October 31, 2014

If you are deprived of love and affection as a child then key areas of your brain which are responsible for your personality don’t get wired up correctly

I oppose the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, and call for it to be rejected entirely.

1) Removing children from their parents’ care will not reduce unemployment, which is the ostensible purpose of enforced early childhood education and refusing the right to home school for children of beneficiaries.

My children started school almost three years ago and I have been searching for work since then. Despite having applied for every job vacancy I am able to fill, I have only found work as a part-time pamphlet deliverer – this involves folding and delivering pamphlets for approximately 7-9 hours per week for which I receive between $12 and $22 dollars weekly. My B.Sc. and teaching diploma are apparently out of date and WINZ has repeatedly refused to support the cost of retraining to find work or start a business, which I cannot otherwise afford on the DPB. I know three other single mothers on benefits, all of whom have tertiary qualifications; one has a part-time job at a supermarket checkout, one does part-time cleaning, and the engineer can’t find any work at all. None of us can find work that pays enough to reduce the amount of benefit we receive, and our paid work is not a particularly good use of our hard-won skills, qualifications and experience. The jobs we currently have would be more appropriately filled by teenagers looking to fund their tertiary studies rather than those who have already completed them and are trying to raise a family alone.

The harsh reality is that there are many more people wanting work than there are jobs available. Intelligent, motivated, qualified people cannot find employment in New Zealand. There is insufficient work available for unemployed people who don’t have children, without pulling vulnerable families apart under the pretense of reducing unemployment. Taking parents from their children will not reduce either unemployment or the number of people on benefits – the only way to do that is to provide jobs.?

2) The government’s stance that New Zealanders on a benefit need ‘encouragement’ to prefer a better standard of living for themselves and their children is alarmingly out of touch. It deeply distresses me that my children have to wear broken shoes until we can save for replacements; it hurts that I can’t afford to feed my family the recommended 5 fruit and vegetables plus quality protein every day; and I get huge stomach knots of anxiety about how I’m going to pay when the car breaks down, the house or appliances need repairs, or one of us needs a doctor. This is life on a benefit. For highly paid politicians to vilify the poor because they have no work is both insult and injury.

3) It is contrary to the best interests of children to take them from their parents. I’ve seen many children (whose parents are apart) suffer immense and long lasting trauma as a result of the constant change of environment due to shared custody. The stress of solitary nomadic life is exacerbated by requirements to attend school or preschool. A child’s greatest needs are for security, stability, and consistent loving care, and reducing their time with their primary caregiver has a direct and devastating effect on the child’s self esteem, security, ability to cope with change and challenge, and long-term physical and psychological health.

The profile of the child who does best in the NZ state education system can be described as one of medium intelligence, above average sporting ability and social skills, precociously independent, and is sufficiently competitive and confident to demand more than his/her fair share (approximately 1/30) of the teacher’s attention. This profile represents a minority of New Zealand children. The remainder, those who are energised by and flourish in solitude or small groups, who either excel or struggle academically, who bloom in a co-operative rather than a competitive environment, whose cultural and family values are ignored or denigrated in the classroom, who are primarily stimulated by the company of those older or younger than themselves, or whose good manners, sense of fairness or age-appropriate level of confidence and social skills prevent them taking an unfair share of the teacher’s attention, are at a significant disadvantage in the classroom. These children in particular benefit from the advantages of home schooling, and their rights and best interests should not be denied because their single parent is a beneficiary.

Some statistics indicate that children of single parents are more likely to: have poorer social skills; get into trouble at school; perform poorly in academic subjects; have greater difficulty finding and keeping work and long term relationships; and are more likely to be involved in crime. These statistics apply to state schooled rather than home schooled children, whose strong primary relationships give them a sense of security, belonging, resilience and purpose, and whose teacher (usually their mother) has both a precise knowledge of their abilities and the time to give them the necessary one to one attention which is impossible to equal in the classroom. The home schooling parent’s commitment and motivation to provide the best possible education for their children cannot be equaled by even the most idealistic over-worked classroom teacher’s incentive of a (comparatively low) pay packet. Children of beneficiaries should be given their best chance in life.

Taking children from their homes where they are loved and their individual needs and abilities are well known and catered for, to place them in the care of a stranger who has numerous other children to supervise is clearly a reduction in the quality of care and education they receive, and their playground peers are unlikely to provide support, nurture and a strong emotional or social base from which to enter healthy adulthood. (With divorce statistics at 50%, increasing numbers needing counselling to work through school, relationship and self esteem issues, a significant proportion of adults regarding their school years as the worst of their lives, and school leavers requiring further training after 13 years at school in order to become employable, we can hardly claim current state schooling is an adequate training for life in any sense.) There are rare exceptions, where the care of an employed stranger is preferable to the home life of abused children, but there are specific agencies and laws in place to deal with this tiny minority (which are spread through all socio-economic groups), and the poor parenting skills of a few people do not justify stripping rights from the vast majority.

