The Vulnerable Children Bill was introduced into Parliament last week. It will fail. It will fail because it does not address the key question raised in its opening paragraph. That paragraph states,
“The Bill forms part of a series of measures to protect and improve the well-being of vulnerable children – children who are at significant risk of harm to their well-being now and into the future as a consequence of the environment in which they are being raised.” (Vulnerable Children Bill – Explanatory Statement)
Why are so many New Zealand children now being raised in at-risk environments ? The Vulnerable Children Bill, like the Green and White Papers which preceded it, simply ignores this question.
At the National Party conference in Nelson last month, the Prime Minister introduced his keynote address to the delegates with a short video interview. In it he stated that above all else, family life was the foundation to the success of a nation. Who would disagree? He then repeated the now common refrain that families come in many forms and it doesn’t really matter, as long as there is love in the home. Many delegates nodded sagely at his warm words. However that is all they are – warm words with little basis in reality.
The social science evidence is very clear that family form is highly influential in determining outcomes for our children. Even our own Ministry of Social Development (hardly a bastion of social conservatism) has acknowledged that research shows children in single parent and cohabiting households “do not fare as well as children in married-parent households.” (Family Resilience and Good Child Outcomes: A Review of the Literature, Ministry of Social Development, 2003, page 43).
On the issue of child abuse the evidence is particularly stark. Children in “revolving-door” families where mum’s latest boyfriends come and go, are 50 to 77 times more likely die from abuse (refer Strong Families Thriving Children, Submission on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, 2012, page 5 ).
Of course there will always be exceptions – single parent families which flourish (like the one John Key grew up in) or married households that are abusive and dysfunctional. However public policy is not built on exceptions. It should be evidence based and built on what is generally true in the aggregate. That evidence is clear for all with the intellectual honesty and political courage to see it – family structure does matter. More specifically, married two parent families offer by far the safest environment for raising children.
The policy response to this should not be a Bill mandating state sector agencies to formulate more policies, procedures and frameworks. It should be an Action Plan to affirm marriage.
What might such a Plan look like ? Read my next post.