| Child abuse 'single most important debate' |
By Lloyd Burr
The Government has just released a discussion document that will trigger what the Social Development Minister is calling “the single most important debate this country can have”.
The Green Paper for Vulnerable Children outlines a number of ideas, conceived by the Government, for ways to address New Zealand’s growing child abuse problem.
Social Development Minster Paula Bennett says finding solutions to the issues is long overdue.
“Too many children are being hurt, abused, neglected and badly let down but we can change this and now is time to act.
“The decisions this country needs to make about our children are bigger than politics and electoral cycles and the Green Paper focuses on child-centred decisions that will fundamentally change the way we care for children,” Ms Bennett says.
The first official copy of the Green Paper was given to Cherie Kurarangi Sweeney, the woman branded a "nark" for speaking out about the death of Ngaruawahia baby Serenity Scott-Dinnington, who lived in the house next door.
Ms Sweeney has since become a crusader against child abuse
National Party MPs were at the announcement, along with Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and supporters of the Republican Party New Zealand.
The Government says it’s the first Green Paper on the issue for 14 years and has the main purpose of igniting public debate and seeking public feedback on what the solutions may be.
Feedback from the public will be considered before the Government forms an action plan.
But the Labour Party’s social policy spokesperson Annette King says the Government has “shelved” progress on child abuse and are releasing it now as part of National’s election campaign.
Ms King says “I am wondering if this is for their election campaign rather than some serious work on child abuse.
“I think a very good question to Paula Bennett is why have we had to wait so long?”.
Meanwhile United Future leader Peter Dunne has welcomed the paper, but says he is concerned at suggestions of mandatory reporting and the impact it would have on New Zealand families.
Mr Dunne says he is “uncomfortable” with the idea, which could lead to “very troubling outcomes”.
“I am concerned mandatory reporting could lead to major rifts within our communities as people become fearful of the judgements of others,” he says.
“Imagine, as a parent, being nervous about taking your child to the doctor or dropping them off at school. We need to be promoting a society where families facing difficulties can open up and feel comfortable asking for help without fear of retribution.”
The Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, joined Ms Bennett for the announcement and says the issue is complex but there is no magic bullet.
“We have little information on what works and what doesn’t work…[Ms Bennett] understands that we’ve got to get beyond dogma and rhetoric.”
“Every hour, two children in this country are physically, sexually or emotionally abused. It has to stop. We have to make a concerted effort to protect children from the lifetime of harm abuse can cause,” Ms Bennett says.
She says the Paper is intentionally written to encourage public discussion and does not “tell people what to think”.
But she also warns that it could upset some people.
“Some of the issues in this paper will make people uncomfortable, they should be uncomfortable, they should be angry,” Ms Bennett says.
Prime Minister John Key says something needs to be done and “despite decades of good intentions from government, we’re still failing too many of our kids”.
“I’m very concerned that in the past 10 years, despite hundreds of millions of dollars extra being invested across health, education, the benefit system, Child, Youth and Family and the justice system, public services have too often failed the children who need them most”.
Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) spokesperson Alistair Paterson says there is no one quick fix and it is a “highly complex issue that sits with the nature of society” and Government intervention is necessary.
“What is needed is a change in the attitude of the Government and a change in the attitude of society.
“The Government needs to support those who are most needy and who have children. They need support economically for the ongoing wellbeing of their children”.
The Green Paper outlines some sobering statistics:
- • Child, Youth and Family confirmed 21,000 cases of abuse and neglect in 2009/10
- • Over 30,000 students are truant from schools on any given day
- • 7,342 school leavers left with no qualification in 2009
- • 13,315 hospital admissions in 2008/09 were for children under five that could have been avoided. In the same year, 1,286 admissions for all children were as a result of assault, neglect or maltreatment
- • 47,374 children (aged 0–16) were present, or usually residing with the victim, at an incident of family violence reported to the Police in 2010.
The Paper also outlines the Government’s vision for children in New Zealand:
- • Be healthy
- • Be protected from harm and keep themselves safe
- • Have their basic physical needs met (food, shelter, clothing)
- • Be loved and supported by parents/caregivers, family and whanau and communities
- • Be confident in their identity, language and culture
- • Have positive connections with friends and adults
- • Achieve strong foundations for lifelong learning
- • Have the support they need to contribute positively to their own and New Zealand’s future
- • Children who are Maori succeed as Maori
- • Children achieve in their own culture