Too high but falling

January 23, 2015

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has welcomed latest child abuse statistics showing that the number of children abused in the year ended June 2014 fell by 2,306 or 12 percent on the previous year.

“Let there be no doubt that our child abuse figures remain appallingly high but it is pleasing to see the numbers going down for the first time in 10 years,” says Mrs Tolley.

During the year to June 2014, 16,289 children had 19,623 findings of abuse substantiated compared to 18,595 children with 22,984 findings of abuse in the previous year. 

Of the 146,657 notifications made to Child, Youth and Family in 2014, 54,065 reports required further action involving 43,590 children.  This compared to 148,659 notifications in 2013 where 61,877 reports required further action in relation to 48,527 children.  A drop of 4,937 children.

In 2014, there were 9,499 children who were emotionally abused, 3,178 children who were physically abused and 1,294 children who were sexually abused.  In 2013 the corresponding figures were 11,386 children emotionally abused, 3,181 physically abused and 1,423 sexually abused.

“Good progress is being achieved in implementing the Children’s Action Plan.   With 30 specific measures designed to prevent abuse and neglect, it will make a real difference in reducing child abuse in this country.

“New Zealanders are becoming increasingly intolerant of abuse and neglect in their communities, and the more people willing to report their concerns, the better chance we’ll have to keep our children safe and protected.” says Mrs Tolley.

The number of people on benefits is also declining.

Could there be a link between that and the decline in child abuse?
While New Zealand's child abuse statistics are still far too high, we're making significant progress in preventing abuse and neglect.<br /><br />
ntnl.org.nz/1zxtVU7

 


The People’s Report

June 17, 2014

The People’s Report – the result of the inquiry into violence funded by Owen Glenn – which was released yesterday claims a “dysfunctional” court system, “broken” social services and a binge-drinking culture form major barriers to protecting children and stopping family violence.

Its’ recommendations include:

  • Fragmented services brought to a single point of access;
  • A code of rights and an independent forum where victims and survivors can be heard and air their grievances;
  • Recognition child abuse and domestic violence happens in all parts of society and is often considered normal;
  • Address poverty and social differences and require agencies to collaborate;
  • Recognise professionals, frontline workers and legal professionals need better training.
There might be merit in the first two and the third is true – contrary to popular belief domestic violence and child abuse aren’t restricted to the poor and uneducated.
That spoils the imperative for the fourth point – addressing poverty and social differences.
There are very good reasons for addressing the causes of poverty but if domestic violence happens in all parts of society relieving poverty won’t solve the problem.
Another recommendation is to remove the presumption of innocence so the burden of proof falls on the alleged perpetrator.
That is a perversion of one of the tenets on which our justice system is built – that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.
Another contributing factor mentioned is binge drinking.
There are lots of good reasons for tackling that too – but does alcohol fuel violence or do violent people drink more?
I’ve seen lots of drunks who aren’t violent people sober and none have become violent when drunk.
Domestic violence and child abuse are dark stains on our society.
The causes are complex and solutions must be based on more than anecdotes.

The full report is here.


Poverty doesn’t cause abuse

August 15, 2013

The first topic of discussion on Afternoon’s Panel on Tuesday was Paula Bennett’s proposals for countering the scourge of child abuse.

One of the panelists, Gary McCormick, asserted that the root cause of the problem was poverty (starting at about 9:01).

Host Jim Mora said there was disagreement about the extent to which poverty is related to child abuse.

McCormick disagreed.

Guest Anthea Simcock from Child Matters then came on (about 12 minutes) and said while poverty was related to the issues it was not the primary cause and child abuse wouldn’t be fixed by fixing poverty alone.

McCormick came back in (13:56) and told her she was wrong and poverty was the cause of the problems.

She countered that by saying it was a co-existing factor but not a causal one.

He came back and eventually said he refused to believe what she was saying.

This is a prime example of someone not letting the facts getting in the way of their convictions and he’s not the only one.

Lindsay Mitchell blogs:

John Minto says that Labour needs “a kick up the backside” for not pushing the message that poverty is the “key factor” behind child abuse.

He says there are NEVER any excuses for child abuse but there are REASONS behind it.

Unfortunately reasons becomes excuses very easily.

Can I take you back to just a couple of things that people like John Minto ignore.

Child abuse rates are not high amongst all groups with high poverty rates. In fact they are lower amongst poor Asians.

Household incomes of Maori and Pacific families are growing faster than the median, yet the rate of Maori child abuse is not declining. . .

Poverty is a problem but a lot of very poor people love and care for their children and some who aren’t poor abuse them.

The problems of poverty and child abuse both need to be addressed but it is wrong to assert that solving the former will solve the latter.


Putting children first

August 14, 2013

The 50 plus children who have died as a result of abuse in the last years provide more than 50 strong reasons for action to keep vulnerable children safe.

Here’s another one:

Police, Justice & the Ministries of Health, Education & Social Development will have new, legislated responsibilities to stop this from happening. http://bit.ly/14FCfjP

Something has to change and Social Development Minister Paula Bennett  is introducing legislation which  with sweeping changes to protect vulnerable children and help them thrive.

