New law falls short on vulnerable children

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The Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill will not benefit New Zealand’s vulnerable children.

In my book, there are three kinds of children; vulnerable children, poor children, and other children. According to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, vulnerable children are ‘the thousands of children who are hurt, neglected, abused, and killed in New Zealand’

Ms Bennett quotes the government’s White Paper for Vulnerable Children, with some disturbing statistics.

Between 7 and ten children are killed by a caregiver every year.

In 2010, about 210 children under 15 years of age were treated in hospital for assault-related injuries.

In the 2011-2012 financial year, Child, Youth and Family (CYF) received 152,800 care and protection notifications. After investigations, it found 4766 cases of neglect, 3249 cases of physical abuse and 12,114 cases of emotional abuse.

As of 30 June 2012, there were 3884 children in out-of-home state care.

With figures as high as this, why is Ms Bennett only looking for a 5% reduction in assaults on children by 2017?

According to its official website, the Ministry is working on three results that will support vulnerable children. These are, 98% early childhood education (ECE) attendance rate, 95% immunisation rate but only 5% decrease in assaults on children!

Poor children come from families on a benefit or a very low wage, who are often setting up a business. The parents of these children do not have a lot of money to spend on the children but they are loved, well fed, and often educated at home. These children are not vulnerable!

Their parents sacrifice for them and the government’s White Paper describes them just the same way as a vast majority of children.

According to the White Paper, “The vast majority of children enjoy loving and supportive homes and families. Most parents put their children first, second, and third in their order of priorities. Most of all, they want their children to be happy and fulfilled.”

So, why does Ms Bennett want to use the Social Security Bill to compel all children of beneficiaries to attend ECE and school, enroll with a GP, and attend the Well Child/Tamariki Ora checks? Clearly, this will have an effect on the thousands of children of beneficiaries whose parents are neither neglecting nor abusing them.

I wish to emphasise that the ‘Supporting Vulnerable Children’ policy is aimed at enforcing ECE and immunisation for all children.

I have several young children whom I educate at home. In my case, Ms Bennett would say that my children are vulnerable because they do not attend ECE or school and they are not immunised.

So, every child not attending ECE or is not immunised is defined as vulnerable, and the government is trying to impose its health and educational goals on everyone while they ignore the truly vulnerable children who are being assaulted or killed.

We have every reason to be concerned about the Social Security Bill.
Barbara Smith is the National Director of the Home Education Foundation

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