IHC Hot Issues - December 2016
Hot Issues is an electronic newsletter produced independently for the IHC advocacy team. The newsletter covers education, current political developments, submissions, family concerns, disability topics and events.
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Inside IHC Hot Issues:
- New NZ Disability Strategy launched
- New Bill is victory for disability advocacy
- Unfair Funded Family Care legislation highlighted
- More school seclusion rooms revealed
- Safeguards needed for online schools
- Dunedin School Principal’s open letter to Government to ‘Help our children’
- Education for All? Best Practice and the Community Voice forum
- Child poverty rates remain high - disabled children start life with disadvantage
- New contracts for community organisations will require handing over client details
- Statement on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at UN General Assembly
- United Nations report on New Zealand’s children
New NZ Disability Strategy launched
The Minister for Disability Issues Nicky Wagner recently launched a new Disability Strategy. It updates and revises the original 2001 New Zealand Disability Strategy. Its vision is New Zealand as a non-disabling society, a place where disabled people have an equal opportunity to achieve their goals and aspiration, and all of New Zealand works together to achieve this. The Strategy has 8 outcomes that will guide government agencies on disability issues for the next 10 years. It was developed after a nationwide two-stage consultation process with disabled people, their families, whānau and supporters. More than 1130 people attended workshops and around 770 submissions were received.
Three sets of principles and two approaches underpin the Strategy. The three principles are: Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and ensuring disabled people are involved in decision-making that impacts them. The two approaches are: Investing in our whole lives – a long-term approach; and specific and mainstream services – a twin-track approach.
An Outcomes Framework will be developed in 2017 which will set targets and measures for the Strategy. Annual reporting against the Outcomes Framework will be published on the Office for Disability Issues website. The Disability Action Plan will be the primary vehicle for the Strategy’s implementation. Future Plans will continue to cover a four-year period and will be updated at the mid-point to ensure priorities remain relevant. Every two years there will be public consultation to inform the development or update of the Disability Action Plans. Issues like funding or legislation need to be considered in the context of actions in the Plans rather than in this Strategy.
It remains to be seen how the new Strategy will improve rights and justice for disabled people and their families affected by the situations Hot Issues often reports on, such as those denied educational inclusion. Will it help free Ashley Peacock and the other incarcerated disabled adults? Will it encourage the government to hold an inquiry on historic abuse? The Strategy says that people with disabilities are to be treated fairly and equitably, but we need to see some real commitment for this to be achieved.
Read the new Disability Strategy (in various formats) Office for Disability Issues
New Disability Strategy launched Beehive
New Bill is victory for disability advocacy
IHC and CCS Disability Action, together with other groups, have lobbied hard for a long time for equal rights for disabled children. Last year, as part of the review of the Child Youth and Family, the Government consulted through a joint project between the disability sector and the ministries of Social Development and Health. The Project Working Group brought together people who are directly involved with providing support, information and services to disabled children and their families on what was known as the Disabled Children Project.
The key recommendations from the Disabled Children’s Project are now being progressed as part of the legislation behind the Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki. As a direct result of the Project, the legislation will: Recognise the rights of disabled children – that is being explicitly added to the Principles section; and for the first time, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will be present in domestic legislation.
Sections 141 and 142 will be repealed (these sections had inequitable out-of-home care provisions for disabled children). The Expert Panel’s report acknowledges the unique vulnerability and needs of children with disabilities and their families, and recommends substantial changes to how children with disabilities are treated, in order to ensure they are better supported when they are being cared for by their parents, and when they need to be placed in out-of-home care.
The Government has agreed to extend the current provision in the Act around upholding children’s rights to be involved in decision-making. This includes making it a requirement to take active steps to engage children and young people who experience barriers to participation related to disability, language and age. The legislation is now at the Social Services Select Committee.
The disabled children: voluntary out-of-home placement review Ministry of Social Development
Unfair Funded Family Care legislation highlighted
The unfair and unjust Funded Family Care legislation has been in the news again following two current affairs television programmes. In November ‘The Nation’ talked to parents caring for disabled adult children, including Margaret Spencer and her son who have battled the legal system for years for payment. The following day the ‘Sunday’ programme featured Cliff Robinson who was part of the long running legal case for funding family carers. He cares for his adult son and daughter and although that case was won he has recently had his funding cut by the Ministry of Health. He is now 80 and concerned about the future of his children.
The background to this situation is that after losing its legal battle not to pay family members caring for a disabled family member, the National Government passed the Public Health and Disability Amendment Act 2013. A constitutional lawyer considers it one of New Zealand’s worst laws. It had strict eligibility criteria and also prevented anyone challenging the Act on human rights grounds, such as the 1990 Bill of Rights Act. Not surprisingly, only a few families took up the funding (161 out of a forecast 1600). The payment consisted of the minimum wage for limited hours, a smaller payment than non-family carers are paid to provide the same care. There was no provision for backdating so Margaret Spencer fought the Government through the court for payment for her years of caring for her son. She was eventually awarded a large sum by the High Court. There are still many families caring for disabled adult relatives who aren't or can’t access the payments.
