National MP Hamish Walker is championing a law change to let foster parents open KiwiSaver accounts for foster children in their care.
He introduced the Kiwisaver (Foster Parents Opting in for Children in their Care) private member’s bill in Parliament late on Wednesday evening.
Walker made the move at the behest of Sam Stubbs, the founder of the not-for-profit KiwiSaver scheme Simplicity, who was in Parliament to watch the introduction of the bill.
And, should the bill turn into law, Simplicity will set up a Kiwisaver account for every foster child in New Zealand who wants one, waiving all administration, membership, trustee and custodial fees for at least the first five years.
There were around 6000 foster children in New Zealand, and the only person who could sign them up to KiwiSaver was the chief executive of the Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Children.
“The issue this bill addresses is simple,” Walker said. “It seeks to give foster parents the same rights as any other parents to open a Kiwisaver account for their child.”
“A foster child is in a unique position,” he said. “Often their legal guardian or parent is absent; they may be unable to be contacted; they might be in prison; they might be deceased; for whatever reason, their care is now the business of the State.”
But the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki was too busy to make KiwiSaver a priority.
KiwiSaver would mean that should foster children be given financial legacies, including by their foster parents, they could be put into KiwiSaver, keeping them safe.
“If you want to leave a legacy for a child that you know will only ever be able to be accessed by that child, then that is a kiwisaver account,” Walker said.
“As the child grows, he or she may receive other financial bonuses which can be put aside for their future.”
“It’s a good thing to do this for a child – to provide that child, who may have had many years of instability and insecurity, with a valuable asset that will always be there for them in the future.”
Stuart Nash said Labour would support the bill through to the select committee stage.
But Nash said while the bill was well-meaning there were other things that were more pressing for lifting the wellbeing of children.
“I think this is a case where I don’t have a great feel for whether this is a great priority for foster parents,” he said.
“In my nine years of being a member of Parliament no foster parent has ever said to me one of the things I need to do as a foster parent is sign my child up to KiwiSaver.”
Walker said: “I want to acknowledge the efforts of a number of people who have been trying for eight months to find a way through the government departments that could effect this change.”
“A group of individual foster parents have been working with not-for-profit Kiwisaver provider, Simplicity, talking with the Government and various departments about how this can be achieved.”
“Unfortunately… all these people have received pushbacks from those in the government departments who say it’s too hard.”