The case for an inequalities perspective in child protection


  • Emily Keddell



The year 2019 represented a watershed moment for Aotearoa New Zealand’s child welfare system, as a public spotlight was shone on systemic ethnic inequities during ongoing legislative changes aimed at centering Te Tiriti o Waitangi and whänau, hapü, and iwi considerations in policy and practice. In the midst of this dialogue, Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Government hosted the “Children, Families, and the State”– a seminar series focused on the historical, current, and future role of the state in the lives of families and children. The seminars, and the discussion it generated, was due to the calls to action from speakers across the system, including leadership at Oranga Tamariki, within the family court, non-profit providers, commissioners and advocates, and academics.

The four brief essays in this edition of Policy Quarterly capture viewpoints from several of the seminar speakers. Despite their different perspectives, common threads unite them. A greater recognition of the structural causes of the historical and current patterns of ethnic inequities in child welfare system contact, a commitment to whänau, hapü, and iwi-centred policy, practice, and partnership, the authors argue, are vital for a more just and empowering system.

In this essay, Emily Keddell reflects on how a lack of an inequalities perspective in policymaking has shaped New Zealand’s unequal child welfare system, and the ways in which this perspective can drive down the number of children who enter the system in the future.


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