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Launch of the Parenting council - Maharey Speech

Hon. Steve Maharey

20 March 2003 Speech Notes

Launch of the Parenting council

Beehive Foyer, Parliament Buildings.

Introduction

Welcome to Parliament Buildings and to this launch of the Parenting Council.

As you know, the Parenting Council is being formed by five of the organisations most active in the parenting field within New Zealand:

- the Parents Centre;

- Parenting with Confidence;

- the Pacific Foundation;

- Parent to Parent; and

- "Triple P".

These five organisations have a shared interest in parenting. At the same time, each of them has a different background, different experiences and different yet complementary expertise. The Parenting Council will draw strength from both the unity and the diversity of its members. That augurs well for the Parenting Council's future.

No doubt other organisations with an interest in parenting may consider joining over time, as the Parenting Council shows what it can do. I shall watch your progress with real interest.

The resurgence of interest in parenting

The name "Parenting Council" already has a history. Last year the Labour Party, in its manifesto, announced an intention to establish a Parenting Council. Its purpose was to draw on:

"expertise from government, community and academic sectors, to co-ordinate a whole-of-government approach to promote and support good parenting¡K.The Council will promote the importance of the parenting role and guide the development and implementation of new programmes supporting parenting.

During the process of establishing what the new Families Commission would do, the Government and United Future decided that issues for parents would be most effectively considered within the whole context of the Families Commission's activities, rather than through establishing a separate council.

I am delighted that the name "Parenting Council" was seen as too good to be wasted. I'll be happier still if our initiative helped to stimulate co-operation among the groups that are setting up the Parenting Council. Best of all, however, are the clear signs that the organisation we are launching today will provide a boost for parenting. That's what really counts.

Before they chose the name "Parenting Council", the organisers of the new body asked me whether the Government would have any objection to their using it. I was happy to give them the Government's blessing. What we had wanted - and still intend to do - was to promote the importance of parenting. That is not a task for the public sector alone. It is a task that belongs to our whole society because it affects our whole society. It provides scope for all who are willing to contribute. I expect that there will be a lot of co-operation between the Government and the Parenting Council.

But not only co-operation; we are bound to have our differences too. The Parenting Council's publicity states plainly that "the function of the Parenting Council is to lobby government and to maintain a media presence on issues that affect parents."

I welcome that frankness. Open lobbying for important causes is an essential part of the democratic process. Parenting deserves to have its own lobby group. I look forward to learning more about the specific goals and plans of the Parenting Council, and to seeing you in action.

As I said, no doubt there will be times when we disagree. When we disagree, however, both sides will understand that it is over means, not ends. Both sides will know that they share a belief in the importance of parenting.

The importance of good parenting

I have to say that New Zealand society as a whole took too long to recognise that importance. Sound parenting is vital if children are to grow up to be dependable adults. Sound parenting is essential if children are to be able to take up the challenge of further education and successful employment. In short, sound parenting is crucial to creating a prosperous, innovative society in which all can realise their ambitions.

The knowledge economy truly is born in the home, is nurtured by parents and supported by the family.

Parents in New Zealand have a critical role to play, so raising public awareness and improving public understanding of family issues are vital tasks.

The Families Commission

As you know, we have been working constructively with our friends in United Future New Zealand on the establishment the Families Commission. The Commission, which will be up and running from 1 July 2004, will:

- raise awareness of issues affecting families;

- promote informed discussion on family-related topics;

- promote, purchase and stimulate research into family issues; and

- act on behalf of families in the policy development process.

I expect the Commission will lead to better general understanding of what makes a successful family in 21st century New Zealand.

In setting up the Families Commission we have deliberately opted for a broad and inclusive definition of the family. Initially, the Families Commission will have a strong focus on issues affecting families that are parenting children or caring for other dependents. However, families take many shapes and forms.

The change in New Zealand families over recent decades has been dramatic. In 1981, 83% of families had two married parents. The percentage of these households had fallen to 59% by 2001. Over the same period, households with two parents in a de facto relationship rose from 3% to 11%. Households with a sole parent rose to 29%.

The family composition in New Zealanders may well continue to change and evolve. What we need to ensure is that all children, whatever their family composition, grow up in surroundings that meet their physical, emotional and intellectual needs. Both parents need to be fully engaged in meeting their responsibilities, regardless of their living arrangements.

Fathers and fathering are particular issues. Greater numbers of separations and divorces has placed pressure on fathers enduring role. Some have treated a separation from the mother of their children as a separation from the parenting role. Other have felt that this role has been taken from them.

I for one believe that every father has a responsibility to be emotionally, practically and financially engaged with their parenting responsibilities whether they live with the children or not.

This is a life-long responsibility that comes with the privilege of being a parent. In cases of separation and divorce this means that parents have to put their own personal issues aside and focus on doing a world class job nurturing their children. This isn't about fathers rights or mothers rights - it is about adult responsibilities to children we have brought into the world.

Social change only increases the need for parenting skills. Government currently invests something in the order of $43 million in parent support and education. What we need to ensure is that this investment is well placed and well used.

Some of our investments are backed by solid research and evaluation and achieve solid results. What we need to do is ensure that every cent is achieving maximum value for New Zealand families and New Zealand society.

Gathering evidence and promoting research into what works for parents, children and families is a key responsibility for agencies like the Ministry of Social Development and will be a key contribution of the Families Commission.

Conclusion

I am sure groups such as the Parenting Council, and others represented here, will work closely with the Families Commission on a range of issues, but especially on raising public awareness and understanding and in promoting effective support.

It's encouraging to know that there will be at least two new organisations in the field to respond to the needs of parents and families in our society and to build a strong culture of support.

I would like to thank the organisations that are joining their efforts today for what they have done for parenting over the years. In some cases, their track record is a very long one. Parents Centre, for example, has 50 years of promotion and support behind it, others here have no less illustrious track records, and some of you are already approaching the status of legends.

I would also like to thank parenting organisations across New Zealand for raising all our consciousness about the importance and status of parenting. Over the long term, that may count most of all. Only a society that values parents and parenting can hope to achieve its full potential. We are counting on the Parenting Council to continue these efforts, with increased effectiveness.

Being a successful parent is not easy. Every parent knows that. It is a role in which most of us need guidance and support from time to time. I look forward to the Parenting Council playing a positive role in providing that guidance and support. I have no doubt that every parent will welcome your efforts too.

ENDS


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