Beneficiaries: Unlikely heroes?

SIMON DAY
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2013
Bennett
FAIR ENOUGH: "I thought it was a fair spend for a small number of people, says Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

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State-sponsored foster parents, paid to look after the children of parents incapable or unable to do the job, are New Zealand's highest paid beneficiaries, receiving up to $113,776 a year from the taxpayer.

Eight of the 10 highest paid beneficiaries in New Zealand are acting as state-paid parents. They received between $113,776 and $83,356 from July 2011 to July 2012.

On a cocktail of payments, the eight foster parents received Orphans and unsupported child benefit (UCB), which is paid to support a child or young person whose parents can't care for them because of a family breakdown, their parents have died or can't be found, or can't look after their child because they have a long-term illness or incapacity.

They also received further payments to support disabled children and sole parent benefits.

Around 8500 foster parents receiving the UCB were paid a total of $111,499,000 from July 2011 to July 2012. And the cost of negligent parents is growing.

Orphans and unsupported child benefits have grown from $101m in 2010, to $107m in 2011 and $111m in 2012.

Receiving $2188 a week, the highest paid beneficiary is caring for eight foster children for which he receives a UCB. He is married, has two of his own children, and also receives an invalid's benefit.

The second highest paid receives $1822 a week from the government and is also working fulltime. He and his wife receive an UCB for caring for nine grandchildren, four of whom have disabilities for which the family also receives child disability allowance.

And the cost of negligent parents is growing. Orphans and unsupported child benefits have grown from $101m in 2010, to $107m in 2011 and $111m in 2012.

When Paula Bennett first took over the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) portfolio in 2008 she was concerned at the amount paid to those looking after unsupported children. Now, she believes these caregivers deserve every dollar.

"I started meeting some of these families and I can tell you that they are working with children who have been abused and neglected at a fairly extreme end," said the Social Development Minister, Bennett.

Despite the cost to the taxpayer, moving neglected and abandoned children into grandparent and foster care is far cheaper than putting them into state institutions, Bennett said.

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"In general I have found them to be remarkable people doing a job that very few would. When I added all of those things together I thought it was a fair spend for a small number of people," Bennett said.

Many of those being paid to foster children are grandparents of those very children.

Drug use, violence, neglect and mental health issues are forcing grandparents to take responsibility for children, according to research by the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust (GRG).

There has been a generational failure in parenting in New Zealand, leaving grandparents to pick up the pieces, according to Diane Vivian, the chair of GRG, who raised three children and two foster kids.

"Parents are putting their own selfish wants and needs before those of their children. What I am seeing from our perspective is there is a whole generation of that," she said.

"What scares me is when our generation dies out, what the hell is going to be left? These children are our future," Vivian said.

The Government's Children's Action Plan hopes to prevent child abuse and neglect in New Zealand. It includes legislative changes, information sharing, tougher penalties and screening for child abusers, designed to protect vulnerable children at risk of harm.

These "bottom of the cliff" responses are vital, but parents must be willing to take responsibility if New Zealand is going to reduce the harm done to children, according to Bruce Pilbrow, chief executive of The Parenting Place.

"Ultimately we have to look at the long-term game and that is more upstream, when we actually get behind families in the community, and start to build the family structure back," Pilbrow said.

"We have to bring back some core basics. How to parent, how to be in a relationship, how to bring up our children, if you feel angry - what do you do."

The growing decline of traditional family values has contributed to the neglect of New Zealand's children and means the Government has to pick up the cost, Pilbrow said.

"There is a fundamental breakdown in the family unit. Couples aren't staying together as much as they used to, so there is a breakdown that way. Or, there is violence. And it is a growing market unfortunately. The more that market grows the more you are going to need foster care," Pilbrow said.

- Sunday Star Times

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