Last month New Zealand's approach to ensuring the rights of our children came under the scrutiny of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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By Vivien Maidaborn, UNICEF New Zealand Executive Director

The committee released its findings over the weekend, calling for, among other things, a “comprehensive plan” to help all children.

The Government has chosen to prioritise children whose lives have been seriously damaged by abuse, neglect or crime, and will do this through the services of a new Ministry of Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki.

This is actually nothing new. The government have had the responsibility to care for these children under Child Youth and Family for decades.

The commitment to improving life outcomes for these children is important and right. But it is not the same thing as a whole-of-government approach to ensuring we meet every child’s rights, a commitment we made when we signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child 22 years ago.

The recommendations from the UN committee are not only for government, they create an opportunity to think deeply about our collective responsibility for children. How can business, sport, community and family do better for our children?

The UN committee has joined New Zealand civil society, and the Children’s Commissioner, in seeking to understand who in our government is responsible for making gains against the convention on behalf of all children in New Zealand.

The recommendations from the UN committee are not only for government, they create an opportunity to think deeply about our collective responsibility for children. How can business, sport, community and family do better for our children?

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Raising a child today is very challenging. It’s much harder in 2016 to provide a secure and warm home, education is in transition as part of a rapidly changing world, and employment trends toward more flexibility for employers, usually means less secure and more low wage employment for parents.

All the aspects of parenting; behaviour, discipline, healthy food, exercise, community connections, play, family relationships are made harder by low incomes, insecure jobs and poor housing.

In the same way that every parent constantly asks whether they are doing the best for their children, government needs to ask whether all policies that impact families add up to the best possible start for every child.

How do we give parents the best support? The government has a foundational role to play through providing a strong policy framework, but that doesn’t mean every single one of us isn’t responsible in some small way.

The government owned up to the fact that life outcomes for children in their care have been poor in its recent review of Child, Youth and Family. It’s an admission that ought to be commended.

It should also serve as a reminder that all parents need support in order for their children to succeed. Investment in families is something we need to do upfront rather than waiting till children are in such a serious situation that they are abused or neglected.

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How do we give parents the best support? The government has a foundational role to play through providing a strong policy framework, but that doesn’t mean every single one of us isn’t responsible in some small way.

A strong sense of community is necessary to give families a supportive environment, and civic society has an integral role to play in building connected communities, in holding government to account for doing what it says it will, and of course to be great friends and neighbours to the children who live near us.

The government’s approach has been only to deal with a narrow band of children in their care right now. It’s a reactionary response that expects there will always be a cachet of children who need extra care, rather than an investment in communities and families that aims to prevent anyone ever needing state care.

It’s not an option to do nothing for the children most at risk; to do nothing would be despicable. But this is also not an either/or proposition, and government can’t treat it as such.

It’s not an option to do nothing for the children most at risk; to do nothing would be despicable. But this is also not an either/or proposition, and government can’t treat it as such.

We need to focus on how to get ahead of the level of abuse, and put in place measures to prevent damage to young lives from happening in the first place.

Where do we start? As part of its Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki, our government wants to involve children in giving advice to the minister and senior officials.

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This is an important first step but many more need to be taken. The end goal should be to have a systematic programme in place that educates young people about their rights and supports them to have a view at every level of society.

We’ve gotten out of the habit — if we were ever in it — of asking ourselves how decisions we make affect children within our circle of influence. The first step is putting children first, putting them at the centre of our considerations and therefore at the centre of society.

The only coherent way to do this is to have a comprehensive children’s action plan with measurable targets.

In five years we will go before the UN Committee for Children again. This is our opportunity to seriously consider their current recommendations, agree the measures, agree the priorities and be in action for all children in New Zealand.

UNICEF New Zealand stands for every child so they can have a childhood.

Page last updated: 12 Oct 2016 11:01am
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