Parental Consent

An Opinion by Franklin Christian Lobby

Written by Noel Surrey

Last year as the election approached it was important to reflect on the truth that we couldn’t have it both ways. As voters we couldn’t cherry pick policies from each of the parties represented in the ballot. We had to make choices and live with those choices.

Similarly, when it comes to the subject of parental consent, we can’t have it both ways. Either parents are responsible for making decisions about what happens with their children or the State takes over that responsibility. For the State read: Oranga Tamariki, schools, hospital staff, courts of law, etc.

On the 14th of August 2017 the then Prime Minister John Key said to Mike Hosking in a radio interview that the parents of children who are found on the streets late at night or committing crime would be held responsible. And that seems fair enough. The whole thrust of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act is that the best interests of the children should be upheld. That can and should be achieved in the context of the family. Government and other agencies are to be involved in helping the parents and wider family to keep children safe and out of trouble. The children’s welfare is at the centre of everything in both the Care & Protection and Criminal Justice areas.

The re-naming of Child, Youth & Family as Oranga Tamariki under the Ministry of Social Development isn’t a new direction that has not been tried before but a re-statement of the direction that was spelt out in the Children Young Persons & Their Families Act and not subsequently followed.

Now we have a situation where that direction is being further undermined. The principle that parents are responsible for their children has been thrown out in favour of professionals deciding what is best for children and youth without the parents’ knowledge or consent. There is a distinct lack of consistency in this. Are not medical procedures and medication part of children’s welfare? How can these things not be part of parents’ responsibility?

It is understandable that when parents spurn their responsibilities that agencies take up the slack and make decisions for young people. But parents must be included in the decision making process if it is at all possible. What happens if a teacher, counsellor, social worker or nurse makes a decision that causes harm to the child or young person without parental involvement? Are they prepared to take sole responsibility?

There is also the question of culture. In our multi-cultural society we are often urged to accept cultural practices that we may not agree with. Parents being involved with their children is a cultural practice. It is a very wide spread one. Decisions about child welfare shouldn’t be subject to a professional’s bias or the wishes of anyone who cannot understand or accept the impact that the child (and their family) will suffer. That includes the wishes of the child that their parents should not know that they are going on the pill or having an abortion. In contrast parents are not excluded from the decision to administer aspirin or paracetamol to a child with a headache.

Clearly there are parents who do not live up

to their responsibilities to their children. But laws should not be geared to dealing with that problem in ways that create a far bigger one. Critics are very quick to tell parents what they cannot do. For example, no smacking which is emotively referred to as beating and hitting. But the same experts are quite unhelpful when it comes to offering alternatives that actually work. And before some people get carried away I am not advocating smacking as the main method of discipline. I have never had a problem with people being charged with assault who crossed the line that was clearly drawn in the Crimes Act. Children vary just as all of us do. One size does not fit all or even most. Therefore a flexible, loving attitude to discipline is what is necessary.

Clearly, too, the issues of smacking and consent and responsibility are tied together. It is the separation of these issues that has led to the contradictions that we are currently seeing. This approach to life’s problems says they can be fixed by putting a band-aid here and another one there. This is the cause of many of the anomalies that make our laws in constant need of fixing. What happened to the considered approach where we stand a little apart from each problem and look for solutions that won’t have a negative impact somewhere else?

Finally, so that children, young people and their families get the best possible deal in this country we need our leaders to adopt the following strategy: • Replace laws that undermine parents. • Pass laws that encourage all members of every family to do better. • Ensure that professionals do not operate in secretive, exclusive ways to the detriment of our families. • Deal firmly with anyone who does harm to others in our society.

Noel Surrey Franklin Christian Lobby