Should we fence all rivers to protect toddlers from slack parents?

The Dominion Post devotes half this morning’s front page to the bleatings of a drowned toddler’s uncle that the council should have fenced the river in which his 2 year old nephew drowned.

A family hit by a drowning tragedy had repeatedly pleaded with the council to build a fence where a toddler died.

Sukhraj Singh, 2, died and his cousin Archilles Kaui, 3, remains in hospital in a critical condition after the pair wandered into Gisborne’s Taruheru River on Thursday.

“I’ve been asking myself all night, would this have happened if the fence was put up in our neighbourhood? And the answer is no. Because those toddlers would not have been able to get past the fence”, Sukhraj’s uncle Hemi Jahnke said.

And why were the toddlers able to get anywhere near the river? The Dom finally reveals all in paragraph 10:

Before the tragedy, Archilles’ mother, Diana McIntyre, had been visiting Sukhraj’s mother, Jamie Taewa, at her home in Atkinson St. It was thought about 10 to 15 minutes passed before the women noticed the two toddlers had wandered off.

Well sorry, but any mother who lets a toddler out of her sight for 10 or 15 minutes near a river has no one to blame but herself if the child drowns.

That’s a hard thing to write at this sad time, especially as the poor mother may well have arrived at the same conclusion and does not necessarily share the uncle’s view.

But for the uncle to blame the council (ie the rest of us) is outrageously unfair.

Members of the family were part of community group Kia Kaha Mangapapa, a charitable trust started to try to make a positive difference in the area. The idea of a fence at the reserve was brought up at several hui called with Gisborne District Council last year. Archilles’ parents, Ms McLean and Frank Kaui, attended one of the meetings.

Mr Jahnke said the council had agreed to put up the fence.

“They did have a plan for the fence but because the fence was going to cost too much it started getting smaller and smaller. Eventually it turned into just a fence around the culvert.”

He was angry with the council.

“How many lives have been lost in river accidents because the council says they haven’t got enough money?

“And them listening now is not going to bring back Sukhraj. It’s not going to bring back a baby boy. But someone needs to be held accountable.”

Damn right. And I think most of us have a fair idea who.

Gisborne District Council acting chief executive Nedine Thatcher-Swann said it was “inconclusive” whether fencing the reserve would have made a difference at this stage.

Fencing every waterway into which a poorly supervised toddler could wander would certainly make a huge difference to the amount of public money available for other services. Or to Gisborne residents’ rates bills.

In my view the Council did exactly the right thing in refusing to assume the role of parents.

“Around the country and the world it is very unusual to find our natural environments – rivers, lakes or ponds – fenced.”

And so it should be. Do we really want to turn our country into an unsightly baby-prison, just so we can protect our toddlers from slack parents?

I grew up in a house near the Waiwhetu Stream in Fairfield, Lower Hutt. The Stream got a bad press for being badly polluted down the industrial end, but the suburban reaches were and are a delightfully meandering waterway that greatly enhances the ambience of the area.

It remains unfenced, despite being bounded by houses for miles, and is dotted with reserves, also unfenced.

Presumably, parents who choose to live there, like mine did, also take responsibility for watching their children.

I hope the Dominion Post will reflect on the message their story sends, and provide some balance in the coming days.

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Published in: on November 5, 2011 at 10:50 am  Comments (26)  

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26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Utterly preposterous! A better idea would be to ‘safe-proof’ our future citizens by demanding IQ tests and parenting licenses to all would-be mums and dads so that children wouldn’t be put at risk by their idiot pro-creators. The council should give these parents a packet of condoms (with instructions on how to use them obviously) so that they avoid repeating their stupidity in the future. I feel terribly sorry for the child though… and her siblings.

  2. It’s rediculous that the rest of us have to pay to protect the children of lazy or inatentive parents. It’s why I don’t agree with swimming pools being fenced. The sole responsibility for keeping children safe from this kind of ‘hazard’ should reside with the parents of the child, not the poor neighbour who would like to relax by his pool, or the council because it has a stream or river running through it’s territory.
    I grew up in a house next to a river, and we didn’t even have a gate on our section. We knew exactly how much trouble we’d be in if we even considered stepping outside the boundary.

  3. I dont want to criticise the mother in this case she is in enough pain and such a thing can happen to even the most diligent of parents noone is perfect all of the time.

    The mindset though that its the fault of the council for not fencing the stream is moronic and is becoming very common from people who expect someone else to take responsibility for everything in their lives.

    JA: Assuming she’s normal, the toddler’s mum has already sentenced herself to a living hell, so to punish her further would border on the cruel.

    It’s the audacity of the uncle I find offensive – and the DomPost’s tacit assumption that readers will agree with his complaint.

