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John MacDonald: We need to prepare people better for parenting

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Feb 2024, 1:03PM
Photo / Stockxchng
Photo / Stockxchng

John MacDonald: We need to prepare people better for parenting

John MacDonald,
Publish Date
Thu, 22 Feb 2024, 1:03PM

If you’re a parent of any age or stage —you might have little ones or you might be a grandparent, or somewhere in-between— you might find this a bit weird. 

But I think the time has come for us to start treating people who are about to become parents the way we treat people who want to drive a car or a truck or a motorbike.  

We’re dreaming if we think we’re doing enough just teaching them about changing nappies and feeding. And I think we need to turbo-drive our ante-natal training.  

And why’s that, do you think?  

It’s because of the scathing comments by Ombudsman Peter Boshier about our child welfare agency, Oranga Tamariki. He’s saying today that it’s a shambles and he wants a complete overhaul. 

He says he’s uncovered what he calls “extremely distressing stories” about kids and parents who have let down big time. And that the organisation regularly breaks its own rules. 

The things he’s heard about include one young person being kept in an institution against their wishes for years and a young disabled mother having her baby taken away from her at birth and never returned. 

He’s looked into complaints made about Oranga Tamariki between 2019 and 2023 and he’s saying: “I cannot provide reassurance that Oranga Tamariki’s practices and processes are consistently operating as they ought to.” 

Which is Ombudsman-speak for “this outfit is hopeless and needs to up its game big time”. 

But do you really think that’s going to happen? Really? Because how many times have we heard this?  

And how many times have we seen the honchos at OT with their serious faces on, nodding, and saying ‘yes yes yes, this is shocking, and we are listening to all this, and we are going to change’. And nothing changes. 

So, what are we going to do? Just continue to rely on the OT people with the serious faces to sort the place out? Under their own steam? Of their own volition? 

If we do, we’ll be in the same boat in five years, 10 years and 20 years. That’s why I think we need to do things differently. Way differently. 

And the starting point needs to be before things get to the stage of needing any sort of intervention by Oranga Tamariki. 

Before a child even enters the world. Call it the ambulance at the top of the cliff. 

I think we’re on a road to nowhere if we’re going to keep relying on Oranga Tamariki to do all the heavy lifting and to keep kids in this country safe. So, here’s what I think we should do.  

When I say we should treat new parents the way we treat new drivers, I’m saying we need to teach them things they will never forget - before they have a baby to care for.  

Not the breastfeeding and nappy changing stuff. I’m talking about really confronting stuff like showing them what happens when you shake a baby and what can happen when parents try to look after a baby when they’re off their faces on drink and drugs. 

We need to stop talking about the “Day 3 Blues” and teach women who are about to become mothers about post-natal depression. And teach the dads how to look out for it.   

Really teach them about sleep deprivation and what it can do to you. None of this sugar-coated stuff about ‘making the most of getting a good night’s sleep now because, whew, there are going to be some long nights coming your way’. 

Tell them their whole personality might even change because of what goes on when you become a parent. Tell the fathers that they’re probably going to feel like they’re on the outer a bit sometimes. 

Tell them that, yes, there will be times when they might feel jealous of all the attention the mother and the baby will get. Tell them that, yes, they will feel hopeless and scared sometimes. And tell them what to do to keep themselves and their family safe before their frustrations boil over. 

And tell the mothers that, if things go pear-shaped with their relationship and they end up with someone else, there’s a chance that their new partner won’t love their baby as much as they do.  

You can’t stop someone falling in love with a drop-kick, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about this stuff with people who are about to become parents. 

Because all of it is real. And we need to get real if we think having an outfit like Oranga Tamariki is all we need to do to keep kids safe. An outfit that's being told it needs to up its game big time. 

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