The Government’s White Paper for Vulnerable Children was published late last year and once again studiously avoided addressing the key driver of child abuse and neglect in New Zealand – the casualisation of our relationship culture.
As I noted in my submission on the earlier Green Paper – of 23 child deaths over the previous five years, 21 involved children in households where the adults were not in a stable married relationship. In most of those cases the person convicted, charged or a suspect was not even the biological parent of the child.
In June last year another two year old died at the hands of mum’s latest boyfriend. I wrote at the time – “…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?”
Sadly they have not. The White Paper initiatives take the usual approach of focusing on social agency response to abuse rather than dealing with the underlying drivers. So there is more talk of cross agency care strategies, integration of existing programmes and multi-disciplinary child teams “delivering joined-up intervention plans”. And of course another social policy research unit as part of the Families Commission.
We don’t need more research. The evidence is staring us in the face. And whilst it is important that we have the best public services we can to deal with the reality of child abuse today – it is even more important that we address the underlying drivers of child abuse so that tomorrow’s reality will be different.
I have heard the Hon Paula Bennett speak on this issue a number of times. There is no doubt that the Minister is absolutely sincere in her desire to protect the children of New Zealand. The huge amount of work that Bennett has invested in the Green and White Paper process is testament to that.
However to be effective, more is required than sincere effort. Honesty and courage are needed. Honesty to face the truth on what is driving child abuse in New Zealand. And courage to push back against the casualised relationship culture which now pervades our country.