Last week I spent 5 hours in a meeting of senior Government officials and key leaders of NGO’s tasked with improving the situation of NZ’s most vulnerable children.

It is a privilege that Wesley Community Action is invited to sit at this table and recognition of the collective experience we hold.  Participating in this highlighted for me what WCA’s unique contribution to this area of work and I want to share these reflections with the Wesley Whanau.

There were numerous positive aspects to this meeting. The room was filled with dedicated and skilled people who I believe genuinely want better outcomes for NZ most vulnerable children. The positive relationships between the people around the table and the power of these relationships can not be under estimated.  Over the years of my participation in this forum there has been an increase in the participation of Iwi at the table and increased focus on supporting Iwi to be active contributors.

Despite these positive aspects I came away with a heavy feeling. For many years I have participated in meetings like this at local, regional, national and international levels,  all wanting to change the situation for vulnerable children.  I have seen more action plans, strategies and frameworks than you can poke a stick at. I had no sense of any real change or shift in ways of thinking that would signal an increased capacity to make a difference to this significant problem.

My overall impression is that there remains the risk that the work being undertaken is another expression of “colonisation”.  It is another way that the ‘child protection system’ colonises the lives of children and families by preventing them from being in the driving seat of their lives.  Yes the State needs to act decisively when a child or young person’s life is in danger. However the wider process after this action needs to be one that in all ways works to encourage the people to take responsibility and to step into being active actors in their own lives.

The underlying (unspoken) assumption in our current system is that we, the many agencies around the table, will fix the young person and their family. The research doesn’t support this assumption and Wesley Community Action also provides a perspective and experience that challenges this assumption.

At no stage in the meeting did I sense that the child or families voice was privileged. Yes they were encouraged to have an input, but it was clear that the real control rested with the ‘system’.

At no stage in the meeting was there any recognition of the power of community led action. There was no mention of capacity of diverse collective networks to support positive change and the resulting collective impacts

At no stage in the meeting did I sense a focus on clear outcomes.? No wonder families wonder what they need to ‘do’ or achieve to have their ‘child back.’  There is a lack of a robust measurement of wellbeing for the child.

I came away with a strong and renewed belief that the direction we are taking in Wesley Community Action is ‘leading edge’ and vital.