Last year's Green Paper on vulnerable children promised a society where, in the words of its title, "every child thrives, belongs, achieves".

It quoted overseas initiatives such as the United Kingdom's Children Act and Scotland's 10-year Early Years Framework, and proposed a "vulnerable children's action plan".

It targeted services at the youngest children and their parents, and proposed basing social services at preschools, schools and doctors' clinics.

Perhaps, inevitably, the White Paper that followed fails to reach the high expectations raised by the 10,000 public submissions.


Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills proposed a seven-point plan focused on tackling child poverty, reducing health and educational inequalities, and more support for children with disabilities and special needs. Almost none of these ideas have been picked up.

Instead, the White Paper outlines a much tighter system of monitoring and punishing abusive parents which amounts to the proverbial picking up the pieces at the bottom of the cliff.

In its own terms, it makes sense. Successive reviews of child abuse cases, at least since the death of Hastings 4-year-old James Whakaruru 13 years ago, have bemoaned multiple agencies all operating in ignorance of one other.

The proposed new multi-agency plans for each child, backed by an IT system accessible by all agencies, should have been set up years ago. The bigger challenge is to build a more equal and caring society that gives all young people, who are our future parents, the jobs and skills they need to make their children less vulnerable.

The White Paper was an opportunity to support all children and their parents more effectively. It is an opportunity lost.