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Children's Commissioner: 'We're a country of extremes, we're a country of inequality'

Child poverty is front and centre of disadvantage in New Zealand and now is the right time to drive through huge improvements, Andrew Becroft says.

The new Children's Commissioner says the public can't opt out of child poverty issues. Source: Q+A

The Children's Commissioner has just finished his first week in the job and he says while the government is ready to make changes it needs to be a collective, collaborative approach.

"We're on a roll of shame in many areas of underachievement - education, health, offending statistics, prison rates. We've talked about huge success at the top end, significant disadvantage and failure at the bottom end," the former Principal Youth Court judge told Q+A this morning.

"We're a country of extremes now. This wasn't the country I was brought up with in the 1970s. We're a country of inequality, income inequality."

The former top judge replaced Dr Russell Wills as Children's Commissioner and has just finished his first week in the job. Source: Q+A

But Mr Becroft says he doesn't want the message to be that child poverty equals abuse or failure.

"I don't want to load guilt onto those that come from that area but it's a very high risk factor."

So long as there is child poverty, there will always be a challenge. - Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft

Most tough Youth Court offenders come from that group and it's harder and harder to get out of, the commissioner says, adding that while fewer youth offenders are coming into the system they are a challenging group and "as tough as we've ever had".

Mr Becroft says he personally needs to be a courageous advocate and critic but it's got to be a community-wide approach.

"I am keen to say to New Zealanders as a whole that the issue of poverty and abuse is not going to be solved by a perfect Child, Youth and Family intervention system...we can't say it's someone else's approach. We are proud New Zealanders, we've got to own it ourselves.

"Let us own this problem together."

Without turning ourselves into a country of snitches, we've got to blow the whistle and if we see something going on urgently, phone the police, Mr Becroft says.

Andrew Becroft replaces previous commissioner Dr Russell Wills.