Leilani Lotonu’u-Lorigan aged two died last month in Manurewa. Her mother’s boyfriend was last week charged with murder. He had moved in with Lelani’s 19 year old mother and her baby sister six months prior.
Leilani’s grandmother said “Leilani died from septicemia from two ruptures in her bowel and passed away in her “mother’s arms”. She never made it to the hospital… she died in my granddaughter’s arms. She thought the baby had a tummy bug,” (Fairfax NZ News – Stuff.co.nz 12.07.12).
As our political leaders consider an action plan to protect vulnerable children (refer Green Paper submission) they need to escape their tunnel vision on social agency response and look instead at culture – relationship culture. Why have we abandoned our young people to such a dangerous casualisation of human relationships? Why have we allowed social values and norms to become embedded that accept “revolving-door” families where mum’s latest boyfriend comes and goes, and where children are at greatly increased risk of abuse?
And as Jim Hopkins pointed out in a recent NZ Herald column (“The only consistency around is the inconsistency” – NZ Herald 29.06.12) – why do our political leaders not see the obvious contradictions? On one hand they have state agencies struggling to deal with child abuse, whilst on the other state owned TV channels and NZ on Air produce and broadcast programmes that glamorise and normalise the casualised relationship culture which gives rise to such abuse.
Page 7 of “Strong Families: Thriving Children – Submission on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children” has a table of child deaths in New Zealand over the last five years. Of the 23 deaths listed, 21 involved children in households where the adults were not in a stable married relationship. In most of those cases (17) the person convicted, charged or a suspect was not even the biological parent of the child. Sadly Leilani adds another name to that list.
The Government is now preparing a White Paper with specific policy proposals on protecting vulnerable children. Rebuilding a culture which affirms marriage and commitment is an obvious and urgent policy target. Will they take aim?