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Muriel Newman: State-Funded Neighbours From Hell

State-Funded Neighbours From Hell

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

I have a constituent who, for years, has been battling the neighbours from hell. Not ordinary neighbours, who can become annoying from time to time, but a family steeped in anti-social and disorderly behaviour, where violence and intimidation are freely used against anyone and everyone.

Police have been involved with the family – as have welfare officers, Housing New Zealand, Child Youth and Family, truancy services, youth aid – in fact, most state social agencies. The effect of that combined effort has been negligible – the family still terrorises the neighbourhood.

The lives of my constituents and others in the neighbourhood – as well as, no doubt, thousands of others throughout the country in similar predicaments – are a living Hell. They believe there is a high probability of criminal acts being committed against them, and feel completely unprotected by police or the courts.

Yet these are people who should expect to live in peace and dignity. They have taken a responsible approach to life, contribute to society, respect authority, work hard and raise their children to achieve and succeed. They cannot believe that a family paid by the State – because the neighbours from Hell are, of course, beneficiaries – can be allowed to destroy the quiet enjoyment and security that should rightfully be theirs.

The children – in this case seven, with an eighth on the way – swear, throw stones, trespass and steal. The older ones drink, smoke and ‘bunk’ school. Worse, other children are attracted to this home, where there are no rules, and it is common for 20 or more youngsters to be marauding around the neighbourhood causing trouble.

The question that must be asked is: should one dysfunctional family have the right to disrupt the lives of others around them, because State authorities have turned a blind eye to its serial law breaking? The answer is, of course, no.

To begin with, these parents should not have custody of their children. They are not fit parents. CYF should have taken the children into foster care years ago, only allowing them back into the family if the parents straightened themselves out.

When the mother has her new baby, she should be actively encouraged to adopt her baby out into a family that will provide the love, nurturing and care that all children need. And for those do-gooders who believe children are always better off with their birth parents, I say take a long hard look at the packs of dishevelled and unkempt children who terrorise our neighbourhoods and ask whether that is the sort of future that a newborn baby should have to look forward to?

Housing New Zealand should have threatened the family with eviction long ago if they did not look after the house. The cost of damage caused by this family will have contributed to the $44 million of damage by tenants to state houses since 1999, with only $15 million of that cost having been recovered.

But I hold the welfare department largely responsible for the mayhem caused by this family. Its most important role is to support the long-term unemployed – who have the most trouble finding and keeping work – into employment and independence from the State. If it had done its job properly, and helped that father find paid work, many of the problems surrounding this family would have disappeared.

When families rely on a wage, instead of welfare, their dynamics change: working parents must keep proper hours with regular mealtimes and bedtimes – children are tucked up in bed instead of wandering the streets at night causing trouble. By working in a job, dad becomes a role model for his children. He would better understand the importance of education and training to advance in the workplace, and may even encourage his children to do well at school – instead of condoning their truancy.

The school could have helped too, by threatening to prosecute the parents if they refused to ensure their children attended school – as they are required to do by law – and being prepared to carry out their threat.

But, most of all, police should have cracked down hard on law-breaking – whether disorderly behaviour, intimidation, trespassing, underage drinking or smoking – to send a strong message to the parents and their children that criminal offending will not be tolerated, and that police will protect the innocent against abuse.

Neighbours from Hell are a product of welfare gone wrong and State agency failure. It is a problem that should be tackled with urgency before the children begin to perpetuate the cycle!


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