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White Paper on Vulnerable Children: Reaction

Published: 6:23PM Thursday October 11, 2012 Source: ONE News

The Government's White Paper for Vulnerable Children has sparked debate from various organisations around the country.

NZEI past president Frances Nelson said the Government has missed a "golden opportunity" to tackle child poverty and "virtually ignored the many excellent submissions it received on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children".

She said the Government has again "gone down the road of punishment and monitoring".

"We know that poverty is one of the leading causes of student underachievement. If the Government is serious about lifting student achievement, it would do something about child poverty."

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) has commended a stronger focus on sharing information among professional groups to identify vulnerable children.

Chairman Paul Ockelford said building a system to collate information on the most vulnerable children is a "significant step forward".

"Strengthening data collection and information sharing will help to identify and provide care for vulnerable children," Ockelford said.

The current system was reactionary rather than preventive with little inter-agency co-ordination, he said.

Amanda Meynell from the child abuse prevention organisation Child Matters said: "The government's introduction of compulsory child abuse policies [&] provides a pivotal piece of the puzzle in eliminating child abuse".

She also welcomed the child protection training for professionals which "provides people with the skills to know what signs of abuse to look for, the knowledge to know what to do if worried about a child, and the tools and confidence to take appropriate action to keep children safe".

Mentoring organisation Big Buddy has also called the new mandatory safety checks for people working with children as "spot on".

Chief executive Richard Aston said the Government's commitment to improved vetting and screening processes was music to his ears.

"Preventing abusers from being near children is absolutely the right way to go and mandatory increased screening is the sensible way to achieve this," Aston said.

The Post Primary Teachers' Association (PPTA) has also welcomed moves to train teachers to recognise signs of child abuse.

But president Robin Duff said the services needed to be in place to support students when abuse is recognised. He said the paper's main fault is its narrow focus and that it does not address the major underlying issue of child poverty.

"The paper talks of monitoring 30,000 at-risk children while at the same time the Children's Commissioner has released a report saying 270,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty," Duff said.

UNICEF NZ said the paper will improve processes for responding to child abuse, but needed to include poverty issues. "Poverty is a factor in neglect, poor health and lack of opportunity - the White Paper does not offer solutions to plan better outcomes for these children," said national advocacy manager Barbara Lambourn.

Every Child Counts said the White Paper has potential to improve the Government and community response, but lacked in preventative methods. "We strongly support the early identification and tracking of vulnerable children," said manager Deborah Morris-Travers.

"[But] we are disappointed that the White Paper does little to prevent children from becoming vulnerable in the first place. Preventing vulnerability requires government and community leadership that ensures parents are able to meet their children's needs, such as healthcare and education," Morris-Travers said.

Chief Families Commissioner Carl Davidson "strongly supports" the recommendation of a phone line for people to report any concerns they may have about a child's safety.

"You can be anonymous but you can't be silent," Davidson says.

The commission's new Social Policy and Evaluation Research Unit (SuPERU) has also been identified in the White Paper as offering a high level of expertise to ensure independent monitoring and evaluation of programmes and interventions across the social sector are undertaken.

Meanwhile, Social Development Ministry chief executive Brendan Boyle urged people to do more to protect children and social agency heads.

"It is our job to change the way we think and operate, so we are truly and proudly child-centred and getting children the help they need," Boyle said.

Police Commissioner Peter Marshall said the White Paper is a long-term plan which will help agencies work more closely to protect children and the objectives fully coincide with the police's operational strategy which emphasises Prevention First.

"We are committed to working closely with others in the sector and elsewhere to achieve better outcomes for vulnerable children," he said.

Education Secretary Lesley Longstone said teachers spent more time with children than any other professional, so had a vital role to play in helping to keep them safe.

"If children are vulnerable, they will not successfully engage in education. These initiatives complement our Better Public Service goals of increasing the number of children participating in quality early childhood education before starting school and raising achievement of NCEA Level 2," she said.

Ministry of Health Director Kevin Woods said the sector is committed to make sure vulnerable families were identified earlier and provided with support.

"The White Paper provides an opportunity for us to do even more for vulnerable children and their families.

"Many children who experience child abuse are known to health services. These services already play a vital role in linking vulnerable families with other services they need, and will be even more important in the implementation of the White Paper."

Opposition parties disappointed

Labour's spokesperson for Social Development and Children, Jacinda Ardern said the White paper was a "lost opportunity to make New Zealand the best country in the world to be a child".

"As a nation, we spend more on pet food than we do on child protection. Cases serious enough to require action by CYFS have increased by over 40% since 2008 to 58,000 and yet only 50 extra social workers have been brought in to respond."

"The glaring omission in this paper is the 270,000 Kiwi children living in poverty. Lifting our children out of poverty is one of the best things we can do to improve their lives.

"The longer we ignore child poverty, the more it will cost us. We spend roughly $6 billion a year picking up the pieces when children do not get a good start in life."

The Green Party also pointed to the Government's refusal to deal with poverty.

"The [paper] failed to address the single most dangerous thing in a child's life - poverty," Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said.

"Nothing in this paper relieves stresses on families that can't afford decent food or warm dry homes for their kids."

"The phone line to protect children appears more like a dob-in line, and is a wasted opportunity to connect struggling parents with support, without fear they or their child will be labelled 'vulnerable'," Turei said.

And while applauding the intention behind the White Paper, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne remains concerned about the ability of Government agencies to deliver. "I do remain sceptical as to the effectiveness of government agencies to work together and with others to deliver the goods."