A Maori trust that has been feeding hungry children for four years has been forced to stop by Government bureaucrats, because the lunches were not part of its contract.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett felt all the frustrations of Te Aupouri Maori Trust Board, which has been feeding children at five schools in Kaitaia, at a public meeting in the town yesterday kicking off a two-week roadshow about the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children.
Child, Youth and Family, part of Ms Bennett's ministry, has told the board to stop providing lunches to 15 to 20 children each day who came to school without lunch, because it was not part of its "social workers in schools" contract.
Eric Reid of the board's social services arm told Ms Bennett the board wanted to do more preventive work that would reduce the number of children reported to CYF for abuse or neglect, but its funding did not allow it.
"We would love to get into the preventive model, but we are not equipped to do it for nothing," he said.
"One of the areas we definitely wanted to address was children coming to school without lunches, so we started providing children in school with lunches.
"It was reducing thefts. It was reducing truancy.
"These are things that you can address just through school lunches.
"We got rapped over the knuckles - we were not meant to be doing that, it was not part of our contractual responsibility."
Northland National MP Mike Sabin, who chaired the meeting, warned that if schools provided lunches then mothers and fathers would never have to do it.
"But they are not doing that anyway," Mr Reid responded. "You can walk around every pub in Kaitaia and mums and dads are investing in the poker machines."
Mr Sabin retorted: "We have to investigate that, otherwise we'll have 50,000 more parents who are not feeding their children."
About 60 others at the meeting expressed frustrations about gaps in social services.
Leena Taylor, head teacher of Kaitaia's Anne West Kindergarten, said some of her families had to wait more than a year to get help from special education services after she referred them because of delayed language development.
"We just wait and wait and wait. There is a lack of people on the ground," she said.
Another early childhood teacher said the town had been trying to get a teenage parent education unit where teens could stay in school and learn childcare skills with skilled childcare workers, but Government funding priorities changed and nothing happened.
Ms Bennett asked whether local people should decide whether the district's 53 teenage parents should be a priority for the $5.8 million in state funding that went into social services for the area's 5000 people.
The green paper asks whether information about children considered at risk should be shared by teachers, doctors, police and other agencies such as local iwi.
"Could we take certain things such as the age of the mother, educational achievements of the parents, are they together, do they have a history of domestic violence, was their mother in CYF care as a child," she asked.
She said her own daughter would have been considered "at risk" under those criteria when Ms Bennett gave birth to her as a 17-year-old solo mum on a benefit.
She asked what kind of independent entity would be needed to hear complaints from parents about the way information about them was used.
Although suffering from tonsilitis, she takes her roadshow about the proposals to the Bay of Plenty today and plans to finish at Invercargill at the end of next week.
WORKING FOR KIDS
Green Paper on Vulnerable Children
Seeks public feedback on whether teachers, doctors, police and welfare workers should be able to share information about children at risk of abuse or neglect; also whether more social services should operate from schools and preschools.
Paula Bennett's roadshow
Today: Plunket House, 1436 Pukuatua St, Rotorua, 9.30am; REAP, 73 Titiraupenga St, Taupo, 2pm.
Tomorrow: Little Theatre, 2 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt, 6pm.
Thursday: Waitakere Community Resource Centre, 8 Ratanui St, Henderson, 9.30am; Manukau Civic Centre, 1.20pm.
Friday: Fickling Centre, 546 Mt Albert Rd, Mt Roskill, 2pm.