Christchurch Methodist Mission Open HouseSenior Citizens
309 Durham St,
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to your open house today. I congratulate the Methodist Mission for taking this initiative, and for allowing conversations to develop around some very serious themes all relating to children – care and protection, guardianship and custody (a word that always brings to mind a prison setting not a family home) and child pornography. All of these are highly topical issues, as they relate (directly or indirectly) to work the coalition government is undertaking.
As you are aware, children’s policy is outside my sphere of ministerial responsibility, and I bring greetings from the Hon Steve Maharey, who is driving the development of the government’s Agenda for Children, in conjunction with other key Ministers. I am in fact the Minister for Senior Citizens. Admittedly I had no expectation of taking up that role, as prior to the election I was the Opposition spokesperson for Youth Affairs. You may or may not be surprised to learn that I soon discovered that all of the key issues underpinning my discussions with young people, were simply repeated in my discussions with older people. And they revolved around two words – participation and belonging. All people – young and old alike – need to feel part of their family, their peer groups, their community, and they need to be able to contribute to the level they are able and want to.
This led me down the path of developing the NZ Positive Ageing Strategy, which has links with the NZ Health Strategy and the NZ Disability Strategy. It is a strategic approach to policy making, which ensures that there are agreed principles to underpin the development of policy – it makes for good policy. And it means that different agencies can be challenged for failing to take into account those principles when developing their own policies.
The Youth Development Strategy and the Children’s Agenda, which are on target for release this year, adopt the same theme. They will provide us with the framework that we need to ensure that policies and legislation are underpinned by agreed principles and values. However, it is the Agenda for Children that I wish to speak about today.
Agenda for Children
Work on the Agenda for Children had its origins well over a year ago when my colleagues the Minister of Social Services and Employment, Steve Maharey, the Minister of Youth Affairs, Laila Harré and the Associate Minister of Social Services, Tariana Turia held a seminar on children’s policy at Parliament. At that seminar representatives from a range of non-government and government agencies involved with children vigorously discussed what an agenda for children should contain and how it could best be developed.
Following the seminar, a Child Policy Reference Group was appointed. This group which is made up of experts, advocates, academics and service providers working with children, helped to formulate the consultation process for developing the agenda, including the discussion documents released in April 2001 - one designed for children and the other for adults.
As far as I am aware, this was the first ever time that a government has sought the views of New Zealand’s children to find out what they identify as their key issues – and the response was overwhelming.
Around 3,500 submissions were received from children and young people in response to the children’s consultation document. These submissions represented the views of more than 7,500 children and young people up to the age of 18. In addition, over fifty specially facilitated meetings were held. These involved children with disabilities, children and young people in Child, Youth and Family residences, young Mâori and Pacific Youth Groups and children attending various schools. The three sponsoring Ministers attended a number of these meetings and had a chance to listen to children’s concerns direct.
Children and young people were asked to comment on “what you like, what you don’t like, and what you think would make life better”. So, what did the children and young people say?
In general, they liked:
·being young and having fun in ways that adults don’t
·not having to pay for things or be as responsible as adults
·having good schools and good opportunities to learn
·having good friends
·having families to love and look after them
·living in a safe country with no wars
·living in a clean, green uncrowded place, and
·that most people are not poor, have enough to eat and somewhere to live
They didn’t like
·being excluded from things because they are too young
·getting told what to do
·not being listened to or taken seriously by adults
·bullying at school, in playgrounds and on the streets
·having to go to school
·not having enough to do
·being growled at or told off
·having to do lots of chores
·violence in the society
·being pressured to fit in and be part of a group
What they thought would make life better was:
·more to do
·more things that are cheap or free
·to be trusted, listened to and respected
·better schools with smaller classes, more exciting lessons, more teachers and better equipment
·bullying to stop
·less crime, violence and child abuse, and,
·for families to have enough money to buy the things they need.
