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Sharples: 'Keeping Kids Safe'

'Keeping Kids Safe'

Telstra Clear Pacific, Manukau City

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Monday 14 April 2008; 9.30am

In our busy lives, driven by over-full schedules, a day can often be punctuated by the ringing phone, the rush of email traffic, the urgent meeting - unanticipated but taking priority over all.

In the midst of that noise, I sometimes cast my mind back to hot blustery Hawkes Bay summers, planning adventures with my cousins, exploring the shearing sheds, down the creek, eeling, and generally making mischief.

And I remember the excitement of a game called softball – you step up to the plate, you grab the bat, you hit the most spectacular home run ever seen on earth, and you run with the wind. The tension builds, you slide to the ground and hit home base and you hear the call – SAFE!

There you are, King of Takapau, safe.

No one can get you now, the crowds are laughing in sheer exhilaration. The champion of all champions has won the day.

Well….it’s a great dream to have.

I jumped at the chance to be here today, to celebrate and congratulate you all on this profound commitment to keeping kids safe.

The courage to stand up and declare your belief in tamariki te tuatahi – the desire to see thriving children, flourishing children, connected communities.

And I am greatly inspired by this concept of keeping children safe.

Keeping implies we are already doing this – and that, indeed, is a concept I want to promote.

Sometimes we seem to be so weighed down with the burden of child abuse statistics, domestic violence, accident and injury rates, and so on, that we forget the hundreds upon thousands of wonderful parents, healthy loved children, strong whanau.

I want to acknowledge Presbyterian Support Northern for reminding us all of the excellent parenting that is happening in many homes throughout Aotearoa, in keeping kids safe.

The concept of safe takes me back also to my days of comics, where the Beagle Boys were constantly trying to break into Scrooge McDuck’s universe, and rob him of all his treasures stored away in the place where valuables can be safely kept.

But no matter what explosive materials they used, the Beagle Boys never had the right strategies to work the combination out, and break into the safe.

The challenge before us all now in Aotearoa, is to consider whether we have the knowledge and the skills, in the right combination to keep our kids safe, free from harm, protected.

In the days in Takapau, our homes didn’t have a safe for hiding our jewels and family heirlooms, but we were fiercely protective of our safe outside – that ventilated box where your meat was kept safe from possums and rats.

It was about keeping your treasures secure, out of the way of harm.

What is the harm we are talking about here?

Let me remind us all of some of the progress reported to us – the indicators of wellbeing for children and young people in Aotearoa.

* The rate at which children are dying from intentional injury in this country shows no improvement;

* One out of every ten children reports being seriously bullied;

* One out of every four women aged between 17 – 24 has already experienced sexual interference or sexual assault;

* There were a thousand more children in care in 2007 than there were seven years ago – a grand total of 3771 children were in some form of care and protection placement last year;

* UNICEF’s 2003 report, a league table of child maltreatment deaths in rich countries showed that in the 29901, New Zealand’s rate of child maltreatment deaths made us the third highest out of 27 countries;

* In this northern region alone, from Cape Reinga to Auckland, there were 30627 notifications to Child Youth and Family from June 2006 to July 2007;

* Out of that total 42.6 percent were Maori – some 13, 062

* Throughout 2006, children were present at 51.5% of the family violence incidents attended by Police;

* Every week, 20,000 children are going to school, hungry and needing to be fed because of empty cupboards are home; - (and to the outrage of those who actually work in this area, the Minister of Maori Affairs had the audacity to suggest it was because they are all dieting);

* 43.3% of children in sole parent families and 14.6% of children in two parent families lived below the poverty line in 2003-2004;

* In 2006, 43.6% of children in the most deprived areas lived in crowded households, compared with just 2.3% of children in the most affluent areas;

* In 40% of those families defined as living in severe hardship, children had to share a bed;

* In New Zealand during 1990-2006, there were large increases in the number of children and young people admitted to hospital with serious bacterial infections, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever – and other conditions linked to overcrowding, and socio-economic disadvantage.

* almost 4 out of every 10 new-born children will be at high risk of poor health from day one.

I don’t think I need to go on any further.

This community here knows those figures in their full graphic horror.

For the last two years, I have taken part in a family violence awareness vigil on Mangere Mountain at the time of the Matariki – the Maori New Year. The names of the people murdered over the last ten years; many of them children are called out in the quiet stillness of the pre-dawn. As each candle representing a life is extinguished, the stark reality of such violence grips us all.

It would seem as if we are caught in the clutches of an angry society – epitomised by the incidents of road rage, disputes, economic impoverishment. The growing gaps between the haves and have nots have erupted in an air of anger, as our society attempts to deal with the gross disparities.

I look at the composition of some of our prestigious Auckland schools which used to make a priority for seats for local members of the community, or representation from rural locations. Nowadays these members seem to have been replaced by the smart, rich and quick, changing the very nature of the landscape.

Whereas in some of our smaller rural towns or suburbs they are so poorly resourced and the deprivation so deep, that they literally struggle to survive. These are the areas where teachers drive in and out; where even the shop-owners don’t live there.

