Social Policy Unit's Alan Johnson's paper presented to the Child Poverty Action Group's summit in Auckland on 8th September 2015.
New Zealand children have a number of statutory rights to protection against abuse, neglect and avoidable harm. These rights are well respected both by politicians and ordinary citizens, as witnessed by the recent release of a report by the Commissioner for Children of his review of Child Youth and Family and by the public disquiet expressed about the poor outcomes being achieved for children by this Government agency. At one level New Zealanders appear passionate about ensuring that every New Zealand child is kept safe from harm and abuse. But on another level many are a little indifferent about the circumstances which thousands of these children live in which put them at risk of harm.
This widespread concern for preventing extreme or very serious harm to children, but an ambivalence to either moderate harm or just the risk of harm, creates a sort of policy dichotomy. This dichotomy is at least two-dimensional. In the world of realpolitik there is clearly a temptation and perhaps even a tendency for politicians to care sufficiently about children’s wellbeing in order to appear concerned and to have available adequate responses to extreme examples of harm to children, but not to care so much that it distracts from their other political priorities.
For those responsible for designing and administering policy, this dichotomy translates into having to develop and support policies which on one hand acknowledge the rights of children to be protected from harm, while on the other hand having to subtly determine when the level of harm or the risk of harm to children is tolerable politically.