28 June 2024  Media Releases

When it comes to our country’s children, evidence matters

As we mark Matariki, taking part in traditions and celebrations across the motu, we remember loved ones lost since the Matariki stars last shone, while looking to our aspirations for what is ahead.

It’s fitting, then, that we should reflect on what really matters to us as a collective and as a country.

This week, I’ve called for the importance of taking a children’s rights approach, and looking at the evidence about what works when we are making decisions about children, including those who have had traumatic childhoods.

When talking about youth justice, the Government has made clear that both rights and responsibilities need to be part of the conversation, and I agree.

In light of their age and stage, all children have a special set of rights to ensure they are able to flourish to their full potential, and live their best lives. These are set out under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, which our Government ratified in 1993, and mokopuna Māori have particular rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

We all want to live in safe communities, where no child turns to crime. Yet all the evidence shows that children who end up in our youth justice system have, in the vast majority of cases, had really hard beginnings. They’ve experienced things like trauma, family violence, poverty, mental health challenges and addiction. And the majority have been involved with our State care and protection system. Taking these realities into account when shaping solutions and responses is crucial, and guides us to ensure we invest in prevention of these root cause factors.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly criticised the state of the youth justice system in our country, and called for urgent systemic reforms (most recently last year), so that New Zealand upholds children’s rights while preserving public safety.

I welcome a conversation about rights and responsibilities, and as the independent advocate for all children in our country, I’m here to stand up for them, especially when we’re talking about the children who have had the toughest start in life.

As Chief Children’s Commissioner, I hear directly from children and young people, including those in the care and youth justice systems. Many have told me they want to get onto a better pathway. We must do all we can to make that happen. The evidence shows that by investing in prevention so that all children have what they need to grow up loved, safe and well, and in early intervention that is rehabilitative and strengths-based, children can experience those better pathways.

I’ve been clear that among the Government’s youth justice plans, it’s great to see the promises of mentoring, trauma-informed care and transition support. These things are backed up by local and international evidence, and uphold children’s rights.

I’m calling for an evidence-informed approach to be taken with all policies that will affect children. This supports social investment – using research and best practice to invest in programmes and initiatives we know have the best chance of working, and creating a long-term return on investment which benefits children, whānau and us all.

It’s unacceptable that one child is dying every five weeks by homicide in Aotearoa New Zealand, and that hundreds of children are still being abused in State care. I want none of us to accept that our country is a place where, right now, one in every six children grow up in poverty.

I want us to commit to making change on these issues today, for the next year, and for the generations beyond.

Let’s invest in addressing poverty, poor health, education and housing in the lives of our children. Let’s ensure that our state safety net – our child protection system, including the community and iwi social services that are part of it – is well resourced and not subject to funding cuts and uncertainty.

This is a real conversation that we all need to be having. Our country’s children are depending on the decisions we make today. The stakes couldn’t be higher, and the evidence is clear. They are decisions that will affect them and generations to come.

- Dr Claire Achmad is Te Kaikōmihana Matua mō Ngā Tamariki – Chief Children’s Commissioner.