Up on Ration Shed – Egroup and BLOG – with thanks to MP – NZ – Hon Phil Goff – Leader of the opposition and VOXY
Hon Phil Goff,
Flash words Phil – Why is it that the stats got worse over your last reign and know body from LABOUR listened while WINZ, FAMILY Court and so called Child Support ABUSED me and my BOY?
Onward – Jim (Full sig below)
Friday, 18 September, 2009 – 13:42
Hon Phil Goff
Leader of the NZ Labour Party
SPEECH TO FAMILY FORUM
1.30PM Friday, 18 September 2008
Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
Can I acknowledge the invitation from Bob McCoskrie, who I would like to note has one great advantage going for him – like me, he’s an old boy of Papatoetoe High School.
Labour stands for a fair and decent society that gives all our kids the best start in life and helps them realise their full potential.
Last weekend at my party conference I said I want my leadership to be measured by improving the start we give children.
I want to spend some time here today talking about what that means.
I want more children to grow up in stable loving families, with good parents, with a steady income, a good home, and health care when they need it.
We owe it to every child that he or she should get a good start in life and the opportunity to realize their full potential.
This is about much more than what our society does; It is also about the huge responsibility parents have when they have a child.
We’re used to talking about rights.
A right doesn’t make sense unless it imposes a responsibility on someone.
Duties go hand in hand with rights.
I think every child has a right to be nourished, nurtured, cared for, loved and protected. And it’s interesting to ask on whom the responsibility falls.
Only a family can genuinely provide the love a growing child needs.
And families have the primary duty to nurture and protect children as well.
But as a society we have a duty to give families the help they need to raise their kids.
I’ve never had any problem with paying taxes to ensure that no child goes without and to ensure that the term equal opportunity has real meaning.
We need to assist low income families and to provide for services like health care and education, and protection services for children.
As a society we publicly fund our education system, with the goal that we should enable every child, regardless of whether their families are rich or poor, to get the best education they can.
That’s not only a child’s birthright, but also important to our community as a whole. The failure of any child to do as well as they can is a waste of potential and a cost to the community as a whole.
That is society’s responsibility, but we also place a social responsibility on parents in return.
That they will get their kids to school with their tummies full; that they will make sure they don’t play truant; that parents will help them with their homework.
It is fair for the community to expect responsible parenting.
Back in the early days of the Labour movement, the pioneers of our social welfare system thought carefully about these social responsibilities.
Two Labour MPs, Gervan McMillan and Arnold Nordmeyer, reflected on the deprivations people suffered during the Great Depression.
People like my grandmother, whose husband died in 1934, and who scrubbed floors to try to make ends meet for the family.
Before they were members of parliament, McMillan and Nordmeyer organised a collective social welfare system in Otago that paid for health services through contributions from workers in the area.
They applied these principles when they got into government: Nordmeyer became the Health Minister and introduced universal subsidies for visits to the doctor. McMillan was responsible for much of the social security system.
The government they were part of increased the widows benefit for my grandmother.
They did this because they saw the difference it would make to the quality of life of children.
Did they think social welfare help came unconditionally?
Of course not.
Nordmeyer was a Presbyterian Minister. McMillan was a medical doctor. They would say ‘of course there are reciprocal obligations. We expect people who can help themselves to do so.’
Back when the social security system was first developed in New Zealand, our community’s expectations were delivered through strong community institutions like churches.
The relative decline in the reach of churches, and other broad based community institutions doesn’t mean we should not have values.
I think it’s crucial for New Zealand to have a debate about what it means to have high expectations for families, and about how we intervene when the community’s expectations are not met.
Labour says children have a right to food on the table. Families have a right to the means to raise a family – And that comes with a corresponding duty to spend money society provides on raising a family.
Most parents do exactly that.
After we brought in Working For Families, officials went out and audited it.
They asked some of the three hundred and seventy thousand families who got Working for Families what they spent the extra money on.
The three most common answers were: Groceries, school costs and clothing.
These things are not discretionary items. They’re not luxuries.
When a family does the right thing, we should support them.
When they don’t, we have a duty to intervene.
This is not something to be politically correct about.
Twelve thousand children a year get abused in New Zealand.
Somehow our priorities are wrong. Outrage is being expressed for and against having an “h” in Whanganui and we have all been consumed in a debate over the law on smacking, even though there is no evidence that the law as it is has resulted in sanctions against good parents, or any change in Police prosecution practice.
It’s time we get outraged about something that really does have serious consequences – the destruction and the damage being done to children’s lives in such numbers.
I’m not pretending that there are easy answers but we have to look again at what we are doing as a community.
We have to get tougher on child abuse and neglect in this country, and what causes it.
There are many contributing factors.
Poor support for families living in increasing stress. Alcohol abuse, and increasing drug use. Families that have been dysfunctional for generations.
I want to raise this here because I know a lot of you have spent the last three years or more fighting for the referendum on smacking.
I have a challenge for you and for all of us – I challenge you to spend the next three years fighting for abused and neglected children.
Surely that is the highest priority for our attention.
Surely that is where the focus of our community should be.
Only yesterday a man in Auckland was sent to jail for two years and nine months for assaulting and neglecting his children.
The judge called him “an appallingly bad father”.
The court record is stomach churning. It tells of beating his 12 year old daughter with a broom and punching her stomach.
The children’s mother was charged with neglect.
This is a common and repeated story in New Zealand, and I am saying that we as a community have to renew our efforts to find ways to protect all of our children and ensure them a different start in life.
The NZ Council of Christian Social Services put out a pamphlet that asked a very simple question: Are we looking after our children?
