Monday, January 30, 2012

Submission on NZ’s “Green Paper on Vulnerable Children”

Here are my answers to questions from NZ’s “Green Paper on Vulnerable Children”. You can answer as many or as few questions as you like.
1. Has government got the balance right between supporting parents and families/whanau and protecting children?
Its not a question of balance; its a question of principles held in context. Parents need to be accountable to objective standards of value; and when they default, you do not punitively or judgementally engage with the threat of taking the children away; you do not neglect the parent for the child. You raise the child through the parent. The problem is that I think people with basically healthy values are disengaged; and those with unhealthy values are directing the process.
2. How can government encourage communities to take more responsibility for the wellbeing of their children?
The problem is your emphasis on 'responsibility'; its the wrong approach. The issue is 'efficacy' . You need to ask - how can we improve the confidence and pride of parents as educators, but also as members of the community. It takes a sense of efficacy; in anything to start with, but ultimately in their self-reliance.
3. Should there be an action plan for vulnerable children that focuses the activites of government and non-government agencies?
Of course there should be a plan; but sadly these issues are debated on a false 'politically-inspired' dichotomy between:
1. Altruistic 'save the children' - never mind the parents disempowerment and alienation, i.e. because they are defenseless...nevermind the context of a child raised in uncertain homes.
2. Moral relativism - a renunciation of judgement because these people are intrinsically good and worthy, i.e. Unconditional love.
4. Should the government focus its spending on programmes and services that have a sound evidential basis?
No because what you consider evidence is a form of scientific relativism; and what you consider 'results' is probably dubious in its foundation. The goal is not simply to stop abuse but to facilitate healthy parenting practices. The perspective of govt is too superficial....and politically 'reactionary'.
5. Should we regularly monitor vulnerable children and their families/whanau to see how they are going? Who should do this and under what circumstances?
The issue is not so much who does it; but what is the context in which they do it. Are these agents custodians of the children; in effect acting with punitive disregard for the child; or are they agents of objective standards, assisting these parents lift their game. There needs to be empathy; there needs to be consequences, there needs to be understanding and real skill-building; there needs to be relationship or trust building.
6. How much personal information should be shared between the professionals and others who are working with a particular child or family/whanau?
There is no reason that all information - bar that information which identifies the parents - cannot be shared. Frankly, if there was not such a punitive, politically-motivated policy, there would be less witch-hunting by the public. Politicians and victims fuel this; and the media of course facilitates it. The victim is allowed to 'vent'; and we even empower their loathing with appointments to influential committees.
7. Should some people get priority over others when allocated support and services because they are caring for vulnerable children?
It is not so much a question of 'prioritising' but recognising the opportunity cost of not doing what's required. Poor outcomes are not necessarily a question of spending enough money, but merely, not having the best possible programs.
You do what needs to be done, whether their issues are acute or not; after all they will get worse if they are not getting the support they need. There is an over-supply of labour (i.e. unemployment); so there is no reason why you'd not invest in the resources which will avert financial waste in years to come. Forgotten people cause real damage; but there is a huge opportunity cost is raising an destructive person as well. They are destructive for a reason. Its too easy to spurn them and drop the context of their prior lack of support.
8. How can vulnerable families and children be better connected to all the services that they need?
There is a need for competent professionals with good support from the even more competent persons. They need to express:
1. Certainty - Overcome the suspicion of time wasting and cynicism attached to govt services
2. Empathy - They need to deal directly with the grievances of these people; not dismiss them, or say its not within their control. If this is to work, there actually has to be a process to give these counsellors hope. Otherwise you get bureaucratic cynicism and detachment, falling morale, like we also have in the education system.
3. Trust/relationship building - There needs to be an ongoing relationship.
4. Reason as the standard - The basis for discourse needs to be reasonable and valuing of the people. Spend the money; but for God sake spend it well; spend it the right way, so it is not wasted, because it will be harder the next time.
Frankly, the political system does not favour the right approach; so rest assured, you will fail. But you spared someone's political hide...because they looked like doing something.
This is a long term investment in people. Their could be a Facebook founder among them.
9. Is it appropriate that all government agencies promote and prioritise the well-being of vulnerable children in their day-to-day work?
No, everyone is important; just not intrinsically so. They have to earn it, and they need to feel they have to earn it, and healthy values need to be communicated. They are not.

You too can make a submission or learn more here.
Andrew Sheldon
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