A good childhood is so far out of reach for some vulnerable children that they say they cannot imagine what it would mean to have one.
When asked for their thoughts on what made a good childhood, as part of submissions for the Government's Green Paper for vulnerable children, some young people in residential care said they could not imagine the concept.
Those that did respond spoke about the need for affection, shelter, laughter and less violence.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner asked 100 children living at Child, Youth and Family homes how families, schools and communities could make life better.
Drug-free houses that were warm and dry, washing machines, respect and a packed lunch for school were all among the children's priorities.
The clear message that came across in many submissions was that vulnerable children just wanted the basics. "Food, water, warmth, care and love," one said, while another said: "And make sure you have food and that, a bed, shelter; a heat pump, warm; good clean clothes; and talk to kids more."
Many found it hard to identify positive aspects of their lives and instead offered examples of how things could improve. When asked about supportive and loving families, one answered, "I'm not sure, because I have not been around them."
Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said he thought the responses were wise, sad and helpful.
"The kids didn't ask for PlayStations, they asked for safe houses and respect and enough money to feed families. What that does is it grounds us as adults in reality.
"These are kids who have had extraordinary life experiences ... these are the kids that the Green Paper is all about."
Some of the children expressed anger at being in CYF care rather than with their families, and there was a constant theme of loss and despair.
CYF general manager of residences Jo Field said those spoken to were vulnerable teenagers who exhibited extremely challenging behaviours as a result of their life experiences. "Being separated from parents, caregivers or friends is one of the most traumatic things a young person can experience.
"These decisions are not taken lightly and are done either to keep the young person or the community safe or because they need to be held accountable for their offending."
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she welcomed the feedback as an important part of the process. "This week I received 2000 submissions from children through Barnardos, with 200 individual comments, including asking for parents to stop beating their children and to have more safe places for kids. The Government is listening closely to these voices."
In a separate exercise, Barnardos opened its children's helpline 0800 WhatsUp to submissions, with many echoing the comments from children in CYF care. Many said there was too much violence in homes, and another said simply: "Adults should love their children more."
WHAT IS THE GREEN PAPER?
The Government launched the Green Paper for vulnerable children to give New Zealanders a chance to comment on how abused or neglected children could be offered a better life.
Submissions to the Green Paper close on February 28 and can be made by attending meetings, posting on Facebook, email or post. About 3500 submissions have been received so far.
GREEN PAPER RESPONSES
What makes a good childhood?
"Spending time together."
"Being interested in the kid."
"Take the gangs, drugs and alcohol out of families."
"Child, Youth and Family not just to walk in and take you away from your family."
How can parents help children?
"Don't yell at us when we are trying hard."
"Buying food first and smokes, drugs and alcohol last".
"Take you to school, be involved in school, know their teachers and know how to help."
How can schools help children?
"Most schools don't give us time or help us, they just expel us straight away."
"Showing them life skills that they'll need for the future."
"Actually listen to you. They shouldn't give you suspensions because it's just like being on holiday."
"Not getting Child, Youth and Family involved, they take us from family."
What is there to do in your community?
"Nothing really cause they don't want to do anything but get drunk, smoke weed and be a criminal."
"Nothing much, drink and we wish things could be different. There is a centre but that's about it."
"Kids wagging school, teenagers drinking at a young age, teenagers having sex, fighting and lovers, exploring the community."
How can the Government help children?
"Give everyone the same stuff, like give everyone a house."
"Less taxes because people are struggling to live at these prices."
"Maori treated the same as English."
"We shouldn't have Child, Youth and Family. The police turn into CYF. CYF is the same as the police, with residences instead of cells. CYF are supposed to help me change but they don't. CYF should keep families together."
- The Dominion Post