Keeping Mum

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

Rankin rankles

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Open the papers yesterday and there's yet another story designed to call the Government's sanity into question in their choice of Christine Rankin as Families Commissioner.

Apparently Ms Rankin married a man just "months" after his wife took her own life. It is her fourth marriage and it appears the family of the dead woman is somewhat aghast at this turn of events.

To me this is most certainly a side-show. It is irrelevant that she's been married four times, because this doesn't make her a better or worse advocate for children and their families, I wouldn't have thought.

The issue of the timing of the current marriage may be unpalatable for some, but in honesty none of us know all the circumstances to this one and again, it's not really a direct link to her upcoming work on the Commission.

I believe there are definitely some positives to come out of Ms Rankin's appointment to the Families Commission.

Firstly, she speaks in a far more crunchy fashion than many Wellington bureaucrats.

Was it really that controversial and terrible to speak the truth that there is a problem with child abuse in some Maori communities, for example?

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say there is a problem with drugs and alcohol.

In my opinion there is a terrible problem with a tacit acceptance of teen pregnancy.

Whatever the reason, however, there is no getting around the fact that to some extent what she says is true and it is an uncomfortable truth - especially to the liberal establishment of Wellington, perhaps even more so than Maoridom itself.

It is a relief to hear someone say it, although quite what a Families Commission is going to be able to do about it is another thing.

Looking on the Commission's website turns up lots of worthy research that in any civilised society has to be undertaken.

The question is, and always has been, how will the results of that information actually filter down to the people who need it most?

For example, research on the site suggests Maori and Pacific Island women are either unaware or uninterested in the many resources available to them to utilise pre- and post-birth.

It remains a mystery in 2009 as to why many of these Government agencies and national bodies (such as Plunket) continue to focus on these communities and yet their advice and help is simply not heard.

If Rankin can help get the message across a little better, so much the better.

She will be aided by her fellow new appointee, Bruce Pilbrow from Parents Inc.

Parents Inc, like the foot soldiers in Plunket, Barnardoes and the like, are really interested in hands-on help to families, and we can hope that Mr Pilbrow will have some useful advice to impart to the Commission.

But my main concern is not that Ms Rankin is looking for a new platform (which I think she is), has achieved her posting thanks to some friends in the new Government (which seems beyond question) and that, really, her history in Government roles led to some massive errors of judgement which might have seen others' careers end up in the toilet.

I also don't like the way she brought up Helen Clark's child-free status during her agitations against the Labour Government. It was petty and nasty.

What I fear most is that Rankin and her cohorts are most concerned about overturning the anti-smacking legislation to the exclusion of everything else.

Comments made by Rankin in various media interviews suggest she is hostile to the Bill, so it's not a stab in the dark.

Anyone who reads the Bill rationally realises it is there to try and curb aggression that is completely unwarranted.

Contrary to the many scare stories, the courts are not becoming clogged with every John Peabody who gave his son a slap on the wrist for stealing lollies.

There are bigger and more important things to be focused on.

Hopefully the two newbies will ignore political score-settling and pay more attention to really and practically helping families traverse the ups and downs of living happily and healthily in New Zealand in 2009.

On the web:

* nzfamilies.org.nz
* nzherald.co.nz
* stuff.co.nz

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: New Families Commissioner Christine Rankin. Photo / Kenny Rodger

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