It was encouraging to see the level of interest last week in the report ‘Improving the Transition’ produced by the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor Peter Gluckman last week.
The report challenged successive governments ad hoc approach to addressing serious issues for young people in our country. It was particularly critical about the lack of evidential base for government funded services, a lack of evaluation and monitoring and the failure to invest in the early years. Professor Gluckman also pointed out that solutions to serious problems are going to take many electoral cycles.
In 2001 the Ministry of Justice published a report that suggested early intervention was most effective but also least accurate in identifying where resources should be targeted. The report concluded that spending smaller amounts on more young parents and their children was ultimately a better investment than trying to address the expensive options available to reduce youth offending or locking up adults.
The last Labour-led governments put serious money to initiatives like Family Start focused on the families of pre-school children, support services for teenage parents and social workers in primary schools. The effectiveness of these initiatives seems to be mixed and the evaluations were rarely made public.
The current government has committed around $100million for new services for young offenders plus tens of millions more toward Whanau Ora and the Community Response Fund. The funding for youth offending was based on pre-election promises of boot camps that contradicted all the international and New Zealand literature suggesting those approaches either don’t have any significant effect or actually increase offending. Whanau Ora and the Community Response Fund are based on noble sentiments around devolving decision-making to the community level, though both are still too amorphous to determine at this stage whether they will contribute to the transformational changes necessary in our communities.
Massive cuts to youth health services, early childhood education and support services along with recently announced funding cuts and restructuring of family violence prevention services were not prefaced by any report on their effectiveness, rather election year political priorities seem to outweigh any evidential imperatives.
With the government using their level of borrowing to justify their inability to undertake any substantial new investments (other than more than ten billion on new Roads of National Significance), they should have a clearer commitment to evidence-based and cost-effective service provision.
I look forward to seeing the recommendations that the Office of the Prime Minister comes up with from Professor Gluckman’s report (which had 11 recommendations of its own). Hopefully the proposals are followed by an action plan to address not just woefully underfunded youth mental health services but the more systemic issues relating to the politicization of public policy development, local priority-setting and accountability and the overall quality of relationships between the range of stakeholders in social development.
The Gisborne Herald Editorial last week asked whether our country is prepared to step up to the challenges identified by Professor Gluckman. My response would be that I doubt the report will be enough to make much difference to the lack of courage we have seen to date. The most significant opportunity for alcohol law reform in a generation seems to have passed us by as the government adopted none of the most effective options promoted by the Law Commission and similarly the key proposals in a Law Commission report last month on the Review of Misuse of Drugs Act seemed to have no support from any of the political parties.
At a local level I’m encouraged by the increasing community commitment to positive child and youth development and in this we can hopefully lead the country.