OPINION: We have a new law that, we're promised, means there will be more eyes on our vulnerable children. A law that will prioritise services and support and provide greater vigilance over known abusers.
In fact, one part of it requires any parents who have been convicted of killing, severely abusing or neglecting a child to prove they are safe if they want to parent subsequent children. Previously, the starting assumption was that they were, unless the authorities were able to prove otherwise.
Just days ago we were opposing the Glenn report's proposal that people accused of family violence should have the burden of proof shifted to them. The important distinction, however, is the difference between the appropriate handling of an accusation and the appropriate acknowledgment of an already-existing judicial conviction.
In the new Vulnerable Children law, each child identified as vulnerable will have a team assigned to them. That team will work to a plan that, among other things, will determine who, exactly, is responsible for what. On the face of it, that does seem to be an improvement not only in co-ordination, but accountability.
The only opposition to the bill came from the Greens. They saw too much focus on the individual and the State's response to abuse. They maintained this balked at the main problem, child poverty.
Whether or not that's a valid criticism, it was an ill-considered stance to turn away from the entire bill. Whatever else may still be needed, do the Greens really believe the nation would be better off without these measures?
Inevitably, some silly remarks did accompany the law's passage. The welcoming press release from Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennet said the Ministries of Health, Education, Social Development, Justice and Police frontline staff "must now ensure that children identified as vulnerable get the services and support they need to thrive".
If this is in any way a new requirement, we'd welcome clarification of what the previous requirement was. In fact, the change is in the methodology, not the mission. On balance, a good one.
- The Southland Times
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