"Other things many change us, but we start and end with family." Anthony Brandt
This special issue of Social Policy Journal has as its focus issues that face whanau and families in New Zealand and, by implication, the relationships between those issues and social policy.
"Family Social Policy" is not a clearly demarcated discipline in New Zealand nor, indeed, in other parts of the world. It is hard, however, to find many policies that do not have an impact on families either directly or indirectly. And although we may and often do interrogate policies for their impact on the economy or the environment, it is far less likely that a "family lens" will be applied to policy making.
WHY SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED WITH THE IMPACT OF POLICIES ON FAMILIES?
First, intimate relationships are important for the wellbeing of all individuals, and policies have the potential to enhance or to impede the formation and sustenance of positive family relationships.
Second, well-functioning families foster the development of socially engaged and successful young people who contribute to the wellbeing of wider society. This implies a responsibility for families toward society, since dysfunctional families impose costs on societies in the form of supporting distressed children, paying for mental health services, and providing benefit support.
Third, well functioning families are inextricably linked with economic productivity and flourishing workplaces. When intimate relationships are healthy, when parent-child relationships are fostered, then adults in the work force contribute measurably more to their workplace than those whose family relationships are stressed.
In sum, the oft quoted sentiment that families are good for society remains true. In the words of Urie Bronfenbrenner:
The family is the most powerful, the most humane, and by far the most economical system known for building competence and character. (Bronfenbrenner 1986)
SHOULD GOVERNMENT SEE FAMILIES AS LEGITIMATE OBJECTS OF POLICY ATTENTION?
Families in the western world are changing dramatically in both shape and engagement (see The Kiwi Nest (Families Commission 2008)). It is a daunting challenge to reach and support families of all shapes and forms, but one which must be faced if we are not to limit ourselves to support for a decreasingly predominant "nuclear" family form.
At the same time, there has been a significant change in most western societies toward focusing on individuals rather than family...