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A (mostly) happy school reunion

Hazel Ashton writes: I’ve just been to a school reunion. I’m pleased I went. I was reminded of how lucky I was to live at that particular place at that particular time.

Those of us at the reunion shared many memories – happy and sometimes not-so-happy.

People brought lots of old photos. Most photos captured happy moments, but for me, there was one exception. It was a class photo. I’d not seen it before. It wasn’t difficult to see why my parents chose not to buy it for the family photo album. My skirt was held up to my chest by back-to-front braces. My face was blotchy. I looked neglected.

I couldn’t look at the photo for long. I wanted to remove evidence of this unhappy moment in my life. Later that night I felt sorrow for the small child that had been me.

I also felt gratitude.  If I’d been seen as a neglected child today, I dread to think what might have happened to me.

Government Green Paper for Vulnerable Children

The government has put out a Green Paper for Vulnerable Children in July 2011 for which submissions closed February 2012.

The cover of the green paper says “every child thrives, belongs, achieves” yet in the promo no mention is made of conditions needed for this.

In the government website promo video I watched a child passionately say,

You’re a grown up, it’s real important you listen for a minute. Everyday Kiwi kids are being hurt and not looked after properly. All you adults do is talk about it. What’s happening to this country! Those poor kids, how could the parents do that to them! Those people should be locked up forever!

Viewers were also asked if they were willing to ‘make hard decisions’ such as tracking all children from birth.

I don’t recall the particular instance that would have me looking neglected. I do recall family troubles. I wasn’t allowed to say anything about them then and don’t propose to do so now, suffice to say my parents were going through a bad patch.

I lived in a village

When I look back I’m grateful that despite times of instability in the home I had stability in my life.

I had a home, a lovely, well-built state house. I had a school I loved, that I could walk to. I had plenty of places to play with other children from all kinds of backgrounds. The whole village was a playground for us all.

I also had adults in the village who knew me and encouraged me. Sometimes they even scolded me, and that was okay too.

Life in the village wasn’t perfect, but it was better than it is in many places today. At least, it was better, then, for those who have parents who sometimes struggle to cope.

Creating a village to raise a child

I was pleasantly surprised to see the New Zealand government’s Green Paper acknowledge how “Throughout time, societies have recognised it takes a village to raise a child….”

I was surprised because despite the fact that having and raising a child has been, for most of human history, a communal affair, today I keep hearing it is an individual responsibility – a parental and increasingly a single parent responsibility. And if individuals don’t manage, it’s their own fault and they can expect to be punished and controlled.

I’m surprised because as well as telling people they are individually responsible, calls are also frequently made for village, or community to look after all kinds of vulnerable people. Unfortunately little is said about the kind of village that could do this and do it well, or where or whether this kind of village still exists, or what is needed to support or create such a village.

In an interview on Radio New Zealand Nine to Noon, 24 February, 2012, Norm Hewitt, an official champion of the government’s Green Paper on Vulnerable Children and former All Black, describes challenges, especially at a time of global recession. He said:

There are more organisations & NGOs contesting a small pool of money. No one wants to share or collaborate.

He argued we have to see the child as a person not a statistic, and we have to stop blaming and throwing stones ….

I fully agree. But I think the starting point is wrong. To know what we really want to do, we need to begin with where we mean to end; if we want to have a ‘village to raise the child’ then we need conversations about creating the village.

I’d be interested in what you think – comments below (easy, no membership and it can be anonymous) – or send a blog or add to resources.

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