Support for Heidi Hayward's open letter, from CPAG

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) commends the courageous and forthright efforts of Dunedin school principal Heidi Hayward, and encourages more voices to join Heidi’s in support.

The state of affairs for children in New Zealand simply does not meet our moral or practical obligations as signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). We need a well-rounded Government response to ensuring that our most vulnerable and in need children are supported adequately so that their futures are not compromised by the effects of poverty. Every child should have their basic needs met, and where they are not provided by the family, the public sector must step in. Children identified through stringent data-collecting must not be isolated and stigmatised, but rather provided with a coherent, well-resourced array of public services and professional support in which to thrive.

The social investment strategy which aims to direct funding to selected children according to a set of pre-determined risk factors cannot possibly work, unless significant new additional resources are allocated to meet the needs of children already in the system. The pittance provided to Dunedin North Intermediate School under this strategy, as identified by Ms Hayward, is an insult both to these children and to the claim that we are a caring society.

CPAG’s annual Budget analysis recognised that the proposed amount of $43 million over four years to 150,000 students at risk of failing education, with the funding going to schools, represented approximately $2 per child per week. This is an utter failure to address the issues the children face in their young lives through no fault of their own.

With more than 10,000 in New Zealand prisons, our Government is pouring funding into the corrections system while ignoring preventive actions which, though costly, would amount to only a fraction of the expenses incurred later. If there is a comprehensive plan to address the causative issues behind, for example, educational underachievement or crime, then over the next generations, marked improvements will result.

"Sadly in 2016 the Government seems to think that constantly citing the number of dollars in the pot is a strategy for children. It is not. All children have provision, protection and participation rights. Until the Government fully enables all of these it has no credible basis for claiming that it is meeting its responsibilities as the 131st signatory country of UNCROC in 1993," says Professor John O’Neill, CPAG education spokesperson.

CPAG endorses the recommendations contained within Ms Hayward’s open letter to ministers, in particular:

  • Make foster care a viable career. Pay people well enough to train as and commit to the full-time job of taking care of our most vulnerable children, and ensure individuals are right for the job.
  • Re-open alternative schools, staffed with low adult to student ratios to allow high risk students to attend school and meet success, while also allowing mainstream teachers the time to teach the ‘ordinary’ students.
  • Fund social workers and health nurses in all schools.
  • Properly fund and train teacher aides so they can make teacher aiding a viable career. 

Furthermore, addressing the causative reasons for the dysfunction and need at homes, such as identifying poverty as a key risk factor is crucial. The Government needs to make significant changes to the welfare system so that families are equipped with the necessary skills and resources to adequately provide for their children, so there will be reduced need for foster care.

A collective response the public and from professionals to ensure that Government makes the right choices for children is imperative.