Michael O'Brien responds to John Roughan's Weekend Herald column on how academics assess child poverty.

Yes, I am an academic and one of the major things academics do is undertake and publish research, in all sorts of fields. Some of that research comes from looking at data and understanding its meaning.

Other pieces of research involve gathering information from studies done outside the walls of the university. I have been fortunate to do both, as have my colleagues who work on child poverty issues.

My academic life is deeply enriched by my work and contacts with social service agencies. Much of the information that I work with comes from contacts with social service agencies. So, your criticism is puzzling and ill informed. Does your position mean that agricultural and horticultural researchers who don't farm or run an orchard are unable to contribute to our knowledge and policies in these areas? Or that academic economists who don't run a business have nothing to contribute to economic policy?

We use our research to inform understanding of policies and their effects so as to try to ensure that those policies are well informed and enhance the lives of families and children.


Good policies require good information, not prejudices and ill-informed judgments expressed from the sideline by participants who do not know or understand the issues and have no interest in informing themselves about the national and international research. It is a pity to let facts get in the way of a story.

Yes John, well-off families may know of a sole parent in their circle who seems to be coping. But where is the imagination to understand what happens to those who don't have a well-resourced wider family to help.

Relying on that support, often for the basics, cannot depend on the good luck of family circumstances. Too many children miss out.

We don't rely on family support and good luck to ensure that superannuitants have an adequate income. Why should we do that for children? So, John, your article and its anecdotal observations adds nothing to the policy developments required to ensure that all children are able to grow, achieve and belong, ironically the goal of the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children.

Approaching the facts with an open mind would be a good start but, sadly, that is probably too much to expect. Meanwhile, I must get on with my research and writing to do the best I can to ensure that all children get the best start and support in life.

Michael O'Brien is an associate professor in the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland and convener of the Child Poverty Action Group.