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Real Issues: Child Poverty, Philanthropy, Violence

Real Issues No. 314 - Child Poverty, Philanthropy, Family Violence

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 314

14 August 2008
www.maxim.org.nz

'A Fair Go?'
One-stop giving shop
Adjudicating family violence

IN THE NEWS
Re-shaping legislation to fit sexual violence cases
Children, Young Persons and Their Families

'A FAIR GO?'

Barnardos and the Office of the Children's Commissioner have released a new report this week setting out their prescription for tackling child poverty and attempting to give, in the words of the title, A Fair Go for all Children. The report brings into sharp relief the continuing debate on poverty, disconnection, welfare entitlement and family.

Arguing that 'child poverty affects us all,' the report points out that 'Poverty limits children's daily lives and their opportunities and exposes them to the risks of illness, social and emotional damage, and poor educational attainment.' The report suggests that child poverty has fallen since the 1980s and 1990s thanks to a 'strong economy, higher rates of employment and wage growth, and the Working for Families package.' Although acknowledging that 'approximately three-quarters of all families with dependent children receive some assistance,' the report argues that -- particularly among ethnic minorities, sole parents and the unemployed -- a variety of new initiatives are needed. The shopping list includes 'free medical visits' for children, benefit hikes, an increase in early childhood education, education funding, paid parental leave, and the accommodation supplement -- and does not stop there.

It is pleasing to see poverty on the agenda for debate in an election year -- and pleasing too that the report seems to recognise the long-term value of 'collaborative' attempts at 'community renewal,' and emphasises the value of work. It goes without saying that poverty is damaging to parents, families and communities, including the children who live in them. But whatever the merit of individual policies on, for example, adult literacy or a review of child support, the report's emphasis on government 'oversight,' and its wish-list of policy priorities raises issues immediately.

Children are not, and should not be seen as, isolated agents by themselves. They are nurtured by and form a part of families, as part of a wider whole. Poverty itself is not simply an isolated phenomenon: it is connected to family breakdown, to drug and alcohol abuse, to housing and health, skill and education levels -- something the report traces at considerable length. If poverty is really to be addressed, surely we need a deeper and more radical approach to it than platitudes about 'fairness' and 'social equity' and proposals for the redistribution of wealth? There are hints of such a new and 'holistic' approach in the report, but in essence the policy prescriptions repeat the usual call for more state support.

'A fair go for all children' requires more than government strategies and simply throwing more money at the problem. It needs a wider change at the grass-roots, at the neighbourhood level. Although the report at times admits this, its policy prescriptions fall far short of embracing the medicine we need, and the measures which will allow us to build not just a fair, but a decent, cohesive and truly just society, one which balances the need for a social safety net with a genuine role for local communities and local solutions.

Read A Fair Go for all Children
http://www.occ.org.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/4932/OCC_ChildPoverty_070808.pdf

ONE-STOP GIVING SHOP

As technology becomes ever more advanced and society speeds along, it is often thought that this serves to widen the gap between the very poor and the rest of the world. The very poor can be easily overlooked and left behind, their limited resources making it difficult for them to acquire the necessary skills or technology to engage in the rapid information flows that characterise our modern way of life and to find ways into the marketplace. That same technology can, however, be used to bridge this gap, as direct-giving websites quickly and easily link donors or lenders with projects to assist those in need.

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, there are now a number of websites such as 'globalgiving.com' and 'Kiva.org,' which efficiently and simply direct resources toward places of need. These websites feature a range of agencies and projects, from disaster relief to microfinance, providing online visitors with information and the opportunity to donate. 'Kiva.org' features entrepreneurs in developing countries and allows visitors to the site to lend money to the entrepreneur of their choice. Money is eventually returned to lenders who can re-invest in new entrepreneurs.