She describes the work in the plan as the most important work she will ever do as a Minister:

We are fundamentally changing the way we work with children and how we protect the most vulnerable.

I feel a deep sense of responsibility for the thousands of children who are hurt and abused in this country.

More than fifty children have died in the last five years because of extreme abuse.

Because of abuse, a child under two is hospitalised every five days.

Every year Child, Youth and Family substantiates 22,000 cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. . .

These are horrific figures and an indictment on the people who commit the crime and a system which doesn’t do enough to protect the children.

This legislation contains major and far reaching changes and also strengthens our commitment to children whose lives have already been damaged.

It will allow government to do everything possible to shore up frontline protections.

The Chief Executives of five government agencies will be accountable for vulnerable children.

There will be clear performance expectations for Chief Executives; they’ll have to report annually and answer to Ministers directly on their part, in a cross agency plan for these kids.

Do not underestimate the power of this unprecedented move.

Never before in this country have the Chief Executives of Health, Education, Police, and Justice had specific accountability together, for vulnerable children.

Now they will, alongside the Ministry of Social Development of course.

It will significantly change the way they work.

They’ll have to ensure they’re improving the wellbeing of vulnerable children, protecting them from abuse and taking a child-centred approach.

Together they’ll design a cross agency plan for vulnerable children which they’ll have to report on annually and front up to Ministers on the progress they make.

These five agencies as well as, Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, are all represented on the Vulnerable Children’s Board.

The Vulnerable Children’s Board is an important part in the accountability chain leading from the Children’s Teams working on the ground up to a Ministerial Oversight Group.

But I see a whole Children’s Workforce as having some level of responsibility.

That is every person who comes into contact with or works closely with children. . .

New restrictions will apply to people with serious convictions.

I’m talking about murder, manslaughter, sexual violation, assault on a child and sexual conduct with young people.

It’s critically important we get this list right – I’m asking the select committee to explore this and for the public to have a say.

But we simply have to protect our vulnerable children from these serious offenders.

There will be serious consequences – I’m proposing heavy fines – if organisations fail to comply with these restrictions.

On top of this measure, we’re introducing minimum standards for screening and vetting of the children’s workforce. . .

Other measures include Child Harm Prevention Orders:

There are cases where children have been abused because a dangerous individual got close enough to do so, sometimes literally by moving into their home.

I will not tolerate abusive adults having that freedom and that power over children. . .

Simply, children must come first.

A High Court or District court will be able to place these new civil orders on adults with a history of serious convictions who pose a high risk of abusing children.

This could also include cases where, on the balance of probabilities, it’s believed the person was responsible for seriously abusing or killing a child.

Harassment orders are decided on this basis, so it is not legally unusual.

They could be placed on top of restraining and harassment orders. . .

Changes will protect children born to parents who’ve previously abused or killed a child.

Currently, it’s only when those abusive parents have a subsequent child and come to the attention of Child, Youth and Family that the child’s safety is assessed.

If Child, Youth and Family believe the child is unsafe, it has to prove that to the Court.

We will reverse that burden of proof.

The parent will have to prove, that their child is safe in their care. . .

This legislation makes it possible to curtail the guardianship rights of parents whose children were taken into care and placed into a Home For Life.

We introduced Home for Life in 2010.

If a child can’t be with their parents, we aim to find them a permanent Home for Life.

We know permanency is vital– and a Home for Life family can provide the love and stability that child desperately needs.

It is a step below adoption, so birth parents retain a number of rights to maintain a connection to the child.

This is as it should be – we should always endeavour to foster those family ties.

Unfortunately, some birth parents exploit those rights and create instability and emotional turmoil for the caregiving families and children.

This happens when parents veto overseas holidays – so a week-long trip to Australia, which might be the first holiday that child has ever had, can be sabotaged.

It happens with vexatious attempts to drag out court cases, some of which can be played out over many years – leaving the child in a constant state of unease over their future.

It also happens with weekend visits from particularly aggressive or manipulative parents who seek to undermine the new family home.

These are examples of how birth parents can pull the rug out from under those children who desperately need stability.

Right now, we have only either very light or very heavy handed options to address this.

Under this new legislation, Family Court Judges will have a new tool.

It’ll mean Judges can set specific guardianship rights that are proportionate to that individual child and their new family. . .

This is a very tough stance but one which has the support of the Children’s Commissioner:

The Children’s Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, says the announcement of legislative changes to protect vulnerable children reflects an important shift in the balance between respecting a parent’s rights and ensuring a child’s right to be safe.

“Minister Bennett’s announcement reflects an elevation of the rights and needs of children, and signals a very welcome change in social norms in New Zealand by clearly focusing on the behaviour of adults to help keep children safe.

“I’m sure there will be strong interest in initiatives such as the introduction of Child Harm Prevention Orders and some may say they go too far. Many more New Zealanders will welcome the protection they offer to our most vulnerable children.

“The orders, and other changes such as requiring some parents to prove they are safe to parent, will give those working with these children additional tools to help keep them safe.

