Sunday, July 13, 2014

'P' babies and meal ticket children

Last week Sean Plunket was discussing the case of the student with overlong hair and what it had cost his school in court.

A principal rang in to make the point that insurance indemnity would have covered the court costs. Whether that holds across schools , I don't know. Frankly the issue bored me.

But the skillful Plunket moved his valuable coal-face witness on to other matters. What are the day-to-day problems his school faces?

Here's what the principal chose to highlight. He said that his school is starting to see the 'P' babies coming through. He said they are like fetal-alcohol syndrome babies but worse.

Which brings me to another article that appeared in this week's Listener. Dame Lesley Max, CE of the Great Potentials Foundation, is interviewed about the state of New Zealand children.

The writer lists the many reports (and book) recently published about child poverty and its effects.

Max is familiar with all of the above and more; she looks around her Penrose office and sighs: "I am submerged in paper." But she argues that much of the bureaucratic hustle around our kids is missing the crucial point. "In all the talk about inequality, I wish people would consider rather more the inequality that results from the huge disparity  of experience in parenting."

What does she mean? "Some children are very much wanted from before their birth. And nurtured and loved and cared for  and watched. And responded to. And they blossom and flourish. "But I hear some stories that you just...". Her voice falters. "It's hard to express how upsetting they are - of children who are not wanted. And they feel that every day of their life. They don't experience loving care, loving touch, they don't experience concern [for their needs]. It's a hot day, do they need some water? Are they too cold are they too hot? That attentiveness that a loving parent demonstrates is something foreign to them. And they lack in every domain."

Max is frustrated that public discussion about this sort of inequality is so often conducted in "fairly abstract language".

"Abstractions don't tell the whole story. They don't tell the story of underweight children sharing a dirty mattress with no food in the house, but a lot of alcohol and drugs. They don't tell the story of chronic neglect."

And it concerns her that the courts and agencies such as CYF, don't always step in when parents are neglectful. She believes that in practice, the threshold for intervention is too low in neglect cases, often due simply to an overloaded system.

"So children who are dirty, whose clothes haven't been washed for Gods knows how long, who smell bad, whose nits are untreated, whose hair is a stranger to shampoo - those situations persist. And there is no mechanism that exists to make parents do anything much about it."

"I can see letters to the editor saying, 'How judgemental!' Max says. "But we cannot continue to ignore what our social workers see. Which is too often, parents whose own need for drugs. for alcohol, for gambling take precedence over their children's needs. Not wants, but needs. It happens . And it's not insignificant,"

On paying parents a higher but tapering  child payment, as suggested by Boston and Chapple, Max believes

... for very many parents, the petering out payment would act as a nudge to get into paid employment. But to others it would act as a prompt to have another child, " to generate income on behalf of the parents."

"I ran that past so many people who work in the field, and they are kinder than  I am, to say, 'Am I right about this?' And they said, 'Absolutely'.

1 comment:

Brendan McNeill said...

heart breaking.