Christian social services are committed to providing social support services for families, including:
- general family support and early intervention activities
- more targeted support services for at-risk families
- support for families in crisis.
Many of our members focus on preventive services. A number of high profile international reports, and indeed our own domestic statistics, indicate that New Zealand is not doing well in supporting families, as evidenced by our high rates of child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and persistent child poverty.
This paper discusses issues related to families and poverty, the necessity for a overarching policy framework for families, which recognises the valuable role of prevention and the critical role that workforce development plays.
Valuing Families: More compassion, greater justice and more fairness for children and families
(prepared for a meeting with Church leaders, November 2007)
This paper summarises key issues that have emerged from the research undertaken by the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) Child and Family Policy Group, in consultation with our members.The paper is about shaping the provision of services for children and families in a way that supports social transformation and better outcomes for families, communities, people working in the sector, providers of services, and government.
Christian social service providers have a significant commitment to providing social support services for families and continue to provide a wide range of activities. These services include general family support and early intervention activities, more targeted support services for at risk families and support for families in crisis. Many of our members focus on preventive services, defined by one member as:
“work with families which will strengthen, equip and support them in such a way that their need for child protection services will not be necessary. This work may be done at any point in the life of the family, but will generally occur at a point of need (felt by the family such that they are looking to engage services) but before a crisis which threatens the safety of members of the family”. [i]
A number of high profile international reports, and indeed our own domestic statistics, indicate that New Zealand is not faring well in supporting families, as evidenced by our relatively high rates of child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and persistent child poverty.The societal issues that accompany New Zealand ’s struggling families need to be understood as an opportunity for a compassionate response, a response that can provide a more secure future for everyone.
1. Families in poverty
Many New Zealand families are enjoying the rewards of a buoyant economy and a period of high employment.However, these rewards are not being shared equally and many families with dependent children, particularly beneficiary families, continue to struggle.Unmanageable debt levels, inadequate incomes (either via welfare payments or low wage work), and significant increases in living costs continue to impoverish the lives of families. [ii]
The New Zealand Living Standards 2004 study showed that children are at special risk of poverty (this is nearly 300,000 New Zealand children), as are beneficiaries with children, sole parents and Pacific and Maori Families. [iii]
The Government has taken a positive step to address child poverty through Working for Families but the exclusion of non-working families to the In-Work Tax Credit has led to the standard of living for children of beneficiary families lagging behind. [iv]
Low income workers with insecure employment have also been left behind. NZCCSS believes that the Government has a responsibility to provide a decent standard to living for everybody regardless of their employment status and needs to actively promote policies that reduce wealth disparities.
The Government has a responsibility to ensure that all people are provided with sufficient income to live with dignity and enable them to participate in society.
NZCCSS calls for benefit levels and income support policies to be based on achieving the benchmark of raising incomes above 60% of median weekly wage.
There are a number of ways that family income levels can be raised. The Child and Family Policy Group supports consideration of the merits of the reintroduction of a universal child allowance, increasing abatement levels to reduce poverty traps, Tax free income on first $5000 p.a. (including beneficiary income) and strategies to protect low income people from cost increases for the basics such as food, power and petrol.
2. A National Strategy for Family Well-Being
It is vital that an overarching policy framework is developed to ensure there are sufficient supports available for all families, and in which the care and protection system is integrated within a broader system of family support services. The framework or strategy needs to clearly articulate the range of services that all families may need, from time-to-time, to raise their children successfully and to be participating members of the community. The framework would recognise the contribution of both government and non-governmental groups in providing services at all levels – from preventive, to targeted and statutory interventions.
NZCCSS has long advocated for a holistic approach to support of all families with a transparent and accountable link created between MSD/CYFS, Education and Health in their mutual responsibility for positive outcomes.A national strategy will help achieve this objective.Additionally, it could provide clarity about the level of government investment needed to support the different parts of the strategy, the interconnections between support services and the most effective funding processes.
A National Strategy for Family Well-Being could draw on the experiences of the Positive Ageing Strategy and the Health of Older People Strategy. It could also draw on international research regarding the effectiveness of more broadly family focused care and protection models in European countries. [v]
The Government needs to work with a range of stakeholders to develop a national Strategy for Family Wellbeing – a strategy which articulates the mosaic of services needed by families, the level of investment required, the range of providers and the contribution each makes to achieving mutually agreed outcomes.
3. Recognise the value of prevention
In order to have a truly robust system of family support attention must be paid recognising and adequately funding the preventive work done by NGOs to support families before they reach crisis point.
Community based non-government organisations such as our members are uniquely placed to respond to families early.Our agencies can and do offer intensive, time generous work that assists families to stay together. Currently much of this work is unfunded or partially funded, due in part to a general underinvestment in preventive services and lack of coherent strategy.
A holistic approach to family services means appreciating the contribution made by preventive services which tend to have a lower profile and fewer resources.An investment in the types of supports our members provide, that is, flexible and responsive social work, will enable families to not only have their needs addressed at the time they approach agencies, it will also complement and strengthen the other parts of the family services sector that are relatively well funded.
The Government needs to invest in preventive services to ensure that families can access quality community based support when they need it and avoid problems escalating.
4. A sustainable and valued workforce
There is a shortage of skilled and qualified workers in the family support sector.Both the government and NGO sector struggle to recruit qualified social workers with NGOs facing the additional barrier of not being funded to a sufficient level that enables them to compete with the salaries of social workers employed by the government.This skills shortage is exacerbated by an increasing demand for social work services.
Anecdotal reports from our members suggest that the demand for services continues to exceed the level of service they are contracted to deliver. Increasing pay disparity between Government and non-government workers will undermine the collective ability of the workforce to respond effectively to the needs of families. Skills shortages also exist in other areas such as counselling and need to be included in any NGO capacity building work being undertaken by government.This work must be done in collaboration with the family support sector.
Greater Government investment in needed to increase the capacity and capability of the workforce in the family support sector and to overcome competition between the Government and NGO sector for qualified workers.
[i] Effective Preventative Services in Six NZCCSS Member Case Studies, April 2006:8.
[ii] In the year ending 30 June 2007, WINZ paid out nearly $92m in benefit advances and debt levels for DPB recipients, Sickness and Invalids benefit recipients increased dramatically between 1999 and 2007 (Work and Income negligent over beneficiary debt – Press Release 11 October 2007)
[iii] Dependent children under 18 years are the age group with the highest levels of hardship with 38% reporting some hardship (an increase from 36% in 2000).Beneficiaries with children:almost one-third of families reliant on an income-tested benefit are in severe hardship, and nearly three-quarters live in some degree of hardship.Sole parent families:60% of these families are in hardship, compared to 23% of two-parent families.Maori and Pacific peoples:44% of Maori families and 61% of Pacific families are in hardship.In comparison, 30% of European/Pakeha and 26% of Other Ethnicities are in hardship.
[iv] Susan St John from the Child Poverty Action Group – research cited in Child Poverty – A Persisting Challenge, European Journal of Social Security 2007.
[v] Charles Waldegrave, Contrasting National Jurisdictional and welfare responses to violence to children, Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, Issue 27, March 2006.