Steve Gore: For families' sake, create a Minister of Parenting

Random checks are not enough to stop the murder of toddlers such as Nia Glassie. Photo / APN
Random checks are not enough to stop the murder of toddlers such as Nia Glassie. Photo / APN

We need to build an environment for parents to be a success, writes Steve Gore, a full-time father of two boys and past lobbyist for the Parents Centre.

In assessing the tragic death of Nia Glassie, Coroner Dr Wallace Bain has called for state monitoring of children until they are 5. He wants squads of well-meaning women (and men), with black belts in tut-tutting, to kick in our doors and check that we aren't mistreating our children, or having an off-day - that could look like the same thing.

More than 50,000 babies are born every year and the abuse of an unfortunate few of them is going to criminalise all parents and plough millions of dollars into a wasted exercise.

I am not surprised at this approach as it is entirely in keeping with political thinking. We repeatedly fail to understand that the problem is not parenting, but the environment parents operate in.

Our business, sports, cultural and arts sectors all function in an environment where all the resources and messages are about success. Heroes and leaders are actively sought and held up as role models.

Government rightly sees its role as ensuring those environments support success. We can all name our top sports people, artists and business leaders, and we all dream of emulating them and getting the respect of our nation. Their success inspires us to be better.

Can anyone name our top parents? Of course not, but we can name our worst. This is because the parenting environment is diametrically opposed to all other sectors. It has no heroes, just villains paraded by the media on a regular basis, sending the subliminal message to all parents that mistreatment of kids is prolific ... everyone's doing it.

Resources aren't put into building success but propping up ever increasing failure. In the business sector, education is seen as an integral part of constant improvement. In parenting, it is often used as a threat or punishment by government agencies: "Go on a course or lose your kids".

Dr Bain's plan endorses this failure-focused environment where doing a good job is ignored but failure is newsworthy.

We need to overhaul the environment parents operate in, starting with the government's role. There are 77 ministerial portfolios. Over half of those are dedicated to helping business succeed, but we have no Ministry of Bankrupt Businesses (CYFS is essentially a Ministry of Failed Families).

We have a Minister of the Rugby World Cup, and we had a Minister of Lord of the Rings when that was deemed to be important.

Why then, don't we have a Minister of Parenting? Every politician parrots "Parenting is the toughest job in the world, but the most important", but when it comes to actually doing something they run for cover, desperate to avoid the tag of "interfering in families".

They need not be afraid, they just need to get a grip on what a Minister of Parenting would do. Does Murray McCully, the Minister of both Sport and the RWC, tell Graham Henry how to coach or Dan Carter how to kick? Absolutely not. His role is to ensure the RWC has everything it needs to succeed.

A Minister of Parenting would take the same approach. They would ensure the interests of parents are represented at any Cabinet discussion and they would transform the failure-focused environment into one focused on success.

Aside from the reduction in child abuse, this is the best thing we can do for our social and economic success.

If every parent had access to skills and knowledge and was inspired to do the best job they could, imagine the outcome. Every classroom in the country filled with children who are school-ready.

Every teacher operating at 100 per cent instead of spending half their time trying to manage the behaviour of a few kids who haven't been taught discipline and respect. So every child has an improved education experience and leaves school more capable and ready to be a positive contributor to society. Prisons close, saving us the efforts of 11 taxpayers per prisoner. The money saved is ploughed into health, education and infrastructure, creating a cycle of prosperity.

It is widely acknowledged that the first two years of a person's life are critical to their development. The most important thing in those two years is the parent. Surely it's just good economics to ensure every child has the best parent possible. Parenting is quite simply the best investment this country could make.

There is a case that illustrates this perfectly. Some years ago a woman in Auckland had two children that became the scourge of their school, a constant problem for teachers and other children. When the third child arrived the woman was given $2000-worth of parent education. The third child became a model student and the mother joined the school board.

We have an election in a few months. I'd vote for any party that has the vision to unlock the power of parenting and offer us something more creative and positive than random baby checks.

- NZ Herald

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