Are family carers getting a fair deal? The Nation, TV3
More school seclusion rooms revealed
The Ministry of Education has found that seclusion rooms are more widespread than originally thought. A Palmerston North school and five Canterbury schools - four primary schools and a residential special school - have been found using them, and have kept children as young as 5 in solitary confinement. They are among 17 New Zealand schools the Ministry named in a recent report, although all schools have apparently since stopped the practice. Some schools dispute their use of such rooms. Meanwhile claims of abusive behaviour by staff at Sara Cohen School in Dunedin earlier in the year have resulted in the appointment of a statutory manager for the school and resignations.
A group of local adults with autism, the Autistic Collective, have described the difference between seclusion and time out or respite. Seclusion is “the forcible locking away of students in separate rooms, whether the room has windows or other amenities or not, as a means of controlling their behaviour, punishing them, or simply because a member of the teaching staff doesn’t know what else to do. This amounts to a form of imprisonment, and a breach of the students’ human rights”.
They claim, “There is a difference between ‘seclusion’ and ‘respite’. The latter is when a student needs some time away from others. Autistics of all ages frequently suffer from sensory or social overload, and need somewhere to rest and recuperate. This means a space which is quiet, separate from others, preferably with comfortable furniture, and which can, if necessary, be darkened. The important differences between this and seclusion are that, firstly, going there is at the student’s own instigation, or at the suggestion of a teacher who recognises the signs that it’s needed. Autistic students can be taught to recognise when they need such respite. The second and most important difference is that the student is never, ever forced to go if they don’t wish to, and never locked in, unable to get out even when they are ready to leave”.
The group wants training for all teachers in how to manage disabled students, especially those with autism who, because of their different neurology, require different methods to other students.
Additional submissions on seclusion and restraint to the Select Committee considering the Education Update Amendment Bill have been extended to 31 January.
No seclusion in schools! Access, Public Address
Education (Update) Amendment Bill NZ Parliament
Safeguards needed for online schools
IHC is calling for the Government to guarantee rights for children to attend their local school over online schools. IHC backs up the Chief Ombudsman’s concerns that safeguards need to be built into the Education Update Bill currently being heard by the Government. “The Bill is as at odds with the Government’s Tomorrow’s Schools policy, the Education Act and recent United Nations recommendations on children’s rights to education. It takes away the direct relationship between schools and communities by treating students instead as consumers, and creates more segregated settings for children,” says IHC Director of Advocacy, Trish Grant. “Intellectually disabled children are already over represented in alternative education settings and face barriers to achievement. This could be compounded if they are tacitly or overtly funneled towards online schools. For students already at risk of disengagement, the absence of physical guidance could mean the end of their formal education,” she says. IHC is calling for children and young people to have more active participation in their education and says legislative changes regarding online schools should not occur until there has been effective consultation, and a robust policy and research framework.
Dunedin School Principal’s open letter to Government to ‘Help our children’
The Principal of Dunedin North Intermediate, Heidi Hayward, has written an open letter to Government about her concerns about lack of support and resourcing for at risk children in her school. She has written to MPs, held meetings with local social services agencies and made countless phone calls, but found that children continue to be let down by adults and agencies, and the services are overwhelmed and under resourced. She said that the new “at risk” Ministry of Education funding formula identified 49 students. But that means only $92.84 per student or one day per annum of teacher aide time, while it costs $100,000 per year to keep an adult in jail. She pleaded for action. “These people are children. They have no voice. They have no control. They have no choice. They are relying upon us to do the right thing.”
Dunedin principal’s open message to the government: ‘Help our children.’ Checkpoint with John Campbell Facebook page
Education for All? Best Practice and the Community Voice forum
Earlier this month Green MP Catherine Delahunty hosted a forum at Parliament called “Education for All? Best Practice and the Community Voice”. She organised the forum because, despite initiating the recent Select Committee inquiry on the learning needs of students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and autism, she was unable to stand behind the final report as it didn’t go far enough to get children and families the support they need. She said, “the inquiry was a start but, as we have made clear in the Labour, Greens and NZ First minority report, without increased funding and enshrining in law a child’s right to an inclusive education, our broken system cannot be fixed“. For example, the Government’s Learning Support Update currently has a proposal to reduce support from the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme for 18 to 21-year-olds. “Young people need more support, not less, during this time when they are transitioning away from school. “Speakers included disability activists, parents, teachers, professionals and students. The forum was co-hosted by Labour, Greens and NZ First.
