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Steve Maharey - Our Children, Our Future

23 June 2000, 2pm. Address to Auckland Social Workers, Otara Child, Youth and Family Office. Speech Notes

Our Children, Our Future

It is a pleasure to be here with you in South Auckland a week after the first Labour / Alliance coalition Budget.

It's a Budget we can be proud of.

Partly for the very novel reason that we used the Budget to deliver on our commitments to the public – something that Governments in New Zealand have not always done of late.

And partly because the Budget provides a clear direction for the new millennium.

This Government and this Budget is about investment in New Zealand's future. Investments in opportunity, security and participation.

Security, opportunity and participation used to be things we took for granted in this country; no special investment required.

New Zealand used to be one of the best places on earth to be a child. We were a prosperous nation, where unemployment was virtually unknown.

Sadly the same cannot be said today.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in this nation have grown and become entrenched.

We know for example that:
 in 1998 13% of households had incomes which were lower in real terms than the level of benefit set for a married couple in 1972.
 In 1996 23% of children lived in families where there was no parent in paid work.

And we know that certain sections of our population have suffered more than others.

The disparity between the experiences and material wellbeing of Maori and Pacific families and other New Zelanders have widened year by year.

And the fastest growing sections of our society are those that have suffered the most disadvantage. By 2016, 28% of children will be Maori and 13% Pacific.

Our Pacific heritage will be written in the faces of our children.

But what will their lives be like?

We know that at the moment far too many Maori and Pacific children experience poverty in childhood, and we know that this experience increases the likelihood that the child will experience low income in adulthood.

Further, international studies show that poverty is inextricably linked with other factors associated with life long disadvantage:
 Poor early childhood development
 Overcrowded, sub-standard housing
 Lack of early childhood education
 Poor school attendance and performance
 Non-participation in education, employment or training between age 16 and 18 years
 Contact with the police and / or justice system
 Drug misuse
 Teenage parenthood

Add these things together and you have a recipe for life long disadvantage.

And I do not have to tell you that I have just painted a picture of the childhood experience of all too many of the people Child, Youth and Family works with.

So what does the Budget offer?

Well, there is of course more direct funding to Child, Youth and Family, but this is just part of the picture.

The real drive in this budget, the bold strategy for the new millennium wasn't about simply building better ambulances at the bottom of the cliff, but to fence the thing off and limit the flow of casualties.

Maori and Pacific people are currently over represented on every indicator of disadvantage.

And that spills over to all too many Maori and Pacific children appearing in Child, Youth and Family statistics.

For this reason we have provided CYF with new money for Iwi and Maori provider development and new funding to support 'by Maori for Maori' initiatives to reduce youth offending.

We have also provided new money to improve Family Group Conference outcomes and secured the National Government's CYF 'timebomb' that would have seen $27.2 Million dollars disappear from CYFs baseline this year.

Some $36 million dollars in the first year, building to around $40 million by year four.

We did this because we need an ambulance at the bottom of the child welfare cliff, and we want it to be a very good one.

But, the big idea as I said is not about ambulances (except in the health sector) but about fences.

The wellbeing of a nation can be judged by what happens to the poorest, most vulnerable, least secure children.

It is a reflection on us all.

This Government believes we must close the gaps in New Zealand. We want all children to grow up in secure and loving homes where parents know the value of discipline and nurture.

That means offering security and opportunity to families. Especially those currently experiencing disadvantage and the absence of hope.

The Closing the Gaps strategy is all about ensuring security and new opportunities for some of the most disadvantaged Maori and Pacific families.

Our opponents on the right have accused this of being a scattergun approach. Well it is not. It is a life cycle approach to ensure that Maori and Pacific people enjoy the opportunities that other New Zealanders take for granted.

Lets look at the Closing the Gaps package in relation to some of the factors associated with life long disadvantage, because I believe that this is a package of measures that will have a major impact, right across Government, including Child, Youth and Family.

Poor early childhood development

Early childhood development is itself inexorably linked to the general wellbeing and status of the family. However there are things that can make a difference in the short term, many of them in the health sector.

That’s why we are investing an extra $412 million in the health sector this year.

We are moving immunisation funding so that it achieves better results for Maori and Pacific children.

We are funding smoking cessation programmes targeted to Maori and women to ensure children grow up breathing healthy air.

We are putting more funding to improve the dental health of Maori and Pacific children and young people which still falls far behind that of other New Zealanders.

These are the sort of primary health initiatives where Maori and Pacific communities can design and deliver services in a way which they know will work for their communities.

Overcrowded, sub-standard housing

We all know that poor housing makes kids sick, we also know that if you have one sick child in an overcrowded house you pretty soon have a sick household.

We are bringing in income related rents for low income state house tenants which will put dollars back into the pockets of families.

It should lessen the financial pressure that has seen families sharing overcrowded housing in an effort to keep cost down, while state houses have been left empty because families can't afford the 'market' rents.

The policy should also exert gentle downward pressure on unrealistic rents in non-state housing, as the state housing providers begin to lead the market down not up for a change.

