“Every child thrives, belongs, achieves......Ka whai oranga, ka whai wahi, ka whai taumata ia tamaiti.”
Sounds like heaven on earth doesn't it? Certainly fits with my understanding of the 'kingdom-to-come' on earth.
The government's Green Paper for Vulnerable Children articulates a vision which every Christian would surely support – a New Zealand “where all children can succeed and reach their full potential, with better job prospects, greater life choices, and in turn, a society with less dysfunction, unemployment, welfare dependence and crime.”
The Green Paper is a chance for you and I to share our ideas on how we can do better for vulnerable children and their families. Prime Minister John Key and Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett state they are looking forward to your involvement and hearing your views! So why wouldn't you, your church and your people involved in community initiatives, respond? Such action certainly fits with Isaiah 1:17 - “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.”
What statistics tell us
Think about the statistics....notifications of child abuse nationwide have grown from about 63,000 in 2006 to over 150,000 in 2011. Substantiated cases of child abuse have jumped from almost 14,000 in 2006 to over 22,000 last year.
While these statistics may reflect a greater willingness to report due to the “It's not OK” campaign, we should all be horrified at this underbelly of abuse in our communities. Change will only come when all sectors of society act to place the welfare of children and their families at the centre of our attention. Jesus did.
Recently I facilitated a public meeting for Minister Paula Bennett, attended by about 120 people – one of about 17 workshops scheduled around the country. The discussion reflected the passion and concern that participants have for the plight of the 160,000 children who are considered to be vulnerable – at risk of abuse, neglect, truancy and hospitalisation.
Many urged the Minister to look more broadly at the current social climate in NZ where most children could be described as 'at risk'. For behind these damning statistics lie more tragic stories of many other children whose lives are blighted by growing up in households where drugs and alcohol, poor parenting and caregiving, mental health issues, chronic neglect, ignorance, and violence bring impacts on their potential and futures.
Where are the church leaders?
Of concern to me was the apparent lack of interest and representation of Christian church leaders, many of whom I know in this particular region. The Salvation Army was, as always, there – informed about the issues and contexts and able to articulate possible interventions to bring change. Were people too busy with other more important meetings? I know the demands upon people's time but I was disappointed that only one denomination appeared to have made the effort to be involved in what is a major problem in our communities. Child abuse will be occurring in a neighbourhood near you and me.
I urge all of you to bring together a group to form a submission – due February 28. Why wouldn't you?
Don't think that you have to stick to the questions put up by the government. We need to strongly send the message to government that this problem requires a whole-of-government approach, involving health, education, housing and so on. And any plans should be cross-party agreements. Too often party politics and agendas become the focus rather than politicians placing the welfare of children and families at the centre of discussions and decision making.
The Government needs to hear from us
In 2002, I was a member of the External Advisory Group during the development and public consultation phase of the NZ Agenda for Children, which was a costly and time-consuming exercise aimed at key actions for government and communities - “Making a better life for children.”
The report and action plan was launched in parliament with due fanfare and hope for a better future, but languished due to neglect by government to put in the resources and give priority to placing children high on government's agenda. Within three years the Agenda for Children was gathering dust on the shelves of MSD – a waste of time and money. There is a risk that this government's good intentions with the Green Paper, will end up in the same predicament.
Government needs to recognise that they alone can't bring the type of change that's needed. Communities themselves usually have the assets, strengths and capacities to build the type of neighbourhood connectedness that brings a safer environment for their children. Sometimes it just needs a community champion to bring people together in a street to start the conversation about how each person can add value to the community living there – maybe a someone who will organise a street barbecue on Children's Day.
What will you do?
If you are not intending to put in a submission, what do you intend to do about this issue?
I've been thinking “What on earth is church for?” And I remain convinced the church is to engage in God's mission in this world – a practical demonstration, in both speech and action, of the 'kingdom-to-come' on earth.... where there will be no injustice, suffering, and abuse.
Isn't it our responsibility, as Jesus-followers, to be activists doing what we can as salt and light, wherever God has placed us? Our small involvement in having our say on the Green Paper just might change a child's life.
“He creates each one of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has got ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 4:10.