Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Herald on Paula Bennett's Child Action Plan

The Herald's editorial this morning is devoted to Paula Bennett's announcements yesterday aimed at reducing New Zealand's appalling child abuse statistics. And it is generally supportive, beginning thus:

So awful is this country's record of child abuse that many radical responses have been aired in the past few years.
There was, for example, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's suggestion that the courts should have the power to ban child maimers from having more children. And there was a coroner's view that all children should be monitored compulsorily until they reach 5, including spot checks of their homes.
That such flawed ideas garnered a measure of support spoke volumes of the widespread despair over the extent of the problem and the failure of policies to address it. Welcome, therefore, is Ms Bennett's long-awaited Children's Action Plan, which, while bound to be controversial, is generally well targeted.

Paula Bennett has put significant policy development work in on this issue, so she cannot be accused of going off half-cocked with a policy conceived on the run. Policy developed in haste is often bad policy, but that is not the case here.

The editorial then turns to what it describes as the "contentious" aspects of the policy; read on:

Two aspects of the new regime will be particularly contentious: the wide-ranging Child Harm Prevention Orders aimed at people considered to be a risk to children, and a requirement that parents convicted of killing or abusing their children will have to prove they are safe to care for any subsequent children.
In the first instance, High Court and District Court judges can impose an order for up to 10 years if it is believed "on the balance of probabilities" that someone poses a threat to a child. It will not be necessary for a person to have been convicted of a violent or sexual crime against children. A pattern of behaviour detected, for example, by police intelligence would be sufficient.
At a first blush, the latter feature appears draconian. But the characteristics of the orders and the wording associated with them are broadly in line with protection orders for domestic violence made by the Family Court and criminal courts. In that context and particularly with the presence of judicial scrutiny, they appear merited.
The provision which requires abusive parents to prove to Child, Youth and Family they are no longer a threat tips normal legal practice upside down. Previously, it was up to the state to prove an abusive parent was unsafe. In an ideal world, that would continue to be so.
The reversal carries a strong and unfortunate implication that previously unfit parents are beyond rehabilitation, But there will be greater certainty that children will be removed to a safer and nurturing environment, and, as Ms Bennett suggests, their welfare must come first. The death from extreme abuse of 50 children in the past five years shows how the present approach is not working.

The Herald's leader writer is quite correct; the present system simply isn't working, and if further child abuse deaths are to be prevented, something serious and meaningful has to be done. That is exactly what Ms Bennett is proposing.

We've heard Annette King speak about the policy a couple of times this morning, and in both instances she has indicated that she is generally supportive. She wants to know more about the circumstances in which a Child Harm Prevention Order might be issued, and that is understandable. We are sure that more information will be forthcoming once the legislation is introduced to Parliament.


Although Annette King is not Labour's Social Development spokeswoman, it is her voice that has been heard so far. It is pleasing that this legislation is likely to enjoy the support of both major parties. We would hope that would be the case in such wide-reaching reforms, because it sends a strong message. We doubt that the Greens and Mana will fall in behind Ms Bennett however, and already Green Party activists are taking pot-shots at her in the blogosphere and via social media.

Our record on child abuse is not pretty, and the names roll off the tongue; the Kahui twins, James Whakaruru, Delcelia Witika, Nia Glassie and JJ Lawrence are just a few of the more high-profile child abuse cases that have shocked us over the years. Doing nothing to stop child abuse is not an option, what's being done now is not working, and accordingly, a new approach is required. 

Paula Bennett put out a White Paper on Vulnerable Children in October last year which was followed by consultation meetings around the country; yesterday's announcements were the result. And we'll let Paula Bennett herself have the last word; her media release when the White Paper was launched last year ended like this:

"This White Paper is bigger than politics; it is bigger than any one individual. It is not only for this generation of New Zealand children, but also for their children and their grandchildren."

We could not agree more.

1 comment:

bsprout said...

We have had lots of pronouncements and a White Paper, but what has actually been achieved over the last four years. We have urgency to sell of power companies and pay already profitable companies tens of millions but the clock is ticking with regards our struggling families and children. The kids who were vulnerable in 2008 are just as vulnerable now.

And how will success be measured? I guess not by any independent authority.