• Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

Mayor Mark Blumsky, Judge Carruthers, Bishop Brown, Cardinal Williams, Open Home founders Ewen and Gillian Laurenson, parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

New Zealand has come a long way in the care and protection of children and young people since the Open Home Foundation was set up.

It is interesting to look back at the climate of welfare in New Zealand immediately before Ewen and Gillian Laurenson started up their Christian-based Foundation in 1977.

Prior to the Children and Young Persons Act being passed in 1974, the emphasis for care and protection for children remained on state intervention.

As recently as the early 70s, children were considered by the government to be better off away from their families.

It was in this environment that Ewen and Gillian pioneered their Open Home initiative.

Since then, thinking has changed, and New Zealand has changed.

We now know that children and young people have strong bonds with their families irrespective of how functional that family is. A whole new approach to dealing with care and protection issues for children and youth justice was incorporated into law with the Children, Young Persons, and their Families Act 1989.

As I have said before, and I will repeat again tonight.

The State can not be a childs parent.

Children need loving, supportive families like those offered by Open Home.

For 20 years now Open Home has provided care and support with a Christian focus for thousands of children and their families.

Every day children arrive on the doorsteps of Open Home Foundation foster homes around the country.

They arrive feeling insecure, unloved, feeling like they are worth next to nothing.

They need to feel safe, they need to feel loved, and that they belong. Many children can not get those feelings from their own families.

But they can get that from an Open Home foster family.

Ultimately the aim must be to reunite children with their own families.

Open Home families and social workers work together to help rebuild the bridge between a troubled child and its family.

In my time as Minister I have visited a few foster homes and family homes.

I can tell you that the New Zealanders who run these homes are truly the unsung heroes of our communities.

Year after year they tirelessly pour their energies into child after child, with the faith that they will be able to return to their families or whanau.

I feel proud to say that the Government through the Community Funding Agency will provide over $6 million this year fund Open Home Foundation services throughout the country.

Protecting the welfare of our children and young people must be the joint responsibility of communities and government. One set of family home caregivers I met in Auckland told me that they see themselves as being like a bandage - helping children who then go back to difficult situations.

With education, encouragement and good information networks we can begin to change those situations.

It will not happen overnight. It will not happen in three years.

It takes time to undo patterns entrenched through generations, but with determination and coordination with our communities I believe we can make some positive changes and make a difference.

The Open Home Foundation celebrating 20 years of service tonight, is proof that with determination, a vision and a good dose of patience, it is possible to make positive change.

Their vision of children and young people growing up in love and security with strong caring families, is one I share.

As we stand here tonight celebrating your 20 years of service, lets remember why we are really here. We are here to celebrate the thousands of children and families whose lives have been enriched through the services of the Open Home Foundation.

To founders Ewen and Gillian Laurenson, foster parents, and Open Home social workers, I congratulate you.

Your vision, dedication and tireless work for others has helped families all over New Zealand.

We are all greatly indebted to you. I look forward, as Minister, to working closely with you.

Thank you.