Monday, 9 May 2016

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

More Failure On the Way

New Zealand is about to embark on a radical, much needed overhaul of state--official--childcare. We recognise that the current arrangement and bureaucratic organ responsible, Child Youth and Family ("CYF") have been a complete disaster, and that, yes change and reform is essential.  However, it is virtually inevitable that the proposed overhaul will fast follow CYF in its disastrous outcomes.

Here are the reasons for our assessment.

1. NZ has a long history of confusing good intentions with effective outcomes.  Such is the confidence the average Kiwi has in the competence of the State to work good outcomes--a confidence with little experiential foundation--that the "man/woman-in-the-street" usually sighs deeply in relief when a grandiloquent announcement is made about the government fixing a problem.

Here is an account of the Minister's emphatic declaration that many will interpret to mean that from now on all will be well with our suffering, vulnerable children:

Earlier this month, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley announced a radical overhaul of services for at-risk children. How radical? That became clear when Tolley corrected a television interviewer who mentioned Child, Youth and Family, the Government agency charged with looking after vulnerable kids. “CYF is gone,” Tolley said with brutal finality. “It’s finished.”

The public has yet to grasp the scale of what Tolley proposes. Suffice it to say that rather than continue trying to renovate the dysfunctional and discredited CYF model, Tolley intends to pull it down and start afresh. And although the entity that will replace CYF has yet to be announced, the principles and priorities that will shape it are clear.  [NZ Listener]
We anticipate the average citizen, listening to Minister Tolley's words, will have instantly decided that the problem is now fixed.  All done and dusted.  Nothing more to see here.  We can move along with a merry conscience.  After all, who could disagree with what the Minister is attempting to achieve:
Key points are that the new agency will intervene early – at birth or even before – where evidence points to children being at risk, rather than waiting until things have reached crisis point; that it will provide a single point of contact and accountability to replace the hopelessly fragmented and disjointed support services operating now; that it will extend state care beyond the present age limit of 17, possibly even to 25; and that it will draw on local resources and expertise in a way the present sclerotic system fails to do.
We have often pointed out that New Zealand is ideologically a statist society.  There is a deep and abiding faith amongst the general population of State's competence and ability to fix most of the problems of human existence.  Therefore, since the State has come clean and confessed that its attempts at childcare have hitherto failed dismally, quixotically that is sufficient to reassure most Kiwis that everything is going to change for the better now.  Children will no longer be abused, or beaten to death, or be seen as a commodity only useful as a way of generating a state welfare income to fund alcohol, drugs, and the pokeys.

2. Bureaucrats cannot be good parents.  Many may think this is a bit harsh.  But the essence of all bureaucracy is rule-based administration.  Rule based administration leads to protocols and box-ticking.  A suitable or good parent is bureaucratically defined as one who complies with the state protocols for parenting and ticks enough boxes.

But there are no effective bureaucratic protocols--nor can there be--to define, let alone create nor measure, love, longsuffering patience, gentleness, firmness, wisdom, prudence, discernment, understanding, and a hard exhausting work ethic--yet without these there will be no effective parenting of children.

Let's get this straight: hitherto State (that is, bureaucratic) intervention has failed miserably.  So the solution is going to be. . . more State intervention.   Can an institution of the State--a bureaucracy--function effectively and successfully as an uber-parent?  Of course not.  But until the State recognises its own incompetence in this vital area and courageously declares its incompetence to the public, there will be no progress.

3. The State will be unable to break out of its latent racism and positive discrimination towards Maori.  The success or failure of the new beginning turns right here: it is essential that the neglected, vulnerable child be transferred--that is, adopted--into a family which will provide true, genuine love and care.  Minister Tolley understands this:
Crucially, Maori organisations will be called on to play a greater role in child support, in recognition of the fact that six out of every 10 children in care are Maori. Tolley says keeping families together remains the best outcome, but not if children are at risk. The system will also aim to ensure children are not repeatedly shuffled from one unsatisfactory environment to another, as happens now. A safe, stable and loving environment will take priority over misguided reliance on family.
This is the killer statistic: Maori represent roughly 15 percent of the population in New Zealand.  Yet sixty percent of children in State care are Maori.  That tells us that amongst many Maori basic social structures have broken down.  Maori families are disproportionately dysfunctional.  Yet Maori agencies have argued that the worst thing one could do is take a vulnerable Maori child out of a dysfunctional living arrangement and put them in a non-Maori (non whanau) family.

This approach--hitherto endorsed by the State bureaucracies--is fundamentally racist, at worst, or cultural supremacist at  best.  It is a key reason why the current policies have failed.  Tolley appears to be saying that this will change: "a safe, stable and loving environment will take priority over misguided reliance on family."

Yet this leads to the third reason we predict that Tolley will fail in the execution of her grand vision: the State bureaucracy, politicians, and media are so wedded to positively discriminating in favour of Maori cultural protection and supremacy, they will fail miserably to break the cycle of Maori children suffering in living environments that are racked with violence, anger, abuse, guilt, and fear, to say nothing of alcohol and drug abuse.

Execution is everything; understanding what ought to be done represents a mere beginning, the smallest achievement.  But so much of the government's philosophical and ideological parameters inhibit effective execution from the get-go.

Are there State approaches and policies that would be constructive and  helpful?  Of course.  But these would all involve the State, firstly conceptually correctly describing what constitutes a successful family, secondly, being colour blind with respect to family placements, thirdly, reinstating permanent adoption as the key institution to rescue children from depraved living situations, and fourthly devolving decision making about effective families and placements to non-state placement agencies staffed by demonstrably experienced and successful parents.  You might call it a policy of empowering the people.

This is to say, of course, that the State will not successfully execute Tolley's "vision".  It will remain congenitally unable to do so.  It's only achievement will be to replicate the failed disasters of the past thirty years.  The bureaucratic mind is not fit for purpose in such matters.  When it comes to something as fundamental to human existence as the family, the State's only "success" will be to replicate failure.

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