What is best for children?Jane Silloway Smith - 13-09-12
The Government is concerned that the children of beneficiaries are currently missing out on a key educational experience in early childhood education (ECE), and so it has decided that from July receipt of a full benefit will be conditional on children gaining this experience.
On the positive side, study after study has demonstrated the gains to be made, especially among children from low-income backgrounds, from attendance at high quality ECE. Thus it probably would be a good thing for more children of beneficiaries to be spending at least some time in ECE.
But just because higher enrolments in ECE—one of the Government’s Better Public Service goals—might be a good thing does not make it an equally good idea to have the Government increase ECE enrolments via the stick of benefit sanctions.
It is reasonable for the Government to expect certain behaviours and actions from those to whom it extends a benefit. Being work-ready, for instance, seems to be a legitimate obligation for most beneficiaries.
But when the Government attempts to interfere in the decisions a beneficiary parent or parents make in raising their children, it would seem to have gone too far.
It is essential that families be able to make decisions about how they will raise their children, so long as the immediate health and safety of the children are not at risk. Being in receipt of a benefit does not abrogate this right of families.
If the Government wishes for more children to enrol in ECE, it should do more to support parents in making this choice either by encouraging high quality ECE providers to enter and saturate the market or by offering more subsidies and credits for low-income families. What it should not do is make receipt of a full benefit dependent upon parents giving up their right to choose.
For Jane's interview on this topic in the New Zealand Herald click here