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Annual Report 2018
30 November 2018
The annual summary of activity and achievements for the Office of the Children's Commissioner for the financial year 2017 - 2018.
Introduction from the Children’s Commissioner
Tēnā koutou katoa,
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) advocates for the interests and wellbeing of New Zealand’s 1.123 million children and young people. Our vision is for New Zealand to become a country where all children thrive, a nation striving for the wellbeing of its young people, a place where their voices are listened to as a respected part of our national discourse.
But for that vision to be realised we have many challenges to overcome. While most of our children do wonderfully well, too many carry burdens of poverty, prejudice, abuse and disadvantage. This should never be the case in Aotearoa.
We can be rightly proud that 70% of our children and young people do well. But 20% are struggling in challenging circumstances and need some extra support, and 10% do as badly, if not worse, than most comparable OECD countries.
To address these challenges, our work this last year has generally had a threefold focus. We have sought ways to enhance wellbeing, to encourage individuals and institutions to listen to children’s voices, and to identify and dismantle structures that disadvantage them.
As part of our contribution to fleshing out the meaning of wellbeing, and how it can be achieved for children in New Zealand, we co-hosted Weaving our Strengths in May 2018. This was an event that drew together insights from community groups and those living in adverse situations, non-government and government agencies and academics. Our goal was to find a path that would enable us, as a country, to move from disadvantage and poverty to wellbeing for all our children. Perhaps one of the most exciting signals the event received was the value of seeing wellbeing not only as the absence of negatives – poverty, ill health, lack of adequate housing – but also as the presence of positives – play, a secure and loving family, and happiness. We continue to work alongside government to establish New Zealand’s first Child Wellbeing Strategy.
Children’s voices add value to policy discussions and improve our decision making. I am increasingly convinced that historically we have not taken seriously enough the need to value children’s views in their own right. It may reflect the belief that children are merely adults in waiting, people with potential who will have a view, but not now. Or it could be that we are just too busy to take children’s voices seriously. Whatever the cause, we need to re-prioritise our commitment to hearing from children.
Our work this year has reflected our Office’s commitment to putting children and young people’s voices at the centre, and encouraging others to do the same. Our Mai World initiative has achieved real success in influencing others to be deliberate in hearing from children and young people, to listen to what they have to say, and to take it into account in decision making. Since the release of our Education Matters to Me series of reports we have experienced strong demand for advice from government and non-government organisations, as well as individuals, on best practice in engaging with children and young people.
Much of the disadvantage experienced by children in New Zealand is driven by poverty, especially actual material deprivation. It was with a sense of deep satisfaction that we saw the introduction of the Child Poverty Reduction Bill, a concrete commitment from the government to alleviating the conditions too many of our children face. The Bill itself was modelled on a template developed by this Office during the time of my predecessor, Dr Russell Wills. And, it’s worth observing that the proposed Child Poverty Reduction legislation imposes on the government of the day an unprecedented obligation to consult with children on the formation of a nationwide Child Wellbeing Strategy.
Poverty seldom exerts its influence in isolation. Coupled with the continuing legacy of colonisation, it is a destructive combination and affects too many tamariki Māori. Our work monitoring children and young people in care within Oranga Tamariki’s residences continues. This work, and the reports shared with me this year by our Development, Monitoring and Investigation team and our Strategy, Rights and Advice team, has underscored for me more clearly than ever the need for our country to deliver much better for Māori children.
The urgency of this demand was reflected in the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (Revised) passed in July 2017. The Act contains a new section, s7AA, which creates duties for the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki in relation to The Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi). Our Office continues to be intimately involved in helping identify the practical implications of this section. The extent to which s7AA can be given rich and full life will be a signal of the extent to which the Act can contribute to making a genuine difference for tamariki Māori.
Our own work reviewing the effectiveness of state care, and that provided by contracted partners, has been enhanced significantly by a new monitoring approach we have developed, Mana Mokopuna. This approach reflects a Te Ao Māori world view and enables us to hear more clearly from all children, young people in care, and their families and whānau, and better understand their experiences.
As part of my statutory duty to report on New Zealand’s progress in applying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Children’s Convention), the Office and our partners in the Children’s Convention Monitoring Group released two public reports this year. These reports are the first in a series called Getting it Right and highlight where New Zealand is making progress in fulfilling children’s rights and identifies areas where action is needed.
OCC is a surprisingly small operation. Thanks to the unwavering energy, enthusiasm, skill and commitment of our small number of staff, we are able to deliver far more than the extent of our funding might normally procure. I thank each and every member of our team for the passion and focus they bring to their work. I believe that together we are able to make a very significant difference for the children and young people of New Zealand.
Judge Andrew Becroft
Te Kaikomihana mō ngā Tamariki