CPAG's Green Paper on Vulnerable Children submission
In August 2011 the government released its Green Paper (‘GP’) on vulnerable children,1 with the stated aim of ensuring every New Zealand child “thrives, belongs, achieves.” These are laudable aims, and a genuine commitment to achieving them would result in a significant improvement to the lives of many New Zealand children. However, as the paper is often narrowly focused on fiscal outcomes, with little regard to historical or other context as to the origins of those problems, there is doubt as to whether they can be achieved with this approach.
While the focus on vulnerable children has an immediate appeal – who doesn’t want to improve the life chances for a vulnerable child? – there are significant issues in identifying which children are ‘vulnerable’ at any point in time, a point taken up below. Yet given the serious nature of the problem as stated, the process as set out displays a curious lack of urgency. The GP being commented on here is simply a discussion document: it is to be followed at an unspecified date by a White Paper outlining the Vulnerable Children’s Action Plan. The GP website2 gives no date for this, and makes no mention of what will happen thereafter.
Cabinet papers show the GP was originally conceived as an Action Plan for Children. This broader approach would have been preferable, acknowledging as it does that all children are vulnerable not only to personal violence and neglect, but also to economic and institutional violence and neglect. The Cabinet paper originally argued that an Action Plan for Children would provide “a child-focused underpinning to a range of other initiatives across Government” (Office of the Minister for Social Development, 2011). A similar approach – the ‘whole of government’ approach – was mooted in the 2002 Agenda for Children (Ministry of Social Development, 2002), a government document that considered the issues facing children, and laid out a rights-based approach to dealing with them. Unfortunately the Agenda for Children was never properly implemented, although it still stands as a government policy document, and one that is considerably more comprehensive than anything outlined in the GP.
The Agenda for Children explicitly acknowledged child poverty as a key issue preventing many New Zealand children from enjoying the same opportunities as their better-off peers, and poverty continues to blight the lives of many thousands of children. It is poverty that the GP fails to adequately acknowledge and address, whereas the evidence clearly shows it is the greatest risk factor for economically and socially vulnerable children.
This submission proceeds as follows: a general discussion about the useful points made in the GP, followed by a discussion of its shortcomings and the contextual factors that need to be taken into account; and a chapter-by chapter analysis, with the questions for each chapter addressed at the end of this analysis. This submission concludes with the principles that need to be included in an Action Plan for Children, drawing on the existing Agenda for Children. CPAG’s responses to the questions in the GP are appended at the end of this submission.