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24 May 2018
On 24 May 2018, the J R McKenzie Trust and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner invited a range of stakeholders from the children’s sector, government, philanthropic sector, service providers, community groups and those with lived experiences to a one-day hui in Wellington, on reducing child poverty and improving child wellbeing.
After a welcome and whānaungatanga facilitated by Marcus Ahukata-Brown, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern facilitated a panel discussion with policy, practice and experience experts who discussed the obstacles and enablers to achieving child wellbeing. Presentations by the Minister for Children Tracy Martin; the Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft, the policy team from the Poverty and Wellbeing Units in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet; and Professor Jonathan Boston helped inform the kōrero throughout the day. The real magic happened when participants were given the space and time to work together in small groups to weave their strengths and knowledge and to come up with ideas and tangible actions to address child poverty and achieve child wellbeing.
The kōrero throughout the day was rich, wide ranging and diverse. Some key themes emerged as follows:
1) EMPOWER AND RESOURCE COMMUNITIES. There was a strong call for community organisations and community-led initiatives to be resourced so that they can support their members to be connected, resilient and caring. Initiatives that are embedded in communities and run by local people are better able to serve children and their whānau than ‘one-size-fits-all’ providers who don’t have local relationships or ongoing commitments to community outcomes. Community ‘champions’ should be supported to continue their work.
2) RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING. Relationships built on trust, empathy and respect are critical - between government and community, between community and whānau, and among members of whānau, hapū and iwi. There was a call to build in mechanisms that intentionally develop and sustain these relationships and for values-based thinking and action.
3) NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US. Strategies and services to assist people living in poverty need to be co-designed with people who have experienced poverty. Listening to lived experience is key. Other stakeholders who need to be involved in the design from the start include Māori, children and young people and community groups.
4) CHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO PARTICIPATE AND NEED TO BE LOVED AND CARED FOR. Children should be valued and their contributions recognised. They have a right to have a say in issues that affect them. Children want to be loved, cared for and heard.
5) THE WELFARE SYSTEM IS BROKEN AND NEEDS TO BE FIXED. The dispassionate risk management approach to welfare needs to change. The welfare system should be redesigned around the priorities of children and whānau. There was a clear call for a ‘culture shift’ in the way that WINZ engages with their ‘clients’. Stop blaming poor people, stop blaming people who work at wervices like WINZ and start changing the rules so they are fair and fit for purpose.
6) THE BASICS MATTER PUTEA (MONEY) MATTERS. Benefits need to be indexed to wages and people need to earn a living wage. How can loan sharks reach families but services can’t? Some people called for a Universal Basic Income and others talked about the importance of universal services.
7) VALUE AND SUPPORT PARENTS AND CARERS. Removing stress factors that are associated with poverty and hardship first then supporting parents and babies with programmes, support services, education and skills training. Start with the belief that parents want the best for their children.
8) WHAT’S GOOD FOR MĀORI IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE. Work in a tangible and practically demonstrated Treaty of Waitangi partnership with Iwi and Māori to find solutions that work through a te ao Maori lens. Support what is working for Māori children who are flourishing in tikanga Māori environments like marae, kura, and in kapahaka. More marae in urban areas could provide a community-driven approach to preventing poverty and providing for healthy lifestyles for everyone – eg gardens, kai, kapahaka, sports, and whānau therapy. Comprehensive NZ history and te reo Māori should be taught in primary schools.
9) BRAVE AND COMPASSIONATE POLICY AND LEGISLATION. Use child impact assessment tools and be brave in co-designing policy and legislation. One suggestion was to employ community advisers to work in the DPMC poverty and wellbeing units – this would be genuine community-government co-design!
With work underway to develop the first child wellbeing strategy, we hope you can take some of what was shared and heard forward in other discussions in your communities, policy work or advocacy for children and their families.