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NZ can ACT to stop shameful child stats

NZ can ACT to stop shameful child stats

Dr Muriel Newman Wednesday, 29 June 2005 Speeches - Social Welfare

Speech to the Parentline Charitable Trust Child Summit, Hamilton Gardens, Hamilton, Wednesday 29 June, 1pm.

I would like to start by acknowledging the excellent work of Maxine Hodgson and Parentline in improving the lives of children and families in the region and through events like this Child’s Summit, raising public awareness of the major challenges confronting policy makers in ensuring that New Zealand children are kept safe from harm and maltreatment.

I must admit that I come here today with a heavy heart. I’ve been in Parliament for nine years and during that time I’ve seen and heard fine rhetoric, a multitude of excuses and hundreds of millions spent on trying to fix the massive child abuse problem in New Zealand.

The result is that the situation has continued to get worse with a 45% increase (a record 13,017 cases) in established child abuse cases identified by the Department of Child, Youth and Family last year.

While 13,017 abused children have been identified, we all know many thousands of others go undetected. I say enough is enough. We are sick and tired of the excuses given by a government that only pays lip service to the problem and hasn’t got the political will or courage to tackle the factors at the heart of this child abuse epidemic - family breakdown and long-term welfare dependency.

Statistics tell us that child abuse is largely a Maori problem and we don’t have to look far to find out why: by the year 2010, if present trends continue, four out of five Maori babies will be born into families without a father and one out of two Maori children will live in homes that depend on welfare. These children are disadvantaged from birth because all the evidence now tells us - including evidence from the Government’s own research agency - that long term welfare and sole parenthood are risk factors for children.

In spite of Labour having had six years to turn the situation around, they have exacerbated the problem: their softening of the Domestic Purposes Benefit has sent out the signal that the DPB is effectively a benefit for life and their changes to the guardianship and relationship laws have continued to undermine the traditional family and marginalise fathers.

So what would ACT do to turn the situation around?

Our answer is a five step plan involving welfare reform, introducing shared parenting, opening up the Family Court, rebuilding New Zealand’s child welfare agency into a collaborative community based family service and introducing a zero tolerance approach to child abuse which would involve the serious pursuit and prosecution of offenders.

ACT’s plan for welfare reform involves abolishing the DPB and replacing it with Temporary Assistance for Sole Parents, a benefit funded at the same level but with a cap for the number of children - that is available while the sole parent finds their feet and finds a job with full support such as child care and after school care provided.

While going back to work may not be easy, the Prime Minister has now sent out a sharp signal through paid parental leave to New Zealand mothers that they are expected to return to work as soon after the birth of their child as possible. Sole parents cannot expect taxpayers to fund them in the long term. They must be expected to become the breadwinners for their family in a matter that will not only lift their family income and enhance their confidence and self esteem, but it will significantly improve the future outcomes for their children.

ACT would also undertake family law reform to introduce shared parenting and properly open up the Family Court.

Shared parenting would ensure that just as a couple are equal parents before a relationship breaks down, so too they are deemed to be equal afterwards. That presumption would take much of the acrimony out of the separation process as parents realise they must work collaboratively to put the best interests of their children first.

Shared parenting will ensure that children retain the love, support and guidance of both their parents, grandparents and wider family. It will also share the childcare burden, which will make it easier for both parents to juggle work and family responsibilities.

ACT would also open up the Family Court in the same way that the District Court is open, leaving Judges with the power to suppress names and close the court on a case-by-case basis. In jurisdictions that have opened up their Family Court, one of the significant outcomes has been massive reductions in child abuse.

The threat of being seen to be an abuser of children along with the public outcry for punishment that would follow means an open court acts as a deterrent for potential child abusers. Further, an open court ensures that substandard practice in child abuse cases by the Child Welfare Agency or the Police are publicly exposed. That acts as a serious incentive for better results and best practice.

Finally, ACT would rebuild the child welfare service in New Zealand by focussing it on the prevention of child abuse in the community. Using the Starship Hospital model, ACT believes in a one-stop shop, community- based Family Centre Service with social workers, health and education professionals and Police working side by side with the goal of reducing child abuse in the community. Such an agency should focus on child safety, child protection and family wellbeing with the forensic investigation of child abuse and the bringing of perpetrators to justice being carried out by a Youth Justice Division of the Police.

Such an agency would easily be able to identify the relatively small number of families in any community, which are responsible for most of the child abuse referrals at the present time. Providing such families with an experienced social work mentor has been shown in New Zealand to produce outstanding results in eliminating the potential for child abuse to take place within the family.

By doing these things, I believe New Zealand can turn around the shameful child abuse statistics that have escalated to scandalous levels under Labour. To accept anything less is simply unacceptable.


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