We also acknowledge that some parts of the country face particular housing problems. The Budget provides funding to help Maori and Pacific families to solve their own housing problems in six Special Housing Action Zones.

The Zones, which are still to identified, will be located in rural and urban areas where greatest needs exist for Maori and Pacific families.

Communities will be helped to action local schemes to increase the quality and supply of houses. These might be community or self build schemes, housing rehabilitation projects or other local initiatives that best meet local needs.

So healthier kids, in healthier, more secure homes.

Lack of early childhood education

Maori and Pacific participation in early childhood education is increasing but the gap with participation by other New Zealanders is still very substantial.

Early childhood education is the platform on which compulsory education builds. It readies children for the classroom experience, and prepares them to succeed.

We are therefore supporting the growth of Maori language education and providing more support to get Pacific early childhood centres established and licensed.

And we are providing more funds to encourage more Maori and Pacific people to enter teaching at every level.

Poor school attendance and performance

Maori and Pacific pupils need to see their role models in the classroom, that's why we are going to work to get more Maori and Pacific teachers in schools.

But it will take more than this to turn around the education statistics.

And we must start with the fundamentals.

For example, I do not want children to drift out of school having failed to gain even basic literacy and numeracy skills. Without the basics people have no hope of gaining stable employment in a modern economy.

Hence we are investing in:
 121 literacy resource teachers to help pupils at risk, and new literacy / numeracy materials to assist teachers.
 An innovations pool to foster exciting programmes for children at risk of educational failure.
 Homework centres for at risk primary school students
 820 extra alternative education placements for children who are unable to be maintained in the normal school environment.

Non-participation in education, employment or training between age 16 and 18 years

International research shows that if a young person is not involved in employment, education or training between the ages of 16-18 their chances of experiencing long term unemployment and disadvantage increase alarmingly.

We cannot continue to throw our young people on the scrap-heap.

I don't want any young person in this country to be without opportunity, without hope because it I from here that our horrifying youth suicide statistics spring.

School to work transition is one of those times where young people can loose all direction and go off the rails.

We are establishing a programme called Gateway specifically to assist young people in that difficult transition between school and the world of work.

We are also investing millions in trying to increase the number of Maori and Pacific young people who go on to tertiary education because we want to dramatically lift the proportion of Maori and Pacific people in the more rewarding and stable professional occupations. Once there, they will be a new generation of positive role models for their younger brothers and sisters, pathfinders to show the way.

Contact with the police and justice system and drug misuse

Contact with the Police, youth and criminal justice systems is an all too common experience for Maori and Pacific people.

And some poor choices as a young person can shape and scar a life.

For too long youth justice has been seen as something of a poor relation to care and protection. If we are serious about giving our children a better start in life we must also consider strategies to keep them on track, especially during their formative teenage years.

I read that some 95% of 18 year old males admitted to committing at least one illegal act during the last year. Most of them will never be involved in serious or persistent offending. It is an adolescent stage that they move through, and grow out of.

However, some people get involved in criminal activity very young and the seriousness and frequency simply increases over time.

So we need to get better at identifying the persistent offenders who are likely to go on to a life in crime, and we need to get better at offering them a way onto a healthier track.

That's why the Budget makes provision for a $22 million dollar Youth Justice package, including confirming funding for the youth services strategy, funding for Maori youth at risk initiatives, and more funding to improve Youth Justice Family Group Conference outcomes.

We are also spending about a million dollars this year to train schools to deliver drug education to their pupils. That way we up-skill the schools so that they can teach their students year after year.

What I wanted to demonstrate is that this Budget is driven by a big idea, a bold strategy.

We have taken an ecological, a life cycle approach to one on the greatest social problems facing this nation. It is, I believe, the right strategy at the right time.

We must offer more than a sticking plaster solution; we must instead offer people an opportunity to achieve their full potential and determine their own destiny.

That is how you build stronger families, more cohesive communities, and provide the right environment for children to thrive.

The reason I wanted to talk to you today about more than just the direct funding going to Child, Youth and Family is simple. If we are to tackle child welfare, child protection and youth justice issues we must look more broadly than the traditional 'child welfare' sector, we must look at the root causes of the problems.

We all know that Maori and Pacific children are over-represented on the wrong side of the ledger. It's high time we did something about it.

In this Budget we are investing in the health and wellbeing of some of the most marginalised Maori and Pacific families in this country. We are offering them the chance for a more prosperous, sustainable future.

And lets not forget that this whole package is about partnership.

 Partnership with Maori and Pacific communities.

 Partnership with Maori and Pacific agencies.

 Partnership between Government agencies and the sector.

 Partnership with family.

 Partnership with children.

It is only when we are all pulling in the same direction that we will turn the situation round.

Part of that partnership equation is the relationship of the Department of Child, Youth and Family with Maori and Pacific communities. This is something we are going to have to nurture and build.

Lets not kid ourselves, righting years of disparity and despair will not be easy, but we can do it. The will is there.

So the Budget story for Child, Youth and Family is a rich one, in terms of direct funding, but perhaps more importantly in that the package is going to address some of the drivers that push families towards requiring intervention in the first place.

Together we can again make this a truly great country in which to be a child.


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