents and whanau. Helping them make the right decisions; teaching them the skills they need; making sure they’re not in poverty.
And indeed the whole paper is missing a somewhat vital point: what is a ‘Vulnerable Child’?
I’d have thought that the 1 in 5 children (about 200,000 of them) growing up in economic poverty were all vulnerable for a start. But actually, anyone who’s ever held a newborn babe in their arms knows every child is intensely vulnerable – particularly in those early years.
Which speaks strongly to the importance of universal services. While many stories of abuse are those in economic poverty with all its added stresses, poverty of the spirit can be anywhere in society. And anyone who’s had their educated parents give advice about the lack of need for car-seats – or sleeping a baby on their front, or recommending a belt on the grounds that it did them no harm – knows that even education is no great predictor of good advice when it comes to children and parenting.
As part of the government’s Action Plan I’d like to see universal parenting classes. Something that would easily integrate into the Adult and Community Education program our nation was blessed with before National decimated it. Most parents attend neo-natal classes prior to their first baby’s birth, and pretty much all new parents complain that babies don’t come with instruction manuals. What if we went some way to providing those manuals with parenting classes freely provided to all? Give people the skills to know how to look after and develop their child, and skills to discipline without having to resort to violence.
Some parents fall through the cracks, so I think compulsory Well-Child (generally Plunket) enrolment would be a good thing. Make sure we pick up on those families that are slipping, and catch them before they fall.
We could remove the stresses of those early days with greater paid parental leave – let’s have 6 months and look at extending it from there. We need to recognise that the most important job in society is raising the next generation; instead of denigrating it and insisting people get back to ‘real’ work when their child reaches the age of 1 – as is on the current government list of proposals.
Research shows that the first 3 years of a child’s life are incredibly vital, and if we want to grow a better society instead of a broken one we need to invest, to make sure young children’s parents are able to provide the best environment. That probably includes extending free Early Childhood Education to a younger age for those who are struggling – rather than the cuts National keep making.
Once children are past 3 they’re still vulnerable though. We need a greater safety net throughout their lives.
Free access to healthcare (including dentistry) – and readily available, probably at schools, so that we can prevent rather than manage both diseases and family problems. School meals, to ensure all our children are getting a feed, and are ready to learn and grow.
I might as well say it as I’m endorsing enough Labour policy here: let’s have a Ministry for Children and a Senior Minister in charge of it, to ensure the government, their departments and our laws are focussed on the next generation. They are, literally, the future of our country after all.
So extend working for family child benefits to beneficiaries too, take the financial stress off and remember that the DPB is for the children, not the parent.
And for those righties who say what I advocate will result in making having children too easy, and people will breed for a lifestyle – I say give people better options then. Jobs to go to, the training to fill them, the social mobility to give them hope for better. And make contraception free so it’s not cheaper to create a kid than not.
There are of course lots of other things that will greatly help vulnerable children, but as wider economic questions are apparently out of the scope of the paper (and it seems of the National Party).
Foremost: Housing – how much better would our children grow if they weren’t in damp over-crowded houses? This is an understated crisis in Aotearoa. Children should have a right to good shelter, food, love and safety – and while this plan is focussed on the last point, they need the first 3 every bit as much.
We need to invest in education and skills to give all these kids a chance in life. Not just universities for middle-class folk, but all the job creation and apprenticeship and skills for those who aren’t academically inclined (that are currently being cut). We need everyone to succeed as a nation after all.
They need jobs to grow up into, and they need the social mobility that is decreasing in our country. So that they have hope for the future, and the belief that they can succeed, so it’s worth keeping trying.
And they need an environment that is great to grow up in. We have a fantastic country, but we can no longer all go and jump in the local river safely, and some of our water tables are declining too fast. Who knows what the frack all National’s mining plans will do to it?
Those bits may be out of scope, but make sure you have your say on what we can do for our vulnerable children.
If we want a great country, we need to focus on our kids to grow the best possible next generation – is this government bold enough to do that?