There is an urgent need to tackle the problem of Vulnerable Political Strategy ...

Those who proposed the name of Ministry for Vulnerable Children for the redevelopment of Child, Youth & Family will be at risk of being stigmatised as designers of an agency that gives with one policy and takes away with the other.

Providing support, care and protection for children and young people who have experienced the effects of violence, sexual abuse and neglect is an essential role of government. These are major critical measures of social dysfunction and as a nation we are collectively ashamed of them.

Naming the agency that will lead the response to these issues as the Ministry for Vulnerable Children is not helpful. Firstly, the name is disempowering to those it is intended to serve. Children and young people do not choose to be 'vulnerable' and yet this new ministry is proposing to label them as such.


The reason for most vulnerable children sits with the behaviour of adults; parents, relatives and neighbourhoods and the social context in which they live. This is not to diminish the responsibility of adults to provide care to the young.

This should be a given but sadly many fail to do this and it is the children and young people who have to then live (and sometimes die) as a consequence.

The biggest flaw in the new name of the ministry is that its proposed functions are completely at odds with many of the policy reasons that compound vulnerability.

Most people, even if they don't work in health, justice or education, are aware of the effect of inequalities and the way it creates a social deficit. Check out stats for education, justice and health outcomes - most are tilted by differences in incomes, housing and unemployment, and while these are not the fault of children and young people, too many of them live in environments where these can have a profound influence on outcomes.

This is - in terms of government policy - the elephant sitting in the middle of the foyer of this new ministry. The staff will not be able to make it budge as this is not its mandate.

Its role will be to provide care and protection for those made vulnerable by government policy and funding decisions about benefits, job creation, education, justice and health.

I have spent a fair proportion of my working life involved in roles linked to improving outcomes for children and youth and it is frustrating to see this mismatch between assisting the most disadvantaged while ignoring the social determinants of disadvantage.

Without addressing the effect of inequality, it is like building a raft to rescue those who have been caught in wave after wave of poorly designed social policy.


It has been good to hear the recently-appointed Children's Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, declaring he would not be using the given name of the new ministry but intends to only use the Maori name, Oranga Tamariki, which means the health and wellbeing of children.

He says the Maori name is "aspirational" and positive, whereas the English name is negative, emphasising children's vulnerability rather than their wellbeing.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call this new agency the "Ministry for Fixing the Effects of Inequalities on its Youngest Citizens". That would be too long to fit on the front of an office building but would at least recognise the vulnerability of poor government policy.

-Terry Sarten is a social worker, writer, musician - feedback: