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Proposed Family Court changes not enough

Proposed Family Court changes not enough to protect all children

Public Health Association media release

Embargoed until 1.45pm Wednesday 5 September 2012

More needs to be done to give children in need of state intervention a better chance, a Family Court Judge told the Public Health Association conference at Pipitea Campus, Victoria University, Wellington today.

Keynote speaker Peter Boshier, New Zealand’s Principal Family Court Judge, was responding to the Ministry of Justice’s proposed changes to the Family Court following its extensive review of the Court in 2011. The review found the Court lacked sufficient focus on meeting the needs of children and on achieving sustainable, durable outcomes for families.

However, Judge Boshier suggests the review’s recommendations don’t go far enough towards protecting children.

“The review mainly focuses on children who are victims of parental disputes, and the extent to which the state should help them. But we must be careful not to lose focus on our responsibility to intervene on behalf of all children in need of care or protection.”

Judge Boshier says a significant area of work for the Family Court is caring for vulnerable children. These can be pre-birth children who have inadequate parents, through to children who are abused and neglected, often at a very young age. It also includes teenagers who are not socially functional because of disability or poor parenting.

“Many of these children become child offenders, and later enter the Youth Court and then District Court as prolific criminals. To intervene then is usually too late.”

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Judge Boshier noted a recommendation from former Ombudsman Mel Smith that a separate child protection court be set up, following his inquiry into a case of abuse and neglect in West Auckland.

“There is little doubt in my mind that effective early intervention could be offered by a separate care and protection court or a division of the Family court which has specialist staff and dedicated judges. A specialist division of the court would probably be sufficient.”

“I am convinced good parenting provides children with the best opportunity for success. But if parents are unable to achieve this themselves, we need to ensure assistance is provided when it matters most.”

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