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What Single Parents are Telling Us

profile-pic-meganMegan Thomas

Interim Chief Executive | Birthright New Zealand

In my first three months as Birthright New Zealand’s chief executive I have deepened my knowledge and understanding of single parent families. More than a quarter of our families are single parent households. One in two women will find themselves parenting alone at some stage in their life.

The evidence is profound. Children living in single-parent households experience significantly higher poverty rates than those in two-parent households. If we are serious about reducing child poverty then we must ensure Government changes underway address the needs of single parents.

Birthright wants to work with interested people and organisations to inform this policy development by providing insights and knowledge about the systemic barriers that are creating inequity for single parent whanau.  We are keen to hear from those who wish to work together to develop input under the banner  ‘How might we achieve equitable outcomes for single parent whanau?’.

The need for this is urgent.

Recently I ran a focus group with a fantastic group of single mothers in Canterbury. These women all had different journeys that had resulted in them being a single parent – relationship breakdown, single parent since the birth of their child, husband in prison. At the heart of their stories they expressed a common theme, “my child(ren) come first, everything I do is focused around my child(ren)”.

As I listened to their stories I understood why so many families find themselves in poverty.  While deeply committed to raising their children with love and security, they explained the many official and society obstacles they face:

“It is so challenging to know what help is available and where to get information, we need support to navigate our way through.”

 “We don’t have any spare money.”

“I feel like dirt every time I have to go to WINZ to ask for something, they don’t believe me”

“WINZ told me my oldest son, who is 17, needs to look after the children while I go out and find a job. He doesn’t want to and told me he won’t, they’re not his kids.“

 “I’m chomping at the bit to get work. Everyone in my family has always been on the benefit. I know I have to be a role model for my children, they need to see me working.”

“I have tried working but then my kids would get sick and I didn’t have enough leave, I couldn’t keep the job.”

A recent Ministry of Women report ‘Something’s got to change’ reinforces these sentiments. Forty, mostly solo mothers, were interviewed.  The report highlights barriers such as the complexity of the benefit system, constant financial stress, challenging experiences with government services and dealing with mental/physical health concerns.

Listening and responding to these real life experiences must remain central to the many Government reviews underway –  among them, welfare reform, a wellbeing strategy, Tenancy Act review, tax reform and a mental health inquiry. Reform in each of these public policy areas could improve outcomes for families.

We believe children have a “birth-right” to the same opportunities regardless of their family circumstances. Help us work towards an equitable system, so our families can live the life they aspire to.

 Megan Thomas is Interim CE, Birthright New Zealand. Birthright have been working with families led by one person for more than 60 years, supporting families to succeed on their own terms.

 

This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our websitehttp://comvoices.org.nz/