More must be done to improve services for children in order to fulfil Government’s stated commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC), and to ensure a safety net that provides for New Zealand’s most vulnerable children, says the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).
CPAG’s submission on the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Advocacy, Workforce, and Age Settings) Amendment Bill says that changes to the CYPF Act are necessary to ensure that social services are more closely aligned with agreed UNCROC articles.
The Amendment Bill includes one welcome and important area of change: the definition of ‘child’ is extended from 14 years to 18 years.
As many children turn 18 in their final year of secondary school, exiting state care during this critical stage in their lives can be challenging and cause vulnerable teenagers prolonged and unnecessary mental and physical stress. This is why changing definitions of children and young people by lifting the age that a child can remain provided for under statutory obligation will be a welcome development. CPAG suggests that in line with this, free public healthcare services for children, including GP visits, should extend up until a child’s 18th birthday.
The Bill must also take into critical account the causative link between poverty and child risk, and Government must take steps to ensure that all families are equipped with sufficient incomes to provide all of a child’s basic needs.
According to Associate Professor Michael O’Brien, CPAG’s social security spokesperson,”The amendments will only go so far. More needs to be done to address the root causes of vulnerability among children in New Zealand, and bolstering incomes for those most in need will go a long way toward fulfilling Government’s so-called social investment approach.”
“As a nation we can choose to dramatically reduce poverty and by doing so lessen the risk to children. Families living in poverty face enormous stresses. Government can minimise those stresses through sound, child-centred policy. Quality social services are important for vulnerable children but cannot fix the harm which comes from failing to tackle child poverty,” says O’Brien.
The Bill must also include a provision for more stringent monitoring and vetting of CYF caregivers, and monitoring of children while in care.
CPAG noted that UNCROC imposes a duty on the Government to ensure children in its care are protected from abuse. Last year, Dr Russell Wills, in his capacity as Children’s Commissioner presented findings that over 100 children were reported to have been abused while in CYF care over 2013-14.
“The Bill will only be effective if it is well-resourced and if there is a commitment to providing the best possible opportunities for all children. We need well-resourced social services with high quality social workers as a vital part of a comprehensive approach to children. The test for the Bill lies in whether Government provides the budget to ensure that all children are properly provided for and well-protected” Associate Professor O’Brien said.