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Building a great place for children - Maharey

Hon Steve Maharey

12 February 2004 Speech Notes

Building a great place for children

Comments at the Commissioner for Children's Symposium on Children's Rights. Victoria University of Wellington.


Kia ora koutou katoa ladies, gentlemen, and young people. It's good to be here with you at this Symposium.

New Zealand is a great place to be a child. That's long been a point of pride for every New Zealander¡Xbut it's a belief that has been shaken over the last decade or so.

The Agenda for Children is the government's framework for building a great place for children. Raising the status of children and young people. Protecting and promoting their rights. Removing poverty, violence, abuse, and neglect from their lives--ensuring they have good lives today, and a positive future ahead.

We launched the Agenda for Children in 2002. Led by the Ministry of Social Development, the Agenda sets out our vision for New Zealand as a great place for children, and outlines action areas and principles to guide government policies and services affecting children.

The Agenda takes a "whole child' approach: looking at the child's overall development, not just at problems in isolation. It also takes a "whole of government' approach¡Xworking across sectors to provide integrated and targeted services for children.

Crucially, the Agenda recognises that children and young people are respected citizens who contribute to society now. They are not just adults in the making.

The Agenda's seven Action Areas all involve building connections with young New Zealanders to ensure they participate in community life, and that their views are given a voice.

The Agenda for Children defines a "child' as a young person aged 17 years and under. Its vision and its goals are very closely aligned with those of the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa.

Led by the Ministry of Youth Development, the Youth Development Strategy Aotearoa provides a framework for public sector agencies to use when they develop policies and initiatives that support people between 12 and 24 years.

The Agenda and the Youth Development Strategy both sit under the umbrella of the Government's Action for Child and Youth Development work programme. They are driven by this Government's will to make a difference for children and young people.

We are making a positive difference

The Social Report is a kind of a yearly scorecard on how well we're doing as a nation. Last year's Social Report showed that, while we have a lot of work ahead, there's also positive news for our children and young people.

Educational achievements are higher. Youth suicide and smoking rates are declining. Unemployment is at a 19-year low. Fewer young people are dying on our roads, and fewer teenagers are becoming parents.

Let's start with education. In 1986, 47% of New Zealand's school leavers left school with Sixth Form certificate or higher. In 2001, that figure had jumped to 64%.

In 1997, 30.7% of young people aged between 18 and 24 took part in tertiary education. In 2002, that figure climbed to 36.4%.

Training and apprenticeships are the way into work for many young people. This Government has the target of having 150,000 young people in industry training by 2005. Last year's Budget backed up that commitment to the tune of $84 million.

We're also working towards the goal of 7,500 Modern Apprenticeships by 2006, backed up by 14.6 million extra dollars.

In 1996, 14 of every 100,000 young men died on our roads; in 2002, the figure was down to 10. The number of teenagers having children has dropped from 18 per 100,000 in 1996, to 13.6 per 100,000 in 2002.

The youth suicide rate for both Maori and non-Maori is steadily decreasing. The total number of youth suicides in 2000 was 96, down from 120 in 1999 and 140 in 1998. The 2000 figure is the lowest total number since 1986.

In 2001, just over 29% of dependent children were living in low income homes, compared to almost 35% a decade earlier.

Smoking among young people has decreased. ASH's national survey of fourth formers shows that in 1999, 10% of young men aged 14 and 15 smoked; in 2002, the figure was down to 10%. The figures for young women in the same age bracket are slightly higher, but still show a decline: from 17% to 15%.

We can draw encouragement and inspiration from all these positive changes.

And we know that building on them is not a job for the Government alone. We need to work with others, particularly with children and young people themselves.

Increasing children's participation

Action Area 2 of the Agenda for Children aims to increase children's participation, particularly in government and community decision-making processes that affect them.

The very development of the Agenda involved extensive consultation with children around New Zealand. Rather than consulting with adults about children, we decided to go straight to the children themselves.

This consultation attracted three and a half thousand submissions, representing the views of more than seven and a half thousand people under the age of eighteen.

The issues raised by children were very similar to those discussed at this Symposium¡Xincluding children's desire for more respect, and greater involvement in the decisions that affect them.

A web-based resource for local government seeking to engage with children and young people will go live next month. The New Zealand local government toolkit for children and young people's participation will provide practical advice to local government on how to plan for and run participation exercises that are appropriate and meaningful for children and young people.

In developing the toolkit, the Ministry of Social Development held focus groups with young people who had been involved in local government.

Planning for participation is a web-based toolkit for care and protection providers. Available on the Ministry website, the toolkit is about how to successfully incorporate the views of children, young people, and their families in decision making about care and protection policies and services.

The Ministry has also produced Involving Children, a guide for organisations, government agencies, community groups and individuals wanting to involve children in decision making. Involving Children emphasises that we need to do more than just let children speak. We need to listen, take their views seriously, and show that their input has an effect on reality.