    It’s symptomatic of the sick socialist mindset that would make our pioneering forefathers (and probably even Michael Joseph Savage) spin in their graves.

  4. “But for the uncle to blame the council (ie the rest of us) is outrageously unfair.”

    There you have it! Perhaps one good change would be to impress upon people the need to stop using expressions such as: ‘the gummint should’ve . . . . the cowncil should’ve . . . ‘

    Instead, they should be obliged (joking!) to say, ‘your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow citizens/ratepayers should pay more rates/taxes to overcome my shortcomings, so . . . . ‘
    (e.g. fence all rural stock drinking troughs, etc, ad nauseam)

    One cannot accident-proof the world, any more than one can idiot-proof the world!

    “Statistics/studies have shown . . . ” that anything can be blamed upon/equated to anything, anywhere, any time, anyway, anyone. Anywho?

  5. Like JA I grew up alongside the Waiwhetu stream, played in it, made corrugated iron boats to paddle around in it and fished for eels and kura. Don’t ever recall anyone drowning in it and many of the properties backing the river went right to the waterside without a fence in sight.

    There is no excuse for lazy parenting, and that’s what happened here. Sad but True.

    JA: What a coincidence, Viking. I’m picking you were a lot older than 3 when you did all that.

    I, too, recall roaming round the neighbourhood with friends, playing under the bridge at Norton Park Ave (our street), swinging on a rope across the stream at Wyndrum Ave, and shinnying across a large black water pipe at Tilbury Street.

    But I must have been closer to 8 than 3 by that stage. We also had a small creek at the back of our quarter acre section, but the consequences of going near it were sufficient for my brother and me to stay well clear until we were old enough.

    Interestingly, while my mum was super-protective by the standards of the day, she was happy to allow 5 year old me to walk the kilometre or so to Epuni School from my second day, a trek which involved crossing a busy Waiwhetu Road.

    Today’s news suggests we need to be more vigilant with the under 5s, but I also think we need to let the older kids get out more.

  6. Totally ridiculous but sadly it’s becoming the norm to insist others should protect our children, when it it is the parents’ responsibility. My children grew up where our house backed onto a creek with a fence but no gate in the gap (for a later gate), but they knew full well not to dare even think about going through the gap to the creek.

    Parents don’t set boundaries these days and the kids just seem to run riot. Some of it is the Government’s fault for taking away all the parents’ rights but I’m sure I would still bring my children up the same way in today’s world as I did some years ago. If you care, you set boundaries and show the children you mean them.

    JA: I agree, Helen. But parenting is one tough job. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we’re just lucky they’re not fatal.

    Tiredness, work stress, distractions and over-optimism contribute to our errors.

    When my eldest son was about 4, he slipped his mum’s car into gear and let the handbrake off when she was outside the car chatting to a friend.

    She had no idea he knew how to do that!

    And it would have been fine, since the engine was off. Except for one thing…

    She’d parked on a sloping driveway of a house built on a terrace above a cliff. Next stop for Mike was going to be a paddock a hundred feet down.

    Luckily, his mum saw the car start to roll and had the presence of mind to wrench open the door and yank on the brake before he’d gone too far.

    However, there’s quite a difference between leaving a child in a car right next to you and letting him out of your sight for 10 or 15 minutes. Such wishful thinking invites disaster, as tragically occurred in Gisborne.

    If we’re going to ask the government for anything, training for first-time parents would be near the top of my list.

    For more at-risk groups (assuming you could define those fairly), perhaps parenting training should be compulsory for anyone wishing to use the state’s birthing facilities.

    I’m not talking about ante-natal classes. I mean post-natal and beyond: how to educate and discipline the kids, which illnesses to watch out for, how to prepare food – a sort of Plunket-nurse-meets-Supernanny course.

    It’s starting to sound costly, but if physical courses are impractical, the course could be delivered via the internet.

    Could work?

  7. True I was, but there were plenty of kids around Norton Park,Wyndrum Ave and Riverside Drive in the mid 50’s. The short end of Wyndrum had about 40 that I could count, many of them much younger than I and whose sections ran to the creek. As for school, had to walk there everyday and bike to intermediate and High in all weather. No cars for transport.
    Grew up on Petone beach before that, no one drowned there either.

  8. The Hutt river was another great place for fun. No fences around that nor the Petone wharf.

  9. The idea that the government should protect us and our children from all risks gives the government carte blanc to interfere in every area of our lives. Anyone who has had a run-in with their local council in respect of the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act (as I have) will know what a Kafkaesque piece of legislation it is. We already have the unedifying sight of councils such as Kapiti District hiring helicopters to catch otherwise law-abiding citizens who have neglected to put a fence around their already-secure spa pools. Soon it will be illegal to fill a glass with water without fencing it first.

