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Dr Muriel Newman

Social Policy – evaluating success or failure

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Last Monday, a teacher at Te Puke High School was stabbed in the neck and back with a kitchen knife by one of his students. The boy’s whanau said that the 13-year-old had been brought up by his grandmother because his father was in prison. There is speculation that the attack was gang-related – part of an initiation process for earning gang stripes. Reports indicate that the school has a culture of bullying, and the offender had been suspended earlier in the year for fighting with other students. However, the principal advised there was no formal record of any bullying claims. Police placed the boy in the care of Child Youth and Family.

Meanwhile on Thursday, a fifteen-year-old girl was taken into Police custody and charged with assault and threatening to kill after she pulled a knife on students at Hamilton Girls’ High School. This case is also believed to be linked to school bullying.

Without a doubt, serious violence in schools is increasing with 14 cases of stabbing and cutting with a weapon recorded by Police last year, up from two in 1995. In 2008 a major international study ranked New Zealand as the second worst out of 37 countries for bullying in primary schools. Police advise that they are now regularly attending incidents at schools involving students that teachers are finding too difficult to handle. Last year there was an average of 32 apprehensions a week for cases of violence across all educational institutions.

Following the two knife attacks this week, teachers have called for the right to search students for weapons. At the present time, if students won’t cooperate the law appears to fall on their right to privacy. According to youth law specialist John Hancock, “only police have the statutory power to carry out searches, and allowing teachers the same power would create potential for abuse”.1

But in Britain in 2007, when the problem of violence in schools had escalated to unacceptable levels, the government passed legislation to give teachers additional powers to properly deal with the problem. They were given the right to physically restrain unruly students, to use ‘reasonable force’ to break up fights and remove disorderly pupils from classrooms, to search for weapons, to confiscate items such as mobile phones, and to issue parenting contracts to force parents to take responsibility for their unruly children or face fines of up to 1,000 pounds.2

The right for New Zealand teachers to use ‘reasonable force’ against badly behaved students was taken away by the Labour government in 1990. This occurred without any notice, without any consultation, and without any public debate. An abolition clause was secretly inserted into a bill that was going through its final stages in the House.3 The government justified its behaviour by alleging that corporal punishment in schools was leading to more violence in schools. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Schools are now more violent than ever. Teachers are increasingly vulnerable, not only to attack, but also to the challenge of trying to teach hugely difficult and disruptive students on a daily basis. And rather than being dealt to by the school, violent bullies are often left to terrorise weaker students. It is the worst of all worlds.

In response to growing concerns about violence in schools, a two-day government summit was held last year. The resulting plan, rather than recommending that an increase in powers be granted to teachers as in the UK, focussed on more teacher training and early intervention – for which an additional $45 million in funding was allocated.

However, it’s all very well for governments to throw money at social problems, but it quite a different matter to ensure that the interventions are having the right effect and that the money is being well spent.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Alex Penk, the Manager of Policy and Research at the Maxim Institute, describes a recent research project that highlighted the importance of proper evaluation. In his article An ugly, greasy stew which is called policy, he explains:

“Recognising the urgency of the problems associated with family dysfunction and the growing political interest in intervention programmes, we investigated interventions that have the greatest potential to respond to the twin problems of conduct disorder (severe anti-social behaviour in children) and abuse and neglect. We wanted to identify types of interventions that can be effective at treating these problems, and whether specific programmes currently funded by the Government are actually effective.

“We chose to focus on two programme types—home visitation and parent management training programmes. These programmes are capable of being very effective, and can be used with young children for early intervention. We found that the Government is currently funding several home visitation and parent management training programmes. However, the bulk of the funding (around $37 million) goes to programmes that have not been shown to be effective. By contrast, only about $2 million goes to effective programmes.

Alex explains that, “Underpinning this research was the question of programme evaluation. Evaluations are what reveal whether a programme is really effective; that is, whether it really makes a difference to the outcomes it is supposed to. However, most of the New Zealand programmes we reviewed either had not been evaluated with sufficient rigour to prove effectiveness, or the evaluations that had been done did not show promising results.”

The point is that only a minority of the tens of thousands of social interventions carried out by government and non-government agencies – that cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year to run – are ever properly evaluated. The vast majority of taxpayers’ money spent in this area is wasted.

This is an issue of crucial importance when it comes to “Whanau Ora”. Anyone with an interest in this issue should make sure they read the report of the Whanau Ora taskforce.4 Whanau Ora is an experimental model of social service delivery promoted by the separatist Maori party, that is completely untested.

Whanau Ora is designed to take New Zealand another step closer to the Maori party’s goal of Maori self-determination. The programme is based on the collectivist notion of “whanau wellbeing”. Under Whanau Ora, individual wellbeing, which has always been the primary focus of social welfare support, is to be subsumed by the needs of the whanau. Whanau Ora services will be designed and delivered in accordance with Maori values and philosophy to promote a Maori world view. A key goal is the establishment of an independent Trust by July 1st, to administer Whanau Ora funding. This funding stream is expected to grow to $1 billion over time. Regional Whanau Ora panels have been planned, to sit alongside Maori Land Courts, in order to provide Maori social services next door to Maori justice – in yet another step towards Maori autonomy. Crucial to the successful implementation of Whanau Ora is the establishment of the position of an independent Minister, who can ensure that the programme goes ahead as planned in a seamless manner.

In order to deflect the same accusations of racism about Whanau Ora that dogged the previous government’s “Closing the Gaps” strategy, Prime Minister John Key has announced that Whanau Ora is open to people of all races. But anyone who has read the Taskforce’s report and understood the concept knows that this notion is patently absurd. It is clear that this government has embarked on yet another misinformation strategy designed to disguise the fact that Whanau Ora puts the country on the dangerous course towards state sponsored racial separatism.

The Maori Party’s radical plan is now well underway. The Prime Minister established the position of an autonomous Whanau Ora minister in April, appointing the agenda’s chief cheerleader, the co-leader of the Maori Party Tariana Turia, into the position. And this month, the first wave of funding – $134 million over 4 years – was announced. This however, is clearly just a start as the Whanau Ora Minister has already explained that the lion’s share of the funding will be eaten up establishing the massive bureaucracy that will be needed to run the programme: “Mrs Turia said most of the $134.3m would be for start-up costs, such as hiring and training ‘Whanau Ora navigators’ to work closely with needy families and identify links between various problems.”5

The reality is that Whanau Ora is a funding mechanism designed to strengthen Maori tribal authorities. Its long-term goal is to pump hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into tribal coffers. Iwi authorities already receive a large part of their funding from social services contracts based on the racist “by Maori for Maori” concept. Whanau Ora is designed to enable whanau to access similar lucrative funding sources.

But anyone concerned about the problems associated with entrenched welfare dependency – such as every teacher faced with growing num

bers of severely anti-social children in their classrooms – will know that it is imperative for the future of this country that welfare reforms are focussed on reducing intergenerational dependency not expanding it.

And that is the major concern about the fundamental incentives that operate in Whanau Ora – namely that the more whanau members who are dependent on the state, the more money tribal leaders will receive. If whanau members want to get a job, or move away, strong forces will be at play to keep them where they are. With the incentives that underpin this scheme directly linked to the self-interest of providers, it is more than likely that Whanau Ora will lead to a massive expansion of welfare dependency rather than a reduction – in the process creating a toxic welfare and culture trap that is almost impossible to escape.