Extending the powers of the Commissioner for Children

Our Commissioner for Children Cindy Kiro has a vital role as an advocate for New Zealand's children.

We've recently expanded the Commissioner's role. Her functions now include raising awareness of children's rights in New Zealand¡Xand raising New Zealanders' understanding and awareness of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, or UNCROC.

UNCROC is the very basis of the Agenda for Children. UNCROC's monitoring helps us to identify the areas we need to focus on, and co-ordinate our work to improve lives and opportunities for children and young people.

The Commissioner for Children's expanded role also includes monitoring the Government's implementation of UNCROC. We know that what gets measured gets done. The Commissioner' greater watching brief will give better effect to UNCROC, ensuring the government sector remains on track with its commitments.

Far from adding to bureaucracy, the Commissioner's extended roles will increase her independence. Her investigative functions now reach further than the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act. And she now reports directly to the Prime Minister on matters affecting children's rights.

The Ministry of Social Development is developing a framework of indicators to collect, analyse and report on statistical data on children under 18. This will be invaluable in helping us chart our progress¡Xand relates to Action Area 7 of the Agenda for Children, enhancing information and research about children and young people.

The knowledge we get from this monitoring will ensure that our investment in child and youth development is coherent and targeted. It will enable us to prioritise government initiatives across the social sector. And we'll make sure these are in line with UNCROC.

Removing child poverty

Action Area 3 of the Agenda for Children aims to end child poverty. A key strategy in this Government's offensive on child poverty centres on working-age adults.

Our efforts are paying off. Unemployment in New Zealand continues to decrease, while participation in the labourforce is improving.

We're building on this success with further investment to help people move into paid work.

Budget 2003 saw the introduction of a $152.8 million package over four years aimed at reducing the barriers New Zealanders face in getting into - and remaining in - employment. We know, for example, that quality, affordable childcare is essential. One initiative of the package increases the childcare subsidy maximum from 37 to 50 hours per week.

Also in Budget 2003, we raised the threshold for Family Support, making this safety net assistance available to even more New Zealand families.

Budget 2004 will further help families with dependent children. Future Directions is a major policy package about increasing the living standards of beneficiary and low-income families. It aims to put more money into people's pockets¡Xto ensure adequate incomes for all, and to make work worth it.

We're also looking to build the long-term economic independence of our young people. We're investing $56 million over four years to achieve our goal of all 15-19-year-olds in education, training or work by 2006. This incorporates an extra $26 million for the Gateway programme and $14.6 million for Modern Apprenticeships.

Ending violence, abuse and neglect

Action Area 4 of the Agenda is to address violence in children's lives. In March 2002 we launched Te Rito New Zealand Family Violence Prevention Strategy to shape a New Zealand where families and whanau are living free from violence.

Te Rito is a collaborative strategy between government and non-government agencies.

A number of initiatives fulfilling Te Rito have progressed over the last year.

- We have frameworks for preventing family violence in both Maori and Pacific communities.

- We have a contestable fund for community-based collaborative initiatives to prevent family violence.

- We have the Family Violence Clearing House, a nexus of best practice information to guide government agencies working to reduce family violence in New Zealand.

To further protect young New Zealanders from abuse and neglect, we're investigating how to enhance and extend high intensity programmes like Family Start.

Family Start is an inter-sectoral programme that targets families of children who are at greatest risk of poor life outcomes. It seeks to help parents improve their personal situation, family functioning and parenting practice, and improve the long-term outcomes for their children. We currently invest $18.3 million a year in this programme.

In February 2003 the Ministry of Social Development released the Care and Protection Blueprint 2003. The Blueprint aims to help children and young people who are risk of, or who have suffered from, abuse and neglect.

The Blueprint's core focus is on improving the way government and community agencies work together to respond to child abuse and neglect. The Planning for Participation toolkit I mentioned contributes to one of the Blueprint's actions.

In April this year we'll launch a $10.8m national public education strategy on alternatives to the physical discipline of children. The programme will aim to influence attitudes and behaviour away from physical punishment. Early evaluations of the education strategy will be available in December 2005.

A collective challenge; a collective reward

Building and protecting children's rights¡Xbuilding a great place for children¡Xis a collective journey.

The task is not for Government alone, and not for a single government agency. A raft of interconnecting plans and initiatives must be brought into play. Events such as this one inspire us about the strength and commitment of young people and the organisations that work on our behalf.

Feedback from the UNCROC Committee and the Commissioner for Children, from our own monitoring, and from children and young people themselves, tells us where we need to work harder.

We can always do more¡Xand we are. The progress we've made is a robust platform for effective practice in eliminating child poverty, addressing abuse and neglect, protecting children's rights, and giving young New Zealanders a voice.


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