Children deserve to grow up in a loving, caring home

By Tariana Turia

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Tariana Turia PHOTO/FILE
Tariana Turia PHOTO/FILE

Last week the Government announced measures to reduce the alarming rate of child abuse in our country. The Vulnerable Children's proposals will introduce Child Harm Prevention Orders for those who pose a high risk of offending against children.

Parents who have had a child permanently removed due to abuse or neglect or have killed a child will have to prove they're safe to parent any subsequent children they may have.

Parents come from all walks of life. I know most of us strive to be good parents. Some struggle on low incomes and still provide the love and care their children need. Others are not struggling financially but may have other issues that hurt their families. Others may lack the parenting and relationship skills needed for a happy, healthy home.

The fact is that some parents are not providing a safe, caring environment. It is our collective responsibility as neighbours, as extended whanau, as teachers, sports coaches or social workers to step in.

Too many of our children are being treated badly by the people who are supposed to love and care the most about them and too many of our children end up in the care of the state.

We all know of the outrageous abuse that is being meted out to innocent children, and it must stop now. We also know of the willingness and the commitment of parents and grandparents, of aunts and uncles who are clear that there is a better way of raising children. The extended whanau plays a crucial role in the care and well-being of children who are removed from their parents care. It is our responsibility as extended whanau to take care of children when their own parents cannot. It is our collective responsibility as members of hapu and iwi to take up that right to keep our children connected to their extended family.

While some children must be removed from their parents, they should always be placed with extended whanau. I would expect under these new proposals that the state will be building strong relationships with whanau, hapu and iwi so this can happen.

It is unacceptable that our children are put into care outside the family. That practice of placing children with strangers must end. We should not perpetuate the abuses of the past where many children in state care grew up with no connection to their family or culture. Children need to grow up in an environment they know and understand and should never be alienated from the essence of who they are.

I see families and communities as responsible for the changes that need to take place. To find solutions that end violence, addiction and abuse in the home and to restore the health and well-being of the family. I am hoha with the notion that the state takes on the role of parent. Assuming it knows better than us how to raise our children. Can any department strengthen connections to our whanau, hapu and iwi? What will an organ of the state know about our korero tawhito, our marae, our reo rangatira, the tikanga and kaupapa passed down to us by our tupuna? All of these factors help to strengthen our whanau. We must not abdicate our precious role to the state or indeed even a social service provider. It is our place to care for our kids.

The role of the state must be to ensure families have access to resources to help them make changes and to ensure state policies and practices enhance the self-determination and well-being of families.

We owe it to our children to create a safe environment. We also owe it to them to ensure they stay connected with their families. And we owe it to them to ensure they live in a stable environment and are not moved from pillar to post by the state. My office gets calls from families around the country whose children were taken away. These children are often living away from their families for at least two years or more and have a number of homes during this time. This is also unacceptable. Children need stability and should not suffer further when they are removed from their homes.

Children have a right to grow up in a loving, caring environment where they come first. Research shows us how abuse in families can adversely affect future generations. Six years ago during the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 academics and researchers told the Maori Party how in earlier times Maori children were not physically disciplined in order to develop and nurture their fearless and adventurous spirit.

The Maori Party supported the repeal of Section 59 because we believed the spiritual, cultural and physical well-being of our tamariki is paramount and violence of any kind against children was not the way of the future.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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