Green Paper for Vulnerable Children

The executive summary of my submission on the Government’s Green Paper for Vulnerable Children is shown below. The full submission as at the following link.

Strong Families Thriving Children – Green Paper Submission

Summary of Submission

 The essence of this submission is that the scope of the Green Paper is too limited. Its questions are framed primarily in the context of mitigating child abuse via social agency response. The Government needs to take a more strategic approach, looking at and addressing the underlying causes of child abuse.

There is now considerable social research indicating that family structure is an important risk factor in determining the likelihood that children will suffer abuse and neglect. In particular the research highlights that children in non-married households where one parent is not biologically related to the child, are at significantly increased risk.

It is acknowledged that there are other risk factors for child abuse and neglect. However the risk associated with non-biological parents has now become so widely recognised in the research and literature that it has become known as the “Cinderella Effect”. Some studies rate it as the highest risk factor.

The social research is confirmed by the on-the-ground reality of child abuse in New Zealand. A summary analysis of child deaths from 2007 to 2011 shows by far the majority occurred in the context of non-married households with the perpetrator being not biologically related to the child in most cases.

It is submitted that addressing this driver of child abuse will require sustained, long-term action to rebuild strong family life in New Zealand. In particular cultural change will be required to re-establish widespread social support for the institution of marriage. Evidence is reviewed showing the significant advantages that marriage offers in terms of relationship and family stability.

In light of that evidence it is recommended that policy-makers need to take a “whole-of-culture” approach to rebuilding support for marriage. Part of that could include an Action Plan to Affirm Marriage. Possible initiatives for inclusion in such a plan are noted. Some are based on overseas initiatives from countries similar to our own (Australia, USA and the UK) where actions to rebuild a marriage-affirming culture have already commenced.

Finally it is concluded that rebuilding strong family life based on marriage will require support and action not only from political leaders, but from leaders across New Zealand society.  In particular leaders in sectors like education and the media which act as cultural “gatekeepers” will need to bring their influence to bear also. Only then will we stop the cycle of children being born into vulnerable and at-risk family situations.

Ewen McQueen
February 2012

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