Keeping Mum
Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Who is working for families?


Today was the first day of a month and a half's worth of electioneering. There's a big decision coming in November, and as usual, precious little is known about the nitty-gritty of what each party offers on the really important issues.

Yes - we know what they're saying about health. More money pumped into health, for the most part, although if the past is anything to go by that seems to mean more money for management consultants and less for nurses, for example. It could mean more privatisation in Health, which, if handled properly would mean more services availaible to the consumer, but if handled badly might well mean less.

We know what they're saying about education. More money pumped into education, or more privatisation of education.

We know what each party would like to see in terms of policing, conservation, immigration - all, undoutedly, important issues.

But there's a certain view that I think is lacking from everything I've read and heard. And that is: what support is provided to families - whatever shape they are - to grow and nurture the citizens of tomorrow? What importance is placed on the wellbeing of our very youngest citizens and their caregivers?

Admittedly there are several things that are done well at the moment. Working for Families helps kids. Vaccinations and doctors visits are generally free; a range of grants can be applied for to keep play and music groups going for pre-schoolers; libraries tend to try hard to keep their youngest patrons happy; and parks, especially in urban areas, are generally well appointed and beautifully maintained.

But more could be done.

A fully funded Plunket service that didn't rely on volunteers to keep it going; facilities in every city, town and village for young children and their parents to meet up and receive help; six months paid parental leave for either mother or father; two weeks paid paternity leave for fathers; mobile toy and book libraries that families could access; and a swimming pool for preschoolers, for example, in every community, are just some ideas.

And what about more kindies? In my area waiting lists for public kindies are years long!

Before the usual pro-free market arguments are made about the Government not subsidising choices, I would say again that healthy families with confident, well adjusted parents would surely be beneficial to everyone. When kids are young is the time to invest in them and their household - by the time they've reached primary school there are many things that are difficult to reverse, including a troubled beginning with an isolated and unhappy parent or parents.

It all sounds like pie-in-the-sky stuff, but it seems to me there is money for it. The money though, at the moment, simply gets doled out at the other end of the cycle - when kids become troubled teens or adults (prisons), non-coping parents (CYFS), unhealthy (hospitals) and unproductive (Work and Income).

Why not try and throw our resources behind initiaves at the beginning of life? I will wait, with anticipation, for a political party that tells me this is possible.

* * * *

When you are the parent of young children there are a million and one frustrations each day, for sure. But there are also some quiet suprising, and heartening, random acts of kindness.

Yesterday, as I was shovelling over the road at Auckland Airport with toddler, mother in law, baby and most importantly, toddler's Ernie (Nernie) doll in tow, Nernie decided that life as roadkill was more appealing and flung himself out of my bag at speed on the middle of the pedestrian crossing.

Two young men who, in other circumstances, might have had us clutching our purses closer to our chests, ran after our haggard group, plucked Nernie from his uncertain fate and handed him to my mother in law.

Which just shows that you can never dismiss whole demographics as being inherently bad or uncaring, regardless of how they're dressed.

And also shows that everyone understands the importance of a Nernie doll in a young boy's life.

Dita De Boni

Pictured above: National Party leader, John Key, works the crowd as he visits the newly refurbished Plunket rooms in Thames recently. Photo / Alan Gibson.

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