Children's Commissioner backs Family Start boost

The Children's Commissioner is "cautiously optimistic" new efforts to prevent kids growing up to be a problem for the state will work.

The Government on Wednesday announced it was putting another $69 million into its Family Start programme, after reviewing data collected by the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.

"This is work that comes directly out of the study, which has followed children through to adulthood now for over 35 years and we're taking advice directly from that study about where and how to apply our public resource," Prime Minister Bill English told Radio NZ.

Of that, $28 million will go on helping another 570 families, while the rest will be spent on supporting children with behavioural and communication problems.

"It's a great step and it's exactly what most in the child rights field have been advocating for months, if not years," Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told The AM Show on Thursday.

But it will take years - possibly five to 10 - before the fruits of the extra funding to show.

"Rome wasn't built in a day. Everybody would wish there would be perfection from day one - but there's a clear signal that it will be targeting kids with behavioural issues, with communication difficulties," says Mr Becroft.

"There's a stake put in the sand it seems to me, a line in the sand that we've got to do better - earlier intervention is clearly the way to proceed."

Mr Becroft is a former Youth Court judge, and says of the young people he dealt with, their troubles can always be traced back to when they were under five - but it's only a small group.

"In the Youth Court we used to say there were between 1000 to 1500 really, really tough kids. We know their names, we know who they are up and down the country.

"We have it within our resource base to really attack the problem well. It's tough work, it's not for the fainthearted, but it's measurable and it's identifiable, and we know who these families are."

The key is making it a cross-party effort he says, so the change of Government doesn't result in a change of direction.


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