Amongst the respondents there were interesting variations. For example, children with disabilities particularly complained of bullying and of inadequate facilities for people with disabilities. Girls appeared to be more concerned than boys about child abuse. Those aged 13 – 17 said that those with jobs did not get paid enough, and that it was hard to afford things they need now and to save for the future. Mâori children and young people expressed concern about crime and drug abuse, and said that they would like every family in New Zealand to have enough money to buy the things they need. Pacific children wanted parents to stop hitting and smacking their children.
These concerns were echoed in many of the 444 submissions received from adults and in the ten facilitated discussions with adults, which included four hui and three fono.
Adult submitters agreed that New Zealand is clean, green and safe. They noted that children enjoy basic human rights and have plenty of opportunities to “be children” and to enjoy themselves.
Their main suggestions for action were the need for improved education for children, for example, by increasing participation in early childhood education, providing more help for lower decile schools, providing more social workers in schools and meeting the needs of children with learning difficulties. They noted the need for more parent education and policies that support families and encourage parental responsibility. They also thought that more action was needed to address violence and poverty in children’s lives.
So what next?
Given this feedback, Government is now considering what it should include in its Agenda for Children to ensure that its policies and services are effective for children and take appropriate account of their interests, rights and needs. The resulting Agenda is likely to be publicly available by the middle of 2002. While this is still some time off, Government agencies are already starting to make use of information gained from the consultation, particularly the views expressed by children and young people.
Care of children legislation
One area where the Government is already making use of the ideas coming out of the Agenda for Children work is legislation relating to the care of children – in particular the Guardianship and Adoption Acts.
These two pieces of legislation have their origins in a European society of forty years ago, operating within the dominant social construct of a two-parent family model, and in an era where children were expected to be seen, but not heard. The Government is committed to bringing these Acts into the 21st century and ensuring that the focus of legislation is on the rights and needs of children, and that it reflects the realities of life for the children of today.
Some key aims of the reviews underway are to:
·shift the emphasis from parental rights over children to children’s rights and parental responsibilities for children
·ensure that children have a voice in matters that affect them and that they are listened to when decisions are made
·recognise the role that wider family and whânau have in the care and upbringing of children, and the diversity of arrangements across different families and different cultures.
The Government released a discussion paper in August 2000 raising a number of questions and inviting public submissions on what we would like from our law on guardianship, custody and access for our children and young people.
We received over 350 submissions from a range of individuals, community groups and professional organisations. The Associate Minister of Justice, Margaret Wilson, has been driving the review process and the Government intends to make some decisions on legislative reform early this year. Decisions on adoption reform are also likely later in the year.
My colleague the Minister of Social Services and Employment, Steve Maharey, has also been considering a possible Care of Children Act, which would establish an integrated body of law for the care and guardianship of children. This was a key recommendation of the Law Commission following its review of adoption legislation. At this stage the Minister has decided not to proceed with a Care of Children Act but to concentrate instead on ensuring that much-needed amendments to guardianship and adoption legislation are made. However, the Government will be having another look at this issue as we work through the detailed recommendations of the Law Commission.
As you well know and demonstrate in your work, improving outcomes for children is not the sole responsibility of the Government. The social development approach to which we both subscribe focuses on collaboration between the Government, the community, families and individuals to:
·help individuals and families to be responsible and independent;
·increase opportunities for people to participate fully in social and economic life
·build individual skills and knowledge; and
·strengthen links between individuals, families, and groups in the wider community.
I am firmly of the view that raising children is a collective responsibility.
The adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is well-founded. It is true that parents have the primary responsibility to raise their children, but we all have the responsibility to ensure that the community provides a safe and healthy environment to do so.
I grew up in an era that proclaimed that New Zealand was a great place to bring up children. The Government’s vision for children growing up in New Zealand today is that “New Zealand is a great place for children: we look after one another”.
Today, we recognise the Methodist Mission’s commitment to children and their families, and we look forward to working with you to achieve that vision.