And it listed action anyone can take to help families treasure their children – like supporting a low decile school in your area, or volunteering your time with family support.
There are many things we can do, but the point I am making is that we should place high expectations on parents for the care of children.
When we provide money to feed children, we should at least demand and work to ensure that they give kids breakfast before they go to school.
I understand one of the issues on the agenda is a call for an independent CYF Complaints Authority.
I want to be very specific about this:
The main problem with the care of kids in New Zealand is not with CYFs.
It’s with parents.
CYFs has its problems from time to time, and failure is never satisfactory.
But I am not going to go along with shifting the blame, or the responsibility, from where it belongs.
It belongs with parents, first and foremost. After that, we need to consider the role that the rest of us as a community have to ensure that parents not only have the responsibility to do what’s right for their children, but also the means and the skills they need to do so.
Abuse and neglect happens in a context.
Part of the context is the increasing stress on families.
Kids thrive in a strong community where everyone has a place, everyone is included and we look out for our family and neighbours.
Kids thrive when families are not under constant pressure, where they see parents working to get ahead.
But these are hard economic times for many families.
When I knock on doors around New Zealand, people talk about the pressure their families are under, with jobs, with making ends meet and getting ahead; and they talk to me about what they want for their kids.
Families are struggling to make ends meet and have something left over at the end of the week.
This week an independent ‘Vulnerability Report was released. It is a stock-take of the tough times families are facing.
There were twenty percent more people on the main benefits in June this year, compared to June last year – which means the number of people on the five main benefits has increased from 258-thousand people to 310-thousand this year.
The biggest increase was in unemployment benefit – from 17,710 people to more than 50,000. Nearly three-fold.
More people are seeking hardship assistance and special needs grants.
And as a result there are ten per cent more children who are dependent on benefits than there were a year ago.
What that means in practice is that families are queuing outside the Christchurch city mission before 7.30 in the morning.
In Tauranga the food bank says “It’s no longer just low income and beneficiaries [approaching the foodbank], but also middle income people out of jobs, who are struggling with mortgages”.
The Salvation Army says families that have usually managed well now need help.
They helped seven thousand families in three months – and five thousand of them were families they had never seen before.
What happens when times get hard like this?
Families get under stress, and we will see more dysfunctional kids.
I’ve been Minister of Corrections, and I know that the great majority of tomorrow’s serious adult offenders can be found among the children of today’s disadvantaged or dysfunctional families.
If we reduce the number of disadvantaged kids, we will reduce the number of criminals tomorrow.
I’m not saying that being low-income is an excuse for criminal behaviour. Most poor kids grow up to work hard and strive as hard as they can for their own children.
But if we want to reduce crime then we have to do more about the dysfunctional families which bash and abuse their kids, who then in turn perpetrate the same treatment on their own children and the cycle of abuse continues.
The child who is abused is the child more likely to fail at school, to be mentally depressed or suicidal, to be the teenage mum of the next generation, to be the anti-social teenager with no self-respect or self-esteem and to lash out at society and others.
Each of these children represent a waste of potential, and the loss of a contribution that he or she might otherwise make.
Those who go down the path of anti-social and criminal behaviour can each represent a cost to society of millions of dollars.
Most distressingly, the behavioural patterns of these children are set most often by the age of two or three years old.
This is the finding of the two longitudinal studies done in Christchurch and Dunedin over the last 30 years, each of which tracked over 1,000 children.
Often the damage is done pre-natally.
I was appalled to read recently that between 2-3,000 children are born with foetal alcohol syndrome – permanently disabled or damaged while still in their mother’s womb.
The other day I read of a heavily-pregnant woman, pulled over for drunk driving, with a blood alcohol level three times higher than the legal limit, previously arrested for the same thing. What chance will her unborn child have in life?
There may not be easy answers but nor can or should we stand to one side and say there is nothing that we can do.
In this area prevention is better than cure, and the earlier we address the problem, the more effective and less costly the solution will be.
Over the last decade and a half much more has been done towards early intervention.
Family Start, Project Early working in preschools and primary schools, the Police-run Community Support Programme that started in my electorate of Mt Roskill, wrap-around programmes, Social Workers in Schools to name a few have all been effective.
But our reach over the number of children at risk has only been partial.
There are too many overlapping and uncoordinated programmes, leading to duplication on one hand and gaps in coverage on the other.
Identifying at-risk individuals is relatively straightforward.
Intervention to support and to supervise at-risk parents is less easy, but there are programmes with proven track records of success to do so.
The time has come to coordinate, rationalise and give more support to the best of these programmes and to make the investment to ensure that all children at risk are covered.
There is a fiscal cost to doing that. However, international research shows that early intervention programmes are cost-effective in financial as well as human terms. The research suggests a $10 saving in costs for every $1 invested in prevention.
We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an ever-expanding prison system, with lobby groups calling for the investment of hundreds of millions more.
What those lobby groups should be demanding is investment in prevention, so that we address the causes rather than only responding after the event. Better to prevent the pain and cost to the victim, and better to stop toddlers enduring experiences which make them criminals and which results in wasted lives and millions of dollars in costs to the community.
These are, I believe, some of the core issues facing our community and the priorities we should be addressing.
None of these issues need to be partisan, nor do they need to divide our community.
Every one of us as human beings should be committed to protection of, and ensuring a good start in life to our most vulnerable citizens, our children.
It’s time as a community that we stop being diverted into side issues and bring our focus, our energy and our financial commitment to addressing what is most important to building a fair, decent and safe society in our country.
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