Education For All? Green Party
Child poverty rates remain high - disabled children start life with disadvantage
Two new reports provide evidence that many disabled children and their families continue to face tough times and disadvantage. These reports do not have a specific disability focus but we know the cohort groups they are reporting on include high levels of disability. The 2016 Child Poverty Monitor Technical Report is the fourth consecutive annual report of indicators that assess aspects of child poverty in New Zealand and implications for child wellbeing. They measure income levels and track progress on factors in the health, education, housing and social sectors in which children are born, live and grow, which affect their capacity to develop and thrive. We know that having a disabled child can impact on areas such housing, medical costs, education and employment. New Zealand has signed the United Nations Agenda 2030 for sustainable development which has a target to halve child poverty by 2030 but there is little evidence that levels are reducing yet.
The Dunedin Study of 1000 children born between 1972 and 73 has looked back at test results for 3-year-olds who had been assessed on their language, motor skills and social behaviour (including children who had various impairments). The researchers said low scores were a highly accurate indicator for who would end up in what they call "a high cost group". These are people who make up just 20 percent of the study's subjects but account for 81 percent of criminal convictions and 66 percent of welfare benefits. Neurological assessments of the children when they were aged 3 showed those who scored poorly in the tests generally had poorer life outcomes. The study's director said the findings shouldn't be used to stigmatise or stereotype but instead tackle childhood disadvantage.
The Government’s answer to such issues is what is called a ‘Social Investment’ approach which targets certain families. Investing in them would mean they have adequate incomes, enough good food and don’t have to move frequently for an affordable home. Their children don’t have to change schools constantly, they can go to the doctor when they are sick, and they can take part in the things that other children do. But instead of allocating more budget to social and education services to increase current levels of provision, there are claims that the Government is cutting budgets and outsourcing services so less of the available funding is getting to the people who need it.
Child Poverty Monitor: 2016 Technical Report Child Poverty Monitor
Breaking down the 'social investment' approach Child Poverty Action Group
New contracts for community organisations will require handing over client details
The Government recently announced that from next year it will be requiring community organisations such as women’s refuges, counselling services and budgeting agencies, which receive funding from the Community Investment Fund, to hand over personal client information to the Government to get that funding. Clients who refuse written consent or service providers who do not provide the personal information of clients to government will be penalised by the removal of funding. The data will be "anonymised" initially, but will identify individuals from next July.
Details will include each client's name, address, date of birth, gender, ethnicity, iwi, country of birth, number of dependent children, birth date of the youngest dependant, and details about the service they receive.The data will be used to track the outcomes of services under Prime Minister Bill English's "social investment" approach. The Associate Minister for Social Development said the government needed the data to ensure the services it provided were effective.
This move is a concern for many who work with already marginalised New Zealanders and say it would undermine people's trust in non-government agencies. There are fears that some of the most vulnerable people such as those fleeing violent relationships, with disabled children or in financial need may be scared off seeking help, in case their disclosures are used to take their children off them or stop their benefits.
There is also the risk of their information being used against them by government or hacked or stolen. But the Government denies that this new policy amounts to surveillance. Green MP, Jan Logie, has organised a petition calling on the government to stop forcing community groups to hand over client’s information.
No data, no funding. That's just wrong. Green Party
Statement on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at UN General Assembly
In October Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities spoke at the 71st session of the General Assembly in New York. Catalina had just visited New Zealand so her experience here informed her speech (which is called a statement). She referred to the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development which made a commitment to end poverty and reduce inequalities, a commitment to achieve peace, cooperation, and prosperity for all. But she said its commitment to leave no one behind will not be met without ending the marginalisation of persons with disabilities.
She said, “We [disabled people] are more likely to experience poverty and suffer malnutrition. We have fewer chances of obtaining a job, receive education or access basic public services, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, housing and transportation. Moreover, we are more likely to be victims of violence, in all its manifestations, and to contract HIV/AIDS. In addition, many of the distinct groups that form part of the collective of persons with disabilities - such as the deaf-blind, autistic persons or persons with albinism - face heightened levels of discrimination and serious barriers to access to social protection or essential services, such as education or health”.
“The cost of exclusion is very high, not only for persons with disabilities and their families, but also for national economies and our shared prosperity. It is estimated that their lack of participation in the labor market can amount up to between one and seven percent of the gross domestic product of a country. We are talking about billions of dollars that are lost worldwide. According to the Convention, we need to consider disability-related issues in all public policies and programmes, and ensure that persons with disabilities participate in their design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.”
United Nations report on New Zealand’s children
New Zealand children have recently been the focus of the United Nations Child Rights Committee. This is the committee established under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCROC) to which New Zealand is a signatory. Obligations include reporting every five years to the committee, which does its own research about the situation of children in the country concerned. The Minister of Social Development led a delegation to Geneva to discuss New Zealand’s Fifth Periodic Report under UNCROC. Fronting up to the UNCROC committee every 5 years presents an invaluable opportunity for New Zealanders to reflect on how our children and young people are faring, and on what, as a society, we are doing well and what we can do better. Early feedback from the Committee indicates confusion about the current social investment approach to policy, service delivery and funding that targets our most vulnerable children (children in state care and those vulnerable to harm). As this edition of Hot Issues shows, the “social investment approach” is having a significant effect on Government policy and services.