    JA: That’s a funny line.

    Didn’t I read recently that the Kapiti Coast District Council were going to fence a whole lagoon?

  10. No – like all councils, they get a high on OPM. Other People’s Money. They’re going to force someone else to do it.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/local-papers/kapiti-observer/5385396/Owners-up-for-pond-fencing

    Oh, that’s without counting exorbitant legal opinions obtained using OPM, as well.

  11. Yes, I have always thought it ridiculous that I have to fence my covered spa pool to protect other peoples children, when the council is not required to fence ponds, rivers and beaches within crawling distance of my property.

  12. Try to keep in mind that the mindless minions at the cownsils are just ‘acting on orders’ from the W’gton woodenheads.

  13. What about seat belt laws! And I have to wear a crash helmet when I ride a motorcycle! And fence my swimming pool! The council has to secure its stormwater drains FFS! What’s happened to the world?Nanny state cotton wool wrapping little Hitlers! I can’t even drink and drive anymore! What’s several thousand preventable deaths when compared to sweet sweet freedom????? Stay classy John.

    JA: This wasn’t a stormwater drain, Judge, it was a river.

    Are you in favour of fencing all rivers, ponds, lakes, harbours and beaches where children might conceivably wander?

    I’d have thought councils should be responsible for securing their drain manhole covers, and parents should be responsible for securing their children.

    And I’ve had enough of your snide remarks. If you want to debate logically and respectfully, fine. Otherwise stay away.

  14. “Are you in favour of fencing all rivers, ponds, lakes, harbours and beaches where children might conceivably wander?”

    No. Are you in favour of councils should apply absolutely no risk management whatsoever in its treatment of its waterways?

    It’s not really fair to ask me to show respect and use logic (which I do, not my fault you can’t see that), when you don’t require that of commentators who agree with you.

    JA: I decide what’s fair, logical and respectful on my blog, Judge. If you don’t like my definitions, stay away.

    Try as I might, I can’t detect any logic in your last comment, only shrieking and sarcasm.

    I’m not in favour of spending large sums of public money on risk-minimisation measures that are the responsibility of parents.

    You seem to assume that I oppose seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Maybe you think I’m a no-holds-barred libertarian.

    I don’t, and I’m not.

    I agree that some risk-minimisation should be compulsory.

    In the above cases, the driver or biker can’t control the very real risks posed by other motorists.

    Also, their failure to protect themselves against those risks can have a major effect on others.

    But with children and water, parents have the power to totally eliminate the risk. All they have to do is, well, parent.

    If you want the council to take over this part of the parenting role, where would you draw the line?

    And what other council amenities would you sacrifice to pay for all the fences?

    If you want to answer these questions, please do so respectfully, or you’re banned from here for good.

  15. The Orwellian society is upon us. Take some of the pseudo-judge’s comments. Seat belt laws and crash helmets are there as the sting in the tail of social (health) welfare. I.e. you want free accident/hospital health care – the Wellington woodenheads want to control the various ways you might have accidents – also known as ‘create health care costs.’ (Mountain climbing, abseiling and extreme sports and a few others excepted, of course)

    That way, there’s more money left over for their self-specified and obscene tax-payer subsidised pensions, spouses subsidised air travel, ex-PM’s perks, and so on.

    No cownsil has waterways. They occur in the areas where citizens congregate. That aggregation of citizens hands-off some tasks to an elected cownsil. Then the tail starts wagging the dog – as so often happens.

    And for the best in hypocrisy – you be the judge – foreign tourists visiting NZ are covered by ACC – without ever paying any form of ACC levy. Wonder if kiwis abroad get such a great deal? Anywhere! Yeah, right.

    Reminds me of Shonkey’s plaint that the GST increase was “fiscally neutral.” To whom or what, doesn’t rate a mention. Worse, like the King’s new clothes, no one seems to have asked: “If it’s fiscally neutral” why did you bother with all the administrative imposts? Oh, that’s right: private enterprise picked up that tab. So, leaving the admin costs aside, the question still remains: why walk ten paces away and ten paces back so you it can be said that the effort was geographically (GPS) neutral?

  16. Exhibit A.

  17. Judge, see my reply to your last comment (just added in italics at the end of the comment).

    Simple Simon makes some challengeable points, so by all means challenge him. But no sly put downs.

    You have form here, and I need to see it improve.

  18. “But with children and water, parents have the power to totally eliminate the risk. All they have to do is, well, parent.”

    Riiiight. Been a while obviously.

    I’m simply suggesting that councils and governments have a role in risk minimisation. You agree. What I don’t understand is the almost hysterical and vicious overreaction to someone (who has suffered the horror a child fatality) suggesting that the line ought to be somewhere other than where you would place it. Get a grip.

