Outgoing Children’s Commissioner Andrew Becroft has reflected on the role as "one of the genuine honours" of his life as he wraps up his final day in the job on Sunday.
Judge Becroft served as the principal Youth Court judge for 15 years, followed by five years as Children’s Commissioner.
“It is the sort of job that is 24/7 - it’s a calling,” he told Q+A.
“It’s been one of the genuine honours of my life. It’s taken me to places in New Zealand and I’ve met children and young people who have just been so honest and so straightforward - up and down the country.”
He said the “hardest job” has been hearing from youth - particularly primary school children - who tell him about “when life is tough”. One of those children was an eight-year-old girl who revealed she found completing homework difficult as one of 13 children living in a two-bedroom home.
“There’s been a flat-out dereliction of duty for our children who are doing it tough. It’s almost coming to be accepted that it’s something we live with but it needn’t be this way,” he said.
“What has hit me hardest is seeing the result of that dereliction of duty played out in the lives of children for whom it’s not their fault, and for whom responsible adults could have done much better.”
He said hearing first-hand accounts from vulnerable children during his 20-year career has served as a “reality check and it’s a wake-up call” that "the New Zealand of today isn’t the New Zealand I grew up in; we are a country that is marginalised”.
Despite the challenges involved in the role, Becroft said it “doesn’t get me down, it doesn’t overwhelm me”.
“I think part of the role is to hear it and see it, but not get so emotionally involved that I can’t make good, concise analytical judgement - that’s part of the role.
“Heaven help me if I don’t ever forget how children are doing it tough.”
While more work must be done to protect vulnerable children, he says “there is hope - terrific hope” for the country’s future.
“I just hope we can grasp it and grab it as a country and drive these changes and improvements through.”