Thursday, December 23, 2010

Odd. Most odd.

The Ministry of Social Development, on behalf of CYF, are acting as a collection agency for the unnamed 9 year-old abuse victim. They have set up a trust fund (inferred) and are advising people who want to give gifts, to drop them at their local CYF office.

Am I churlish or cynical or just plain curious about this exercise?

It is a first in my experience.

The appraisals of CYF'S role in what occurred have ranged from slightly critical to thoroughly damning. Personally I prefer to sheet the blame back to the culprits. If we didn't have so many poor excuses for parents there would, after all, be no CYF.

But is this initiative a face-saving effort? Is it 'appropriate' for an agency that has arguably failed this child already, to assume the public will want to entrust to it gifts and money that will supposedly make her once again feel "special and cared for"?

Perhaps it is entirely consistent for the primary public agency tasked with protecting the safety of children to channel the inevitable public expression of sympathy when it has been unable to fulfil that charge.

In which case, what about all the other victims of abuse?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Price tag on children leads to abuse and neglect

Responding to the most recent high profile child abuse case, the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett (NZ Herald, December 21) says she will "... do anything in her power to protect children." We must take her at her word. I do not doubt her sincerity.

Why does child abuse and neglect occur? Because the child is 'wanted' at one level, but not at another. Sometimes they are wanted for the benefits that dependent children bring; priority for housing, extra income, and parental amnesty from being self-supporting. They are not wanted in the usual sense; loved more than can be expressed or explained. The way children should be loved by their parents and grandparents.

Sometimes the parent's own mental or physical health problems get in the way of unqualified care, but that is another issue. One that, from a government point of view, needs addressing through the Ministry of Health. But the issue identified here - children as meal-tickets - is a matter for the Minister who assures us she will do anything in her power to prevent the sort of abuse that makes grown-ups cry, if they allow the grim reality to break through their own defence mechanisms.

Meal-ticket children are hostages to their parent's or caregiver's life styles. Politicians on the left of the political spectrum will remonstrate that funding cannot be withdrawn from these parents because the child will suffer. As if the child isn't suffering anyway. Living in environments characterised by gang associations that bring a culture of threats and counter-threats; alcohol and drug abuse; sexual and incestuous abuse. These children exist in their hundreds, if not in their thousands.

Children have been a source of income in New Zealand for eighty years or more. Unlike the Old Age Pension, Maori were easily able to access the Family Benefit which, with their typically large families, accrued a tidy sum by the 1940s. Enough in some rural communities for the menfolk to knock off work and spend their days drinking and gambling. Which in turn set up the right conditions for domestic disharmony and childhood misery.

Child abuse was 'discovered' in the 1950s and 60s but certainly pre-existed that era. While by no stretch of the imagination wholly explaining the incidence of abuse, the more that 'poor' families are paid to look after their children, the more abuse has occurred or, at least, has been notified and substantiated. More money certainly isn't curing the problem. So perhaps it is time to ask if more money is exacerbating it?

The incidence of Maori child abuse is disproportionately high. Conversely, the statistics for Asian child abuse are very low. Yet Asians have the lowest median incomes in New Zealand. Even more telling, they have the lowest proportion of income from government transfers. They are not heavily benefit-dependent. They are busy earning a living and expecting as much from their children in the present and future. In a recent conversation with an ex-plunket nurse I was told how, even in poor neighbourhoods and cramped living conditions, extended Asian families doted on their offspring. The same nurse had eventually abandoned her career because working with families who cared for neither themselves nor their children became too demoralising to deal with.

Grandparents raising grandchildren will tell of bitter custody battles with their own offspring (frequently drug or alcohol addicted) intent on keeping children in their care merely to advance their chosen lifestyle - receiving a state income with no obligation to do anything for it.

Between a third and a half of people receiving the DPB became a parent in their teens when a benefit income guarantees more than an unskilled job. This group has been shown to have the longest duration of stay on welfare often adding more children, and more income, to their benefit. The incidence of abuse amongst non-working families is around four times higher than among working families.

While there is good and genuine cause for the state to temporarily assist parents experiencing a crisis or losing the support of a partner it should rarely bestow an open-ended income. That is a recipe for children to be exploited.

It is within the power of Paula Bennett to consider this ugly aspect of social security and work to change it. It will not be an easy problem to resolve but she should start by at least acknowledging it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Run up to Xmas

The work continues to come in. I had a lull and produced the following sketch, framed it and hung it ready for sale. Sold another painting yesterday. Some photos of the shop follow the sketch. I have an order for two replicate oil portraits which I am going to begin today. Using turps and oils on the spot will require a great deal of discipline. Not only to avoid a mess but to achieve a result as quickly as possible.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Turning five

If my blog was a child it would be starting school tomorrow - except there is no school tomorrow. Yeh for school holidays.

The five years it takes for a child to progress from birth to school seem very significant with so much mental and physical development taking place. In the last five years my blog has certainly grown physically (content quantity) but I don't think it has growth much mentally (content quality). If anything it has gone backwards with too much repetition of ideas.

But I don't plan to abandon it even if I am moving into a different phase - more art, more people contact and less virtual communication. Not one for dramatic gestures or decisions, I actually mirror my political conviction. Gradualism. Incremental change led by radical ideas that take seed and grow. Slowly. Mind numbingly slowly sometimes.

Some say politics is a numbers game. I say it is a game of patience. Mine has not run out. Yet. But the welfare stuff isn't going to take precedence any more.