Call over vulnerable children

More action is needed to counter social inequality and poverty if New Zealand's "vulnerable children" are to thrive and achieve, the University of Otago's Prof Mark Henaghan says.

Prof Henaghan, who is dean of the university law faculty and a specialist on laws protecting children, was one of four participants in a recent university "Public Square" panel discussion focusing on "How can every child thrive, belong and achieve?"

The panel considered responses to the Government's recently issued green paper on "vulnerable children", and was chaired by Prof Andrew Bradstock, director of the university's Centre for Theology and Public Issues.

Prof Henaghan said research had clearly highlighted the adverse effects of poverty and social inequality and emphasised that governments had a crucial role in supporting children and their families.

He was concerned the green paper talked about making "difficult choices", to potentially support some people but at the possible expense of others. New Zealand should not be making such choices - "every child should be valued", he said.

Another panelist, Otago University graduate and political commentator Chris Trotter, was concerned the Government was not proposing to spend more money to address poverty and social inequality and was simply responding to "moral panic" over recent well-publicised cases of child abuse.

Another panelist, Dr Pauline Gulliver of the Otago Injury Prevention Research Unit, said there was a lack of high-quality data to support social policy analysis.

Jenny Munro, of the Otago Youth Wellness Trust, said research involving vulnerable families showed people often felt manipulated rather than properly supported.

Several panelists voiced concern the state might adopt greater monitoring powers, and also emphasised the importance of providing "universal" social services.

About 40 members of the public attended the discussion, held on campus and streamed live via the internet.

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