Child Impact Reporting

Article excerpt

Abstract

Few dispute that children are entitled to enjoy the happiest, healthiest and safest childhoods we can provide or that they will play a pivotal role in the future social and economic development of this country. For all their importance, children's interests are all too easily overlooked in policy development and implementation. Such inattention in the past has led to poor but preventable outcomes. One way of increasing the visibility of children in public policy practices is by conducting child impact assessments. By this process, policy is assessed for its likely effect on children before that policy is implemented. It involves determining whether the impact of policy is likely to be in the best interests of children, then making adjustments to avoid or mitigate negative outcomes and to maximise the benefits. Overseas experience points to a number of issues that need to be considered if child impact reporting is to be incorporated into government processes, including issues of governance, process, report content and sustainable institutionalisation. There are considerable barriers to introducing child impact reporting, but if its function and importance can be agreed upon, the details of process and structure can begin to be formulated.

INTRODUCTION

Few dispute that children are entitled to enjoy the happiest, healthiest and safest childhoods we can provide or that they will play a pivotal role in the future social and economic development of this country. For all their importance, attention to children's wellbeing in government policy and processes remains variable and, all too often, ad hoc.

It is stating the obvious to say that public policy decisions affect children and that failure to consider their likely effects on children could lead to unforeseen, negative outcomes. New Zealand policies of the 1990s are a case in point. In 1991 benefits were slashed at a time when unemployment was already on the rise. Between 1992 and 1999, 11,000 state houses were sold and from 1993 state house tenants were charged market rentals (Johnson 2003). In the wake of this, the rate of child poverty soared (from 13.5% in 1987/88 to 34% in 1992/93) (Ministry of Social Development 2006), as did rates of overcrowding, substandard housing and a raft of poverty-related diseases, including the meningococcal epidemic which caused 119 deaths between 1991 and 1998 (Baker et al. 1999).

One way that such consequences might be avoided in future is by increasing the visibility of children in the development of public policy. Child impact assessment is a process which does precisely that. By this process, prior to the implementation of a policy, its likely impact on children is assessed. Policy is assessed against the principle of "the best interests of the child"; it is then adjusted to mitigate or remove any negative impacts and, where possible, to maximise benefits. Crucially, policy is also audited during and after implementation. The two key elements are therefore predicting consequences and informing (and hence influencing) decision making. (2)

New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention) in 1993. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that states which have ratified the Convention adopt child impact assessment for all policy that affects children (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child 2003:11). This recommendation has been heeded to varying degrees by governments around the world, including Belgium (Flemish Parliament), Finland, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Sweden. Here in New Zealand, the Agenda for Children, which was endorsed by the Government in 2002, proposes child impact reporting as a possible future development (Ministry of Social Development 2002:19). Support for this comes from a wide range of organisations, including the New Zealand Law Commission (3) and the Every Child Counts coaliti0n. …