Opinion – Norm Hewitt
“ A ‘Happy New Year’ would be the year we wipe out child abuse ” – Norm Hewitt
“A ‘Happy New Year’ would be the year we wipe out child abuse” – Norm Hewitt
“Happy New Year” we’ve been saying to each other ever since 2011 ticked over into 2012. What would a happy new year really be?
A “Happy New Year” for me would be when no child goes hungry or goes to school covered in nits and sores. A happy new year for me would be when no child is kicked in the guts for wetting themselves, or slammed through a glass coffee table for not calling his mother’s boyfriend “Daddy”. A happy new year for me would be a year in which the newspapers never have to run a headline such as, “Two years old and in his grave: Who killed baby JJ?”
It’s no secret how low New Zealand sits in the OECD rankings for child health and safety. On almost all measures those rankings are judged by we’re shamefully low. And why? On paper, New Zealand should be a great place to bring up children. We’ve got generally low population density, great open spaces, relatively clean air and water, plenty of food, free schooling….
But while we still congratulate ourselves on those things, and continue to believe the myth that New Zealand is a great place for families, the figures tell a different story. Each year around 10 children are killed by a family member, while well over a thousand children are hospitalised for injuries inflicted by the same group. But we know those children are just a representation – there are tens of thousands of others living silently with abuse and neglect.
The names of children who have been killed through mistreatment are all too familiar. Those most recently in the media are names such as Chris and Cru Kahui, JJ Lawrence, Serenity Jay Scott, Cezar Taylor, and Terepo Taura-Griffith. But these are just the names we know.
We also know the factors that contribute to children being vulnerable to abuse and neglect. The bigger question is what do we do about it? That’s the question the Government set out to get answers to when the Minister for Social Development, Paula Bennett, launched the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children in July last year. This is a discussion document that asks all New Zealanders to think about what those answers might be – what needs to change at a government and societal level to truly make New Zealand a great, safe place to bring up kids?
The Green Paper asks a number of challenging questions: Should all children be tracked from birth? Should social agencies have more power to intervene? Should children get a bigger cut of the budget – if so, who misses out? These are big questions, and that’s why we need opinions, views and submissions from as many New Zealanders as possible, no matter who they are, where they live, how qualified they are, or how old they are – children’s voices are perhaps the most important in this whole debate.
I’m delighted to be one of three Champions appointed to promote the Green Paper and get us talking about child abuse. The others are South Auckland lawyer Sandra Alofivae, and the Chief Executive of Barnardos, Murray Edridge. We’re all utterly passionate about the need to get a national debate going, because talking about it and coming up with ideas is the only way we can fix the issue and protect our children.
Making a submission is easy. If you’ve got a computer, you can do it online – go to www.saysomething.org.nz. You can post your views on Facebook or Twitter. If you don’t have a computer, you can write a letter, or pick up a submission form from the local WINZ office. No-one needs to miss out, and everyone’s views are important, no matter how big or small. But there’s not much time left – submissions close on 28 February, and then work begins on creating a Children’s Action Plan.
Last year was a hard year for our tamariki, so let’s do all we can to make 2012 truly a happy one for our vulnerable children. Let’s change the end of the story for them. That change starts by making a submission on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children.
Go to www.saysomething.org.nz for more information on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children.
• Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Mail: Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, PO Box 1556, Wellington 6140.
• Visit www.saysomething.org.nz and make a submission online.
• Facebook: www.facebook.com/greenpapernz
• Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenpapernz
Norm Hewitt is a Champion for the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children. He is a former All Black, and now runs the Nga Mauri Pounamu Ora Trust.