Richard Cubie believes the Government's White Paper for
Vulnerable Children contains major contradictions.
The White Paper for Vulnerable Children after its publication
slipped off the New Zealand media radar rather too quickly
for my liking.
Unfortunately, the debate was subsumed by the continuing
government internet-booth security farce and the lacklustre
performance of the All Blacks, depressed at having to wear
shirts contaminated by the AIG logo.
Vulnerable children comprise a topic where there can never be
enough dialogue and until there is a sensible consensus, it
should always be in the public domain.
The White Paper was, according to Social Development Minister
Paula Bennett, "What I come into Parliament for." and "a
piece of work beyond politics".
On reading the key points at first, and some of the detail
later, I began to wonder if anyone had read my submission to
the Green Paper, or if anyone had read any of the other
There are many areas of contradiction within the White Paper.
Three stand out as worthy of commentary because they indicate
that during the consultation process only a superficial
consideration was taken of best practice and experience
elsewhere in the developed world.
First, under the Reporting of Child Abuse, the statement is
made that "the Government will not be legislating for
mandatory reporting". This is not only folly, but a charter
for groups of people who will conspire to prey on children.
New Zealand is no different from any other country in that
there are individuals and groups of people within the
population who will abuse or neglect children.
Also, New Zealand has the same difficulties in recognising
and acknowledging the "elephant in the room" that is the
differences in the way in which abuse and neglect have been
dealt with historically by different cultural and community
groups. Therefore, the lack of mandatory imperative upon the
individual and professional to disclose information
inevitably leads to the ability of a predator to "groom"
those people in positions of trust with children, who are the
very people we expect to protect them.
The recent example of the deputy principal in Northland who
was effectively able to "groom" a whole community before any
action was taken underlines this point.
The lack of mandatory reporting also underlines the principle
that the organisation within which the individual operates
cannot under any circumstances, and should not, investigate a
complaint or disclosure. People's inability to believe the
worst of a friend or professional colleague when the cold
evidence is before them, or the lack of an easy method of
disclosing their suspicions, leads to the sort of scandal
that is emerging in Britain in relation to Jimmy Savile.
If anything would compel legislators to insist on making
reporting mandatory to an easily identifiable lead agency,
this emerging horror story would, and I believe that any
child protection manager in Britain would rather follow an
indefinite number of false trails and disclosures rather than
miss one that would lead to a child being properly protected.
The second point arises from the section "Working together
and sharing responsibility". The notion a multi-professional
committee which is "jointly accountable" has the potential
for a focused, dynamic and effectively consistent quality of
work is incorrect.
Actually, it has the potential for complete inertia and
fudges the question of who takes responsibility. Thus,
timelines (some of which may have to be calculated in hours)
are not achievable.
If a child becomes vulnerable, the contingencies and
resulting consequences have the potential to destroy that
child's life. Quick and effective first responses are
therefore essential to mitigate those factors damaging for
What is needed is a first-line response team led by
experienced, expert and dedicated professionals who are
clearly seen to be the lead agency. This would logically be
the Police or Child Youth and Family.
Third, the paper misses the point on another crucial issue.
Why are the midwives and Plunket under, for example, an
alliance to the Children's Commissioners' Office not seen as
the obvious monitoring services that through their hands-on
experience would be able to monitor families and identify
children potentially at risk?
All in all, I am led to think some of these issues are less
about vulnerable children and more about money.
If the White Paper really is "beyond politics", as it should
be, and its content really reflects the result of four years'
dedication, then it is time the minister started to listen to
sound and sensible advice and be prepared to incorporate
change into a revision.
- Richard Cubie lives in Wanaka and has a
background in education.