UN questions New Zealand over narrow focus on vulnerable children

Last updated 13:55 19/09/2016

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley defends the Government's focus on only vulnerable children, to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Tolley defends Ministry for Vulnerable Children title

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has defended the name of the Vulnerable Children's Ministry to the UN, who were concerned it did not have a wide enough brief by only focusing on vulnerable children.

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The UN has questioned the Government over the name of its new Ministry of Vulnerable Children, branding it "strange". 

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley was forced to defend the decision when she appeared in front of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland, at the end of last week.

She led a high-level delegation to present in front of the committee, for a five-yearly review of New Zealand's progress against the international convention of the same name. 

But early on in the session, Tolley faced a number questions which appeared to outline concern over the name of the ministry, and what it implied. 

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UN Rapporteur Kirstin Sandberg grilled Tolley over whether the Government planned to widen its focus to promoting the rights of all New Zealand children. 

"Your whole policy focus...seems to be on vulnerable children and you've done a lot of commendable work on vulnerable children. 

"But we would like to see a comprehensive policy for the implementation of these rights for all children," Sandberg asked.

"And what about your new ministry, which is only for vulnerable children - which is a bit strange, I must say, in the ears of the committee.

"A whole ministry for only vulnerable children? It might have been for all children?"

Tolley told the committee the Government carried out work through other ministries to see all children thrive, but there was an "unashamed" focus on the most vulnerable. 

"We have over one million children in New Zealand, this ministry is unashamedly focused on those that are most at risk. 

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"Particularly those children that have to come into state care, where the current system and the statistics as to the life-outcomes for those children are simply unacceptable," she said. 

"So this ministry will be very firmly focused on ensuring that those children - perhaps the most vulnerable in our communities - are able to access all the services they need, and can go on to live extremely successful lives."  

She informed the committee that a social investment approach would be used "to ensure that vulnerable children receive the care and support they need, when they need it". 

"This will use actuarial valuations, early intervention and evidence of what works to identify the best way of targeting support." 

The new ministry would have a strong focus on reducing the over-representation of Maori young people in the system. 

The New Zealand delegation faced more than 250 questions, over a gruelling six hours that spanned Friday and Saturday. 

Now back in New Zealand, Tolley said the ministry had a particular task, and that could have been communicated more clearly. 

"Whilst they agreed with the work that we're doing, I think what we took away from it was that somehow, we need to be able to present what we do for the other 1.5 million children in a more coherent manner perhaps."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the line of questioning showed the UN believed the Government's response, to child inequality, lacking.   

"The UN Committee has raised questions about the extreme targeting of only the most vulnerable children through the new Ministry of Vulnerable Children.

"This runs the risk of undermining provision for all children and breaching their rights to be healthy, educated, safe and participating," she said. 

Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa submitted to the UN committee earlier this year, and said successive governments had failed New Zealand children, through poor decisions. 

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft attended as part of the New Zealand delegation. 

He has said the committee had misgivings about the lack of an overall plan, to draw the reforms together, and whether the Government might be losing sight of the wellbeing of all under 18-year-olds. 

The UN committee is expected to release its concluding observations of New Zealand's form in child rights, some time in October. 

- Stuff


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