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Ezine from Parents Centre - changing laws.

Ezine from Parents Centre - changing laws.

July 2003

The Ministry of Parents

e-zine of Parents Centre New Zealand


Legal priorities; Children, families, prostitutes, and the coast (not necessarily in that order!)

The last few weeks has seen a flurry of activity in and around the legislative chamber. Important social questions are being raised, many of which will have far-reaching implications parents. The Care of Children Bill, introduced earlier this month, is probably the most obviously significant piece of legislation affecting the status and concerns of parents.

The Bill attempts to address the balance between the rights and responsibilities of parents and guardians when deciding the best interests of a child. It makes a number of positive changes, no less being the shift in language from ownership, to agreement and conciliation. Another significant feature is the provision for children to have an opportunity to express their views, and to appeal the Court's decision. The Bill also recognises the changing shape of the family by acknowledging the role of step-parents, and donors involved in assisted human reproduction techniques. The paramount principle is the best interests of the child - this is a good thing.

There is, however, some concern that the proverbial baby may have been thrown out with the bathwater. The role of family law is to provide a framework for negotiation and agreement when other agreements or forums have failed. It also sends signals about the status and role of family relationships when deciding the best interests of the child.

This Bill identifies the importance of some key relationships and their significants in the lives of children, by specifying eligibility for Parenting orders, which determine the day-to-day care and contact arrangements in exercising guardianship for a child. Parenting orders replace custody and access orders and identify people who may apply for them. This could be just about anyone, subject to approval by the Registrar of the Family Court, although the approval criteria are not outlined.

One of the bites in the bill is Section 27 describing the termination of guardianship. An application for which may come from any of the defined guardians - as approved under the auspices of this bill, from a family member to ones elected partner, including a woman-father - which raises a curious distraction about the use of language and definitions of parenthood. Women as fathers; men as mothers is PC absurdity and it makes a mockery of the bill and the serious concern of meeting the needs of the child.

Despite all manner of family and friend vying to influence parenting orders there is, in fact, nothing in the bill to support parents in meeting their responsibilities, or the right (perhaps) to be supported in the role of parent. There is no responsibility for family/whaanu or the wider family community to support parents in successfully raising their children - despite being given the right to apply for Parenting orders when it turns to custard.

Many parents nod their heads in agreeing that parenting is the most challenging of roles, and at it's best is the most rewarding. Parenting cannot be done in isolation.

There is, at least, provision in the bill for counselling but on-going education and support don't get a look in. Education is the best form of early intervention available. Trouble is we can't so easily quantify the success implied by knowledge unless it directly contributes to the economy. Knowing how to raise healthy happy children is not factored into our GDP - or any other configuration of commercial gain or loss. But we can count a crisis in the courtroom.

And isn't it interesting that this Bill rises at the same time as the vigorously debated Prostitution Reform Bill, is passed. This law raised hackles and ire, as well as invoking several passionate speeches, including that delivered by Georgina Beyer who rose like a Phoenix from her past. Maybe the Care of Children Bill will raise the same degree of social passion - for the love of our children, and for their long term care.

And isn't it a similar issue to the long term care of, and access to the foreshore and seabed, which is the subject of the current crown/Maori debate over ownership rights. Sounds a bit like 'The Treaty, Part 2: Relitigated.' Governance of our foreshore is not so very different to the idea of guardianship for our children - care and protection. It's also about respect and responsibility in determining rights. Ownership is a red herring.

The reality of the Prostitution Reform Bill is that it will affect the lives of a very small number of New Zealanders. When you compare this to the total media silence that accompanied the first reading of the Families Commission Bill, you have to wonder whether the tail isn't just wagging the dog but the whole pet shop.

Parents must also be confused as to why John Burrett got seven years in prison for not kidnapping Bill Trotter and Ding Yan Zhao got just a few months for killing four year old Georgia in a car he was not allowed to be driving.

It's not just media reporting to blame, or the courts for getting confused over what is and isn't important, The Government have taken a lead in sending confusing messages to parents. Hon Steve Maharey recently announced,

"The most significant influence in a child's life is without question his or her family. The family unit is the essential building block of society; it provides the fundamental role of raising children, and offers personal care and emotional support for its members." Despite these words we constantly see the status of family being further eroded by new government legislation. Tens of millions of new dollars are being pumped into early childhood education this year and precious little into parent education. Surely if the government truly believed that families were ("without question!") as important as Mr Maharey suggests they are, they would be pulling out all stops to create an environment for families to thrive. Instead, they are sending the message that an early childhood centre should have the resources for raising your children, not parents?

If, in the budget, the increase of childcare subsidy (from 37 hours to 50) had been part of a raft of measures promoting parental support, education and recognition of the costs of raising a family, then we could congratulate the government on supporting parents. But it was offered in isolation and is a means of providing low paying employers with better access to cheap labour, by encouraging low waged parents to spend less time with their children and more time at work (or getting there). This Government should think very seriously about the best conditions for raising a family?

The other day we had a phone call from a distressed man telling us that CYFS had taken away his children and he couldn't get them back until he had done some parent education. Why was parent education not suggested before CYFS came to remove his children? Why was parent education not made available to this man and his partner when they found out that they were going to become parents? This family are going through hell and costing the country a lot of money because parenting is not seen as an investment and the government is not willing to create an environment in which parents can expect to succeed. The truth is: all families need help some of the time, but, fortunately, not all at the same time.

This newsletter is produced by the National Office of Parents Centre New Zealand. It does not necessarily represent views of the Board of Directors or individual members of the organisation.


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