Meanwhile the Government is in denial about the scope of the severity of hardship that is increasing in our communities – the impact of gambling, of child poverty, of drug and alcohol abuse.

In times of great need, I draw hope from the words of Martin Luther King:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe? Expediency asks the questions, is it politic? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, but because conscience tells one it is right”.

Is it right that our children are being deprived of opportunities because of the scourge of poverty?

Is it right that are children are being injured physically, mentally, emotionally?

Is it right that are children are growing up harmed, in the haven we call home?

And I think of the words of another African-American, the poet, Maya Angelou, who said:

“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”.

When did it become right that the majority of cases of child sexual abuse were perpetrated by a family member?

When did it become right that HOME was recorded as the location of injury in 53% of deaths and 55% of hospitalisations for our children in New Zealand during the decade between 1989 and 1998.

Just to put some perspective around that – 4% of child hospitalisations occurred on the road.

The ache for home is literally being turned on its head, so that home becomes the cause of our heartache as a nation.

But we can and must do something about these incriminating statistics, this violence beyond all control and reason.

We – in our agencies – in the parliament – and most of all in our homes can change this.

We can all become care and protection workers in our families, we can all become the guardians of our children, the protectors of our most vulnerable citizens.

And we in the Maori Party will continue to advocate for the devolution of resources into our communities – so that those people who have the solutions are resourced to deal with these issues in a way which actually strengthens our families.

Part of the issue may be first in having the courage to identify the problems in the first place.

It takes courage to face the fact of poverty; to speak out for families at risk, to have the same passion for the children and families that need our love and support as we put into our sporting icons, our national heros.

I was interested in some analysis that Tapu Misa referred to recently from a study by University of Kansas child psychologists.

The study found that children whose parents were professionals received an average of 487 utterances an hour from their parents, while ‘welfare children’ heard 178.

For these so-called welfare children, those utterances were two and a half times more likely to be discouragements, prohibitions and words of disapproval and more than six times less likely to be words of approval.

Not only were they spoken to less, but the focus was more frequently negative.

While I am not comfortable at this professional/welfare dichotomy it does perhaps stand as a proxy for the opportunities that may be available to families when they’re not struggling to find the money to put kai on the table, let alone keep a damp house warm.

But perhaps one of the solutions towards making a difference is to actually identify the need and ask for help.

It may be that this is the time for some tough talk in the pulpit – to encourage us all to wake up, to be real, to face these problems together.

We need to give energy to talking and sharing our concerns in our homes early on – identifying ways we can help, supporting each other.

The challenge is, how do we make the conversations motivating, inspire the confidence of all of our parents to truly encourage and support our children to be brilliant?

How do we inspire hope that our children are our greatest investment?

Do we dare to aspire to greatness?

In Nga Moteatea, gathered together by Sir Apirana Ngata and translated by Pei Te Hurinui Jones, there is a waiata oriori, a lullaby, which sets up expectations for the growing child

Whakaangi i runga ra he kauwhau

Ariki e

Koi tata iho koe ki nga wahi noa

Soar gracefully on high o Chieftainess

And do not descend too near to the common places.

The Reverend Samuel Marsden, undoubtedly one of the first Pakeha promoters of missionary enterprise, an explorer, and a recorder of early nineteenth century Maori culture, made observations back in 1822 that rangatira children, as young as four years old, were attending important hui, learning kawa and tikanga, whakapapa – the knowledge which was considered essential for their growth and future development.

The stage was being set for a future of success.

It is such a contrast to the prevailing environment our kids are growing up in – where they hear about Maori ill-health or Maori student under-achievement or when our own Government can’t even recognise the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – that 143 nations of the world have signed up to.

Of the four that failed to sign the Declaration, Australia and Canada have undertaken national measures to counter their governments' vote; and in the United States it would appear that both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton have indicated they would adopt the Declaration if elected.

What this means is that New Zealand will now be out in the cold, standing out on the official record as opposing the Declaration.

What would be so terribly wrong about having the courage of our convictions to whakamana tangata whenua, to believe in Maori?

There are models in Maoridom, in the history gathered together by both Maori and Pakeha, that may well be helpful as we approach this turning point in our histories.

Surely we need to have the maturity as a nation to be open to the idea that our indigenous people may help us in moving forward into the future.

Remember – one in every four children born tomorrow will be Maori – it makes plain good sense to be inclusive, not exclusive.

If we are truly committed towards keeping kids safe, we must explore our histories, be open to the research findings both at home and abroad, analyse the statistics, and never forget the capacity to dream or daydream.

We must join together to work out the secret combination that can save lives, that can safeguard our children as they treasures they are.

We must be prepared to talk tough, to laugh out loud, to stand up and be counted, to seek help, to offer support.

No single voice can make the change; no one pair of hands, but together we can make it happen.

Let us aspire towards a time when the ache for home that lives in all of us, is for home as a safe place, a place we are loved, we are cherished, we are protected, we are valued.

A place where we can soar gracefully on high, knowing that our home base is indeed safe.


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