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Focus on the future: an agenda for children

Opening address to the Seminar on Children’s Policy, Beehive Theatrette, Wellington.

Steve Maharey
Minister For The Community & Voluntary Sector

Introduction

Tçnâ koutou and welcome to you all for this most important seminar.

You have all been invited to take part because of your experience and interest in children’s issues.

I would like to thank you all for so willingly making yourselves available to participate. A special thank-you to our commentators, and to those of you who have contributed the papers that will feed and fertilise the discussions.

I would also like to acknowledge the many experts in children's issues who are not here today. In trying to organise an event of manageable proportions we have inevitably not been able to include everyone we would like to. So it is important that we recognise the expertise and passion of people across the country and remind ourselves that this is just the start of a process that will necessarily involve a high degree of consultation during development of the 'agenda' itself.

Children In New Zealand

New Zealand currently has just over one million children and young people under the age of 18 years. That’s 27% of our total population.

It is these children and young people, the future of our country, who are the focus of this seminar.

In the background material, you have received the range of information relating to children and young people in the social context indicators and the population update for children under 18 years. These together provide a snapshot of the situation of children in New Zealand at present.

The discussion papers prepared by Government agencies put forward their views on key issues that children face now and will face in the immediate future. I look forward to having these views discussed tomorrow and to the contribution of that debate to the development of the draft agenda for children’s policy and research in New Zealand.

The purpose of this seminar is for the Minister of Youth Affairs and myself to launch the development of that agenda. Once completed, it will provide a framework for policy development and research for people under 18 for the next five years.

Along the way we will hear from experts and discuss some of the key issues for Maori and Pacific children, and issues for all children in relation to health, education, care and protection, youth justice, the law, and children’s rights.

We will also discuss requirements for future research relating to children.

The seminar will provide the opportunity to obtain the advice and views of you, the experts, service providers, academics and advocates, about what the issues and priorities are. This information will be a key input into the development of a draft agenda for children’s policy and research which will be consulted on widely later in the year.

This seminar provides the first major step in continuing consultation with the non-government sector on children’s issues.

Following this seminar we will be seeking nominations for a reference group to assist the Ministry of Social Policy and the Ministry of Youth Affairs to develop the draft agenda and provide ongoing input into policy development relating to children.

Defining "children"

An important issue we need to clarify at the outset is what we mean by “children” within the context of this seminar and the development of the agenda.

When is a child no longer a child - no longer dependent, and now responsible for himself or herself? There are a lot of conflicting and confusing definitions in this area.

Does 'child' mean under 17 as in the Department of Child, Youth and Family definition? Does it mean under -18, like the new drinking age indicates? Do we look at the various ages classified as full and half-fare?

For this seminar we are using the definition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that is, we will be focusing on the period between birth to the 18th birthday.

Child Population Trends

As I mentioned earlier, there are just over one million children under the age of 18 in New Zealand.

That is 27 percent of the total population, although that is projected to fall to 22 percent over the next 15 years.

Our child population is becoming more ethnically diverse each year.

By 2010 around half of New Zealand’s under 5 year olds will be able to identify with an ethnic group other than European.

And by 2016 this will be half of all children under 18. And many of these children will be able to celebrate multiple cultural heritages.

Over the decade to 2010, it is predicted that the number of children aged less than 10 will decline, and the number of 10-17 year olds will increase. The increase in older children will be more pronounced in percentage terms among Maori and Pacific peoples.

Currently more than three-quarters of children in New Zealand live in two parent families.

But the proportion of children living with one parent has increased sharply between 1986 and 1996, particularly among Maori and Pacific children.

And the proportion of children living in poverty is a major concern.

Our policies need to be able to take into account these changes and their implications for the future.

Advice from children and young people

Having this seminar is a quick way towards getting started on the development of children’s policy and research agenda.

It enables us to seek the views of and advice from the advocates, specialists and service providers working in the area of children’s issues and to draw on your considerable experience in working with children and young people.

We recognise that it is not a substitute for consulting with young people themselves about policies that affect them. While we are committed to such consultation on the draft agenda developed after this seminar, we acknowledge that this in not an area where the Government has much expertise at present.

To this end, we have scheduled a session during the seminar that will focus on seeking your help and obtaining your ideas of how best to consult with children and young people in the next stage of the process of developing the agenda.

General comments

All of us here want the very best that is possible for our children.

We want to see children succeeding, not failing.

We want to see them happy and energetic, not sad and lethargic.

We want them to feel loved and valued, not despised, battered and degraded.

For this to become reality, we need the best policies and practices we can collectively conceive of put in place - to promote bright and positive futures for our upcoming generation, in a country they feel proud to be part of and call home.

Today New Zealand children are growing up in many different kinds of families that provide rich cultural differences and diversity.

The many cultures that make up our society each have their own view on what makes a family. This too needs to be reflected in our policies, and in law.

Children thrive in strong families and strong communities.

My Government believes that every child in New Zealand needs and deserves to grow up with nurturing, love, security, positive discipline and opportunity.

Every child has the right to be dependent and to grow up in conditions that help them to become a dependable adult.

For that to occur they need the right role models.

Men and women – mothers and fathers, aunts or uncles and grandparents, extended family, teachers and other significant adults -- who are confident, self-reliant, well adjusted and emotionally mature.

Robust policies need to be put in place that support and foster the ability of families and communities to nurture their children to responsible adulthood.

Conclusion

Tomorrow you will hear from key commentators on children’s education, health, children’s rights, care and protection, youth justice and children and the law.

You will also hear about Maori and Pacific children’s issues, and the best ways to involve children in the development of this agenda.

Remember our focus is on the next five years.

It is on what needs to be done, the priorities and how we can work together to for the benefit of all our nation’s children.

I look forward to learning from the collective knowledge and wisdom that you will bring to these issues.

This is a start, an important start.

But without that start, our nation’s children will not get the better deal they deserve or the support they need to grow to be the best they can be.

Contact: Michael Gibbs, Press Secretary, (04) 471 9154 or (025) 270 9115.

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