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Speaking at the New Zealand Principals' Federation Conference in Queenstown yesterday, the former Principal Youth Court Judge told the audience they probably did not realise how much power they had in their communities.
The role of teachers was to build children's resilience and be their ''merchants of hope''.
Judge Becroft's presentation was laced with confronting statistics and quotes from sources as diverse as Martin Luther King jun and rapper Tupac Shakur.
He donned a series of T-shirts, one over the other, to illustrate some of his key points.
He said it was a paradox of New Zealand society that most children did well by international standards, yet many did badly.
The country had the highest rate of youth suicide in the developed world, and the second highest rate of reported bullying. It was ''near the top'' in domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.
Judge Becroft said understanding of the child brain had exploded in the past few years, yet a large group of young people remained marginalised because of ''neuro-diversity'' and a failure to recognise neuro-development disorders.
''In 20 to 30 years' time, history may judge us harshly.''
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had been signed by every country in the world except the United States, yet was treated with ''casual disregard'' in this country, he said.
That included the right of children to have their views heard, yet the Education Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament this year had been an ''object lesson in how not to consult''.
When his office had asked why children had not been asked for their views, it was told ''they can come to the select committee''.
''Being child-focused is talked about as a fad - it should be a foundation.''
Other speakers at the conference, which ends tomorrow, include former All Black coach Graham Henry, comedian and mental health advocate Mike King and Education Minister Nikki Kaye.