Imagine a region where all children had the love and care they needed, where none went hungry or cold, where all children lived in warm, dry houses.
Imagine if this region was Hawke's Bay.
What would it take?
We all know children deserve this, simply because they are children. But everyone benefits when children are well cared for because they are much more likely to grow up to become contributing members of society.
As our population ages, we need everyone to reach their potential, or we will not be able to afford the things we currently take for granted, like health care and national superannuation.
Currently though, our children are a long way from having their needs met and reaching their potential. In 2017 police in Hawke's Bay referred 7650 children to Oranga Tamariki because they lived in homes they were called to for domestic violence.
That year 4 per cent of children in our region had a finding of child abuse, double the national rate.
Lots of things make this hard to change. We have exceptional rates of men's violence towards women and children in our region. Homelessness, poverty and inter-generational trauma are common in the families we see, so it's not surprising so many struggle with addictions and mental illness.
I'm pleased police and Oranga Tamariki have had an increase in staffing. Over time, benefits and the minimum wage will increase, and this will help.
However, the services police, OT, and I refer to are overwhelmed and under-resourced. In particular, short-term contracts and under-resourcing of NGO and kaupapa Māori services make it very difficult for those services to attract and retain the highly skilled staff they need to address the needs of the complex families they see.
I am hopeful these issues will begin to be addressed in the forthcoming Wellbeing Budget and subsequent Budgets. This will happen more quickly if there is sufficient public support, irrespective of which parties are in power.
The new section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act comes into force on July 1 and creates an obligation on Oranga Tamariki to partner with iwi, delegate and devolve functions to iwi organisations, and set targets and publicly report outcomes for tamariki Māori. They must have regard to the whānaungatanga responsibilities of whānau, hapū and iwi. We will only see outcomes improve if Oranga Tamariki and iwi work together to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable tamariki.
While improving incomes, social housing and good services are important, they won't be sufficient to turn this around.
We need to address, square on, men's violence to women and children. We men need to challenge those attitudes we hear in the pub, on the sports ground, and from friends and family.
And, there are things we can do as a community. Last week I attended a hui at the Equippers Church in Tamatea to recruit whānau to be caregivers for whānau who need a break, and for children who need to be in care. The hui was a partnership between several faith communities, Open Home Foundation and Oranga Tamariki. Already several whānau have put up their hands to be caregivers.
Another faith community is providing warm pyjamas for children. I know businesses that donate produce and staff time to support whānau doing it tough. My own father donates a boot load of pumpkins to the food bank and an NGO in Maraenui each year.
Hawke's Bay is a community that cares.
So my question to you is this: what will you do this winter to support whānau who are struggling? Can you give some time or other resource to an NGO? Will you let our MPs, of all parties, know you support increased investment in social housing and services for these whānau? Are you ready to be a caregiver for a child who needs one?
And, can we all agree please to never, ever, be silent to men's violence towards women and children?
* Russell Wills is a paediatrician in Hawke's Bay, a White Ribbon Ambassador, and was New Zealand's Children's Commissioner from 2011 to 2016.
If you'd like to help, or need help:
White Ribbon www.whiteribbon.org.nz
Oranga Tamariki www.ot.govt.nz
Te Ikaroa Rangatahi, Flaxmere www.facebook.com/teikaroarangatahi/
Te Roopu a Iwi, Maraenui www.rait.co.nz
Te Taiwhenua O Heretaunga, Hastings www.ttoh.iwi.nz/
Te Kupenga Hauora, Ahuriri www.tkh.org.nz/
Open Home Foundation www.ohf.org.nz/
Presbyterian Support Family Works www.psec.org.nz/learn-more/family-works/
Napier Family Centre www.napierfamilycentre.org.nz/
Birthright Hawke's Bay www.birthrighthb.org.nz/
Food banks www.foodbank.co.nz/hawkes-bay