  19. That was your final insult. Any future comments by you will be deleted.

    I have warned you many times, and can no longer be bothered engaging with someone who is so relentlessly negative, abusive and averse to reasoned debate.

  20. “I’m simply suggesting that councils and governments have a role in risk minimisation.”

    If only that were true. Your general thrust seems more like a total takeover of everything, (Orwellian-style), rather than a role (bit part) in risk minimisation.

    There is no life without risk, no matter how one may wish it were so.

    JA: He never did define what his preferred role was – just complain, complain, complain. Good riddance to him.

  21. Personally John I cringe and shudder when I hear or read someone call a parent slack because their toddler became injured or killed.

    A lot of my response is because I am a mother of a two year old boy and I TOTALLY understand what parents go through.
    I am reminded frequently just how far the little tits can get in just a few seconds! I have often found myself doing sudden sprints to catch him before he reaches danger zones.

    The little buggers ALWAYS catch you out when you are not being attentive to them eg: talking on the phone, stopping to chat with a friend on the street or park, shopping, cooking meals and get onto domestic chores etc.

    The newspaper article said ten to fifteen minutes went by before the parents realised the toddlers had left the section. For all we know the mother and friend could hear the little tykes playing outside most of that time before they could not hear them any more, prompting them to investigate. We all know what Newspaper reporting is like John. They can be misleading s**tstirrers.

    Additionally, as a parent I want LESS government and their pet researchers fiddling around in family structures! Its because of them that we have some of the trouble we have today! Like HELL will I ever give them the green light to come into my home to ‘teach’ me how to be a parent for christ sake! If I wish to seek out side help then I will seek it through personal choice.
    Parents need confidence and their sense of authority restored.
    Not constantly hammered with ‘latest research’ of ‘best parenting’ that leaves you feeling guilty and incompetent and always needy of guidance.
    The best teacher I had with my first child was my instincts and the child herself. Understanding her nature taught me how to manage her behaviours and always seek ways to bring out the best of her nature. Now I am endeavouring to do the same with my little man.

    Because this blog is about the issue of kids around water I wish to share how my partner and I are dealing with this.

    Our little guy is water crazy! I was as jumpy as hell with him at the beach or around lakes because he was ‘brainlessly’ drawn to it.
    My partner and I agreed that if he is that fascinated with water then he had better learn about it, so we started him at Aqua babes swimming classes. At first I questioned if it was a good idea because I was concerned that it might make him more confident around water which can lead to dire consequences in itself. Thankfully I was wrong!
    Our little guy has been showing much more thoughtfulness around water and although I still keep a diligent watch, I am a lot more relaxed with him at the beach and lakes. Certainly make’s outing’s to these area’s more pleasurable.

    Ah well, that’s all my opinion and views John – oh, and also, I do not agree that rivers or lakes should be fenced.

    JA: Trina, I fully understand that my headline can be read as insensitive. Like many of the things I say, it was designed to get people talking.

    My issue is really with the uncle, but while sympathising with the mother’s agony we should not pretend she did everything she could to keep her child safe.

    It was not a moment’s inattention. If the story is correct, she ignored him for 10-15 minutes — an error that was quite predictably fatal.

    My kids grew up on the Kapiti Coast, near a river, a beach and numerous swimming pools. They had swimming lessons from the age of four months.

  22. I wonder how many of the comments here come from childless ones?

  23. Excellent article by Trina. It sounds as though she is a very sensible caring mother. I think it’s an excellent idea to put babies into Aqua classes as soon as possible. That way, they get to really know about water and will respect it that much more even with their very immature brains.

    I had 4 children and they all learned to swim at a young age but when mine were young, babies weren’t taught to swim but that has all changed now.

    I totally agree with Trina about much less Government and their pet researchers fiddling in our lives. They are a big part of the current problems with child rearing. All the power has been taken away from the parents and they seem to have lost their confidence and authority in many cases.

  24. Aw gee Helen . . . make me blush hehehe. Thank you for the compliment. I am pleased you concur with my views on less government interference. Always nice to meet like minded people.

    When I have more time and am in the mood, I will settle in front of this computer and have a big blurb on my generalised observations/impressions of New Zealand society now a days.

    Keep well folks :-)

  25. Its okay to throw stone at parents but unless you know the area which the 2 children drowned don’t throw stones, no one ever questioned the other drownings yet you are quick to down these parents .Something should have been done back when the first drowning happened yet nothing was done but hey who are we to judge give them a fair chance…

    GOD BLESS THE FAMILIES..

  26. Supposedly it already did – with a drowning tragedy. Deity constructs do seem ambivalent about whether they dish out good or bad.


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