I know I won’t be alone in being disappointed in the results of the Unicef survey, which says that “New Zealand has an appalling child poverty rate, spends too little on early childhood services for which there is unequal access, and lags far behind other developed nations in parental leave provisions, according to a new report.”
There are some real issues to grapple with here, especially around the use of child care for very young children. There’s a balance between economic necessity (family needs more than one income to survive) and what is in the best, long term interests of children. If agreement is reached that birth to three is the most important time for investing in children’s development and potential then surely we need to be looking at programmes and policies that support this.
To this end I heard an interesting item regarding the survey on National Radio (link to audio here) which suggested that in Sweden twenty years ago the use of subsidised care was widely used for young children but since their extended paid parental leave it’s now rare for children under 18 months to be in care. Surely that has to be a good thing for the children (and I would hope the parents too!). Contrast that to the UK and Australia where a majority of under ones are in some form of daily child-care.
This morning Dr Ian Hassall told Morning Report that there has been a lot of talk about women returning to the workplace, to increase New Zealand’s productivity. He said that means that a whole generation of children are growing up in situations outside the home, without close family relationships. We may end up paying the price for this in ten or fifteen years time with a society that lacks cohesion, with higher rates of relationship breakdowns etc.
What are some of the options here in NZ? Remember last year when the Families Commission “proposed a three-stage increase from the present 14 weeks leave to six months initially, then nine months and finally 12 months by 2015.” At the time Judith Collins (spokesperson on family affairs) said she would take the Families Commission proposal to the National caucus.
“It would have to go to caucus and have the costings done and be weighed up against other initiatives, but I’m generally not against it,” she said.
What is their response now that there is growing evidence of the need for change, and now that they are in the position to do something about it? What about National’s pre-election policy on some of the key issues like extended paid parental leave? Difficult to say as it is hard to find on their website (indeed I can’t actually spot their policy at all!), but I hope that they accept the challenge to debate the issues. Given they decided to cancel the Family Commission conference, which was to look at how families were coping with the economic crisis, I am not feeling very optimistic.