The philosophy underpinning this bill views child vulnerability as a parental choice and poor parental decision-making as the primary cause of child abuse. The bill largely ignores widely acknowledged structural issues at the root of New Zealand’s poor child health and wellbeing statistics – low family income, poor quality and affordable housing, access to medical and dental services, poor educational achievement. Although, the definition of ‘improving the wellbeing of vulnerable children’ (clause 6) comes close to identifying in legislation the relationship between these structural issues and child vulnerability. At this point it is unclear, however, how these principles will be implemented and what level of resourcing will be made available and sustained over time. It is also unclear whether clause 6 (f) applies only to vulnerable children or extends to all children. The latter is supported by NZCCSS.
The scope of children who will likely benefit from this legislation is relatively small when CYF data is compared to child poverty data analysed by the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty (EAG). The EAG has identified 270,000 New Zealand children living in poverty. In contrast, CYF data identified approximately 22,000. Not all of the children identified by EAG will have contact with CYFs or a formalised care plan (voluntary or otherwise) and therefore there will be a broad group of children who will not have an opportunity to improve their wellbeing is defined in clause 6. A solution would be to include child poverty eradication targets to sit alongside the objectives of the bill, which would likely capture a broad range of New Zealand children.
A related issue is that the bill does not explicitly distinguish between types of child abuse (emotional, neglect, physical, sexual), although the bill does identify a range of specified offences that seem to relate largely to serious sexual offences. This lack of clarity about the type of abuse the bill covers, provides for confusion around the complexity of child abuse, and implies the same legislative measures are needed to address different categories of abuse, which may not be the case. For example, emotional harm is the most common type of child abuse in New Zealand according to CYFs data. Substantive New Zealand and international evidence indicates a strong link between material deprivation and emotional abuse. Children’s workforce checks or a Child Harm Protection Order will not address the basic material needs of families struggling to look after their children whilst surviving on minimum wages or a benefit. Neither will these measures address the affordability of healthy and nutritious food, cost and transport barriers to child health and dental services that face these same families. The harsh reality of child poverty will not be addressed by this bill, and by ignoring child poverty the bill ignores the largest group of vulnerable children living in New Zealand.
For the full analysis see here