Editorial: caring for all the nation’s children

Cecily McNeill2012 Last month a young father sitting in his car in Stokes Valley was stabbed to death in what is believed to be a fit of road rage –…

Cecily McNeill

Last month a young father sitting in his car in Stokes Valley was stabbed to death in what is believed to be a fit of road rage – just one more in a spate of crimes perpetrated by young people.

At the same time the Minister of Social Development, Paula Bennett, went on the road to promote the government’s green paper on children while her staff censured the Te Aupouri Trust Board for providing breakfasts to 15 to 20 children in some of Kaitaia’s schools – not part of the contract apparently. The board said its provision of meals to the children over four years had stemmed burglaries and truancy.

Ms Bennett is asking communities about measures to combat child abuse, particularly more rigorous reporting from agencies that deal with families.

But a more significant reason the government needs a green paper and, indeed, a national discussion on the state of the nation’s children is the fact that one in four children lives below the poverty line with OECD figures showing at least one in five children living in severe or significant hardship.

The Child Poverty Action Group’s convenor Mike O’Brien said in some ways the positions of children have worsened in the past three years.‘The levels of poverty have not improved and the longer children spend in poverty the more harm that does.’

The group’s report released last September says indicators of social distress are paralleled by reports of third world diseases like rheumatic fever, homelessness, poor dental health, hunger and family dysfunction.

Instead of ordering a halt to initiatives which are aimed at helping a handful of children to learn which they are more likely to do when their tummies are full, the government would be better to take a holistic approach to its care of children.

Fonterra has announced that it will set up a milk in Northland schools project. This would be better as part of a raft of universal government approaches that include 24-hour free health care for under six-year-olds, a better immunisation-reporting programme, more affordable housing, Working for Families extended to beneficiaries and the reinstatement of education subsidies for beneficiaries of the kind that helped Paula Bennett out of poverty when she was a solo mother.

One of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching recognises that all human beings are special because we are made in the image and likeness of God. As such, all of us – children, elderly and everyone in between regardless of culture – deserve respect.

Perhaps if enough of us send a submission on the green paper, asking that the government step up its performance in caring for vulnerable families with young children, the message will get through.

Unless this country takes urgent measures to level the playing field for all children and creates jobs for the young men living with partners and their children, we will breed a generation of uneducated and unprincipled criminals who lack respect for the other, particularly for the most vulnerable in our society.