The books and articles of leading psychologists such as Nigel Latta and Martin Seligman explain that psychological wellbeing and success in children depends on the presence of a consistent, stable, caring adult who is committed to their wellbeing. The government must not further sabotage the present and future wellbeing of the children of single parents by removing that person. According to Dr Kerry Spackman in his book ‘The Winner’s Bible’ (chapter 6); “If you are deprived of love and affection as a child then key areas of your brain which are responsible for your personality don’t get wired up correctly….We know this because brain scans of people who have been emotionally deprived of love and affection show that connections between their rational frontal lobes and their emotional circuits don’t work correctly. These emotional/logical connections can remain incorrectly wired up throughout your adult life if you’ve had a very traumatic childhood.”

There are serious and life-long consequences for a child whose psychological needs are not met, with significant social and financial costs later on. The government must consider the long term wellbeing of the individual and the country, and this cannot be solely measured in dollars. All children deserve the education and upbringing that best meets their individual needs, regardless of their parents’ social and financial status.

4) Parents are the most concerned and responsible people in their child’s life and so should have the right to choose not only how to educate, but whether to immunise their children or not. After much reading and agonising, I chose to immunise my children; a friend of mine thoroughly researched the pros and cons and chose not to immunise hers. The decisions we made were different, but equally driven by our need to do what we thought best for our children according to the available facts. Another friend lost her daughter due to an adverse reaction to immunisation. There is a risk in immunising, and there is a risk in not immunising – since we parents must live with the consequences we should have the right to make an informed choice as to which risk we are prepared to expose our children to.

5) Single parents on a benefit are already under extreme stress. That stress should not be increased by further disempowerment or further mandatory expenses, both for the wellbeing of the adults as well as the children in their care. Merely covering the cost of early childhood fees will not cover the actual expenses involved, and being on an income so low as a benefit means that money for transport, trips, fundraising, materials and equipment etc. will invariably have to be deducted from some other essential area such as food, having a significant, deleterious and immeasurable effect on the child’s long term health. Beneficiaries already have most of life’s opportunities removed by lack of money – those few choices that remain as human rights (including how to educate their children) should not be taken away. New Zealand does not want a reputation as a violator of international human rights laws.

6) Teenagers are extremely vulnerable to all sorts of influences, very few of which have their best interests at heart. There is a current television advertising campaign emphasising the importance of not abandoning your teenagers once they have attained their restricted driver’s license. It is even more important to not abandon them in daily life. Teenagers need parents (regardless of their own views on this) and that need can only be met if the parent is physically present. The disadvantages usually faced by the children of single parents are not due to having only one parent – it is due to that parent trying to fill all roles including that of breadwinner, and therefore the child has, in practical terms, no parent at all. The single working parent is fully engaged in dealing with logistics, administration, household chores and work demands, usually leaving minimal time and energy to spend with their children. According one expert’s book, the best time to ambush your (state-schooled) teenager into talking with you is the moment they arrive home from school – sit them down, feed them, and give them your attention so they can debrief from the day, and get some help in interpreting, understanding and learning from it. This crucial time is lost if their only parent is still at work. Unsupported, unsupervised, lonely and bored teenagers are potential for all sorts of disaster. This can be avoided by supporting the parents in being present for their children. It’s not for ever – children grow up fast. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and it’s better to do a good job while they need us than try to salvage what we can later on from a preventable failure.

7) The best way to support parents on a benefit is to make their lives easier, not harder. People who are less stressed are healthier, more resilient, and more capable of finding solutions – we can safely assume that beneficiaries want to find solutions to the privations and distress of that life. The first priority has to be their child’s physical and psychological wellbeing, and that must not be sacrificed for a few dollars or the short-term political cachet of claiming to slightly reduce unemployment statistics (with the consequence, for example, of a slightly increased incidence of teenage suicide). That cost is too high already. The wellbeing of our children should be a priority for every New Zealander, and the vital work of parenting the next generation should be accorded the status it deserves. In an ideal world, single parents would also be supported in such a way that they can be (at least partially) financially independent while able to make their first priority giving their children their time, attention, love and care, which all children need and deserve.

8) There are numerous ways the government can support healthy children alongside increased employment, such as:

- supporting home schooling by single parents

- support in starting up small businesses/ self employment (the majority of paid workers in NZ are employed in small to medium businesses)

- incentives for established businesses to provide family-friendly, flexible/ part time/ take-home work employment options

- creating jobs (e.g. by providing a better student: teacher ratio, greater support for people with special needs, medical treatment for those on waiting lists etc.)

- meeting all costs for retraining for employment

- reducing tertiary and community course costs (interests and hobbies can readily develop into small businesses)

- supporting research and development to find new products and markets for new and existing businesses

- building communities (leading to better social support networks, greater physical and psychological health, lowering crime, as well as increasing business networks)

- training WINZ staff to: understand the real issues and limitations of living on a benefit while single-parenting; how to listen, encourage and affirm; how to give intelligent and relevant careers and financial advice; and to pro-actively exercise problem-solving skills on behalf of their clients (simply handing out pamphlets and referring clients to other agencies creates more expense and stress for single parents who are already over-stretched).

It may be that there are initiatives in place for these ideas – I can only testify from experience that they are not reaching the people who need them.

I am aware of the stereotypes regarding beneficiaries. They are not a portrayal of reality. Instead of passing this bill, the government must legislate to: reduce unemployment by increasing jobs; support and empower single parents to both care for their children and find financial independence by government strategies aimed at reducing rather than adding to their difficulties; and above all refrain from gambling with the future of our country by neglecting the needs of our children today.

Please reject this bill.