Such websites provide an effective vehicle for philanthropy, allowing a faster and less administratively burdensome way of helping those in need. The increasing popularity of such websites is creating an online community and a culture of giving, which rather than leaving the extreme poor behind in the fast-paced world of innovation, seeks to bring them in as part of it.

ADJUDICATING FAMILY VIOLENCE

Family violence is a serious issue in New Zealand, which requires a sufficiently speedy and appropriate response from our court system. The Family Violence Court was developed to provide this response, and has been trialled in Waitakere City since 2001, and Manukau City since 2005. A recently released evaluation of the Family Violence Courts, of which there are now six scattered around the country, shows that while there is much room for improvement, the courts are working well to connect offenders with community support groups and the rehabilitation they need.

The traditional court system can be problematic for dealing with family violence. Courts are adversarial in nature, they can follow a long and arduous process to resolution, and their primary focus is on justice not relationships. The Family Violence Courts were set up in an attempt to address these issues, offering 'specialist services' such as strict time-frames for processing cases, increased protection for vicitims and 'encouraging accountability and responsibility in offenders.'

The evaluation, which looks specifically at research on the Waitakere and Manukau Family Violence Courts, found that the courts have not had a significant impact in reducing the recidivism of offenders, or in processing time delays. While there was little investigation into the experiences of victims or offenders who have been involved with the process, the research does, however, indicate that the Family Violence Courts are doing an admirable job of connecting offenders and victims to the appropriate 'community organisations.'

The evaluation pinpoints a lack of resources, due to the heavy case load, as one of the biggest hindrances to the proper functioning of the courts. The simple solution of throwing more resources into the court, however, does little to address the deeper issues of why the load on the court system is so heavy. Family violence is a vicious and overwhelming problem in our society -- the need for a specialist court alone points to this fact. The justice system acts only as a punitive measure, but perhaps in linking this system with the community organisations outside the courts, we will be able to address these issues and the culture that encourages it, before they have to be ruled on by a judge.

Read The Waitakere and Manukau Family Violence Courts: An evaluation summary http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/2008/waitakere-manukau-family-violence-courts-evaluation/report.pdf

IN THE NEWS

RE-SHAPING LEGISLATION TO FIT SEXUAL VIOLENCE CASES

An 'estimated 90 percent of sexual offences go unreported' according to a discussion document released by the Ministry of Justice. Submissions are being sought on the document, which is part of ongoing work by the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence. The taskforce is seeking public submissions on legislative changes surrounding sexual violence. Its aim is to strengthen the law and reduce the stigma felt by those bringing such cases forward. The taskforce suggests three main areas in which changes may be made: in the definition of 'consent,' in the required proof of that consent, and in the restriction of questions about the sexual history of the accused and the complainant. Also proposed is a change in the process used to adjudicate such cases, which could include the removal of 'adversarial trials.' The taskforce provides an opportunity to reshape the way New Zealand deals with the legislative aspect of sexual violence, in the hope it will give victims the confidence and assurance to no longer leave such crimes unreported. Submissions on the discussion document are open until 30 September 2008.

Read Improvements to Sexual Violence Legislation in New Zealand http://www.justice.govt.nz/discussion/sexual-violence-legislation/

CHILDREN, YOUNG PERSONS AND THEIR FAMILIES

The Social Services Committee has reported back to Parliament on the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6), with a majority recommendation that it be passed with amendments shown. This Bill would amend the current provisions of the law to extend its coverage from 16 to 17 year olds, allowing them to benefit from the care and protection provisions of the current law. These changes would allow also 17 year olds to be tried at the Youth Court instead of the District Court, and would provide protection to underage prostitutes who currently fall through the gap between services offered to adults and child protection services. The Bill is awaiting its second reading in Parliament.

Read the Social Services Committee report

http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/EE8A43CF-0E41-4A12-BDB9-869B3F9A215D/91955/DBSCH_SCR_4168_6166.pdf

TALKING POINT

'We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.'

Winston Churchill

ENDS

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