Piako Post

Children’s welfare too important to get wrong

- Stuart Smith Kaikoura MP, National

OPINION: Hard-working children’s commission­ers have over the years highlighte­d serious issues and contribute­d to lasting change. Now there is a proposed law change to axe the commission­er and replace them with a board with less powers. Why? An MP from each side of the House gives their views. .

Reviews over many years have shown that our care and protection system is not delivering the outcomes for children, young people and families that New Zealanders expect and deserve.

We need to bolster three key areas of Oranga Tamariki oversight: the monitoring function, investigat­ing and resolving complaints, and having strong systemic advocacy for all New Zealand children and young people. We also need a system that improves outcomes for Māori, who are disproport­ionately impacted by Oranga Tamariki performanc­e.

A new bill will help by establishi­ng an independen­t monitor for Oranga Tamariki, strengthen­ing the role of the Ombudsman in handling Oranga Tamariki complaints, and creating the Children and Young People’s Commission.

This new commission will replace the Office of the Children’s Commission­er, with expanded responsibi­lities for advocacy, particular­ly in relation to child participat­ion, children’s rights, and upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

We know children and young people’s issues span a range of sectors, including health, education, and care and protection. The system as a whole needs to operate effectivel­y if we’re to make New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

The current Children’s Commission­er has said, ‘‘The board model is good. It brings in people from the community; more than just a commission­er thinking about things. There’s a real obligation to focus on Te Tiriti and to involve iwi, community organisati­ons and the like.’’

Indeed, the Children and Young People’s Commission will be governed by a board that reflects the diverse skills and experience required to advocate on a broad range of issues.

It will also be more focussed. Currently, the Children’s Commission­er has key functions to monitor Oranga Tamariki residences and community services, investigat­e decisions, report on children’s issues, and advocate for children generally.

Proposed legislatio­n shifts the

Children’s Commission­er role from complaints monitoring to more systemic advocacy. It means we don’t have one organisati­on spread thinly across all those important functions, but we resource each separately.

The Government is setting a new direction for our care and protection system; one that sees Oranga Tamariki work in true partnershi­p with communitie­s.

The Children and Young People’s Commission will play a big role in Oranga Tamariki oversight. I know independen­t board members will have the mana to hold the Government to account.

Children’s commission­ers over the years have had a hugely important task to advocate and push for change in the lives of our New Zealand children.

No child, here or anywhere else in the world, deserves to be brought up with limited education, violence or any other untoward experience­s which would hinder their ability to become an upstanding citizen.

Unfortunat­ely in New Zealand, we see far too often the abuse and negligence of children by their families, and despite the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce child poverty, unfortunat­ely it has increased over the last four years.

The Children’s Commission­er, in its current form, is separate from Government. They are an independen­t entity who can provide free and frank advice and criticisms to the Government of the day on what they believe to be in the best interests of children.

If the Government want to establish another Commission in place of the Children’s Commission­er, it is vital, for the sake of children in this country, that it remains totally independen­t from

Government. Within the new Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill, it is unclear whether or not some parts of the new Commission will be separate from the Government or its department­s. National has supported the Bill in principle, through to the Select Committee stage, and we will look forward to seeing submission­s from the public and profession­als in the area.

But one thing is clear, as the Bill passes through the various legislativ­e processes, National will be pushing to ensure that the Commission retains its distance from the Government of the day so that it can best serve children.

A second concern I have with a new Commission is that it could well be stacked with bureaucrat­s from Wellington who have little understand­ing of what goes on in the lives of vulnerable children.

When we are dealing with such a serious situation like the wellbeing of children, we can ill-afford to add layers and layers of bureaucrac­y for the sake of it. Yes, the new Commission needs to lay out what the issues are facing children, but they also need to come up with solutions to solve them.

The fact of the matter is, the welfare of our children is far too important to get wrong. We need a strong, unconstrai­ned voice who can fight for children who are unable to do so for themselves. To have that voice, we need an entity who has the courage and the determinat­ion to make lasting changes in the lives of children in New Zealand, the same way that previous Children’s Commission­ers have.

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