“The changes around guardianship will create more stable care by stopping parents putting unreasonable limits on a child and their Home for Life carer, for example by refusing to let the child go on holiday or school camp, or be immunised.

“Joint accountability for a cross agency plan will give extra weight to the needs of vulnerable children. As a paediatrician, I have experienced challenges around getting access for children to services such as education or behavioural support. Those of us working with vulnerable children will now be able to count on the support of all agencies to deliver an effective response for them.

“I would encourage the Minister to consider whether independent oversight or evaluation of the implement of the plan and the outcomes it delivers would strengthen it further.

“While there is still work to be done to develop the details around some initiatives, the Minister’s announcement provides a sensible and welcome package of measures to enhance the wellbeing of our most vulnerable children.”

Every Child Counts has welcomed the moves:

. . . “The announcements made today demonstrate a strong government commitment to ensuring the right systems are in place to help protect children from abuse,” says Every Child Counts manager Deborah Morris-Travers.

“We welcome the leadership that will be required of State agencies and the requirement for them to have child protection policies in place. Leadership is central to building a society and culture that protects children and policies that ensure appropriate screening of people working with children are fundamental.

“The proposed Child Harm Prevention Orders, designed to constrain the movements of anyone who poses a risk to children, signal clearly that involvement in the lives of children is a privilege and our nation will not tolerate child abuse. However, we are mindful that this proposal is yet to be assessed for Bill of Rights implications and it is likely there will need to be a high standard of evidence before such orders can be imposed.

“Any effort to protect children from abuse and neglect has to be welcomed. These systemic changes are all important steps in the effort to create a society that values and nurtures its children. We welcome today’s announcements and encourage the government to continue working to improve life for every child in Aotearoa NZ,” says Every Child Counts manager, Deborah Morris-Travers.

Barnardos has welcomed the announcement too:

. . . “We believe these are positive steps that demonstrate a strong commitment by government towards ensuring the right of all children in Aotearoa/New Zealand to be safe from abuse,” says Barnardos Chief Executive Jeff Sanders.

“Continued implementation of the Children’s Action Plan through these legislative changes gives a clear signal that child abuse is not acceptable and will not be tolerated in our communities.” . . .

Governments have no place in most families, the ones where children are safe and well cared for and where their parents or caregivers are willing and able to look after them in the way every child deserves.

But we have too many children where loving care isn’t normal and the rights of these children to protection trump the rights of adults who are a danger to them.
Photo: Too many of our most vulnerable children are abused or neglected. This has to stop, and National is taking action.


Child abuse worsens

June 18, 2013

New Zealand has a very sorry record on child abuse and it’s getting worse:

Damning new figures released to ONE News reveal efforts to curb child abuse are failing.

Rates of child abuse have risen by 32% in the last five years, with instances happening to children who are already in the care of the state. . .

A doctor told me he thought the anti-smacking law was part of the problem.

People who didn’t have any other tools in their parenting tool kit got to the end of their tethers and snapped.

That isn’t an argument for smacking but it does show that legislation which has good intentions can have perverse consequences.


Do we need another inquiry?

July 18, 2012

Owen Glenn’s $80m donation to fight family violence and child abuse is an extremely generous one.

Otara in South Auckland, one of the country’s poorest urban centres, is to be used as the “pilot” community in the implementation of a series of programmes, and will immediately receive $8m from the Glenn Family Foundation.

The rest of the $80m pledged by Mr Glenn is to be doled to various organisations nationwide over coming years.

Mr Glenn has also offered to fund a Royal Commission.

His generosity is unquestioned and is a wonderful example to others with the means to help others.

But do we need another inquiry?

The causes of violence and abuse are well known, any spare money should be spent on addressing them rather than yet more talking about them.


Don’t give up on the children Kerre

May 8, 2011

Friends had a celebration for several milestones at Easter – they are both turning 60 this year and his father will be 90.

All his parents’ descendents were there- children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. A few close friends had the pleasure and privilege of joining them for a barbeque on the Sunday evening.

Next day our great niece and great nephew (aged 9 and 10 months respectively) came to have lunch with us. They brought their parents, grandparents and an aunt.

On both occasions I looked at the children, recognised the love and support which surrounded them and wondered how it could be any other way.

Just a few days later news broke of yet another baby killed as a result of  “non-accidental” injuries. That’s what you and I would call deliberate abuse and it’s something with which New Zealand is sadly all to familiar.

Kerre Woodham blames the mothers:

. . .  let’s turn the spotlight on those mothers who are abject failures. All those mothers who haven’t got a clue who their children’s sperm donors were. All those mothers who have children because they get paid to – and, let’s face it, they wouldn’t get paid to do anything else. Those mothers who stay with men who hurt them and their kids because they’re so pathetic and useless that any shag – even when it comes with a biff – is better than being alone.

This Mother’s Day, I would plead that every mother who has had a child that they don’t care about or can’t cope with gets the help that they need.

If they can’t cope with the children, ring family – or ring the Cyfs helpline if they can’t trust their families.

If they’re in an abusive relationship where they’re being harmed and their children are being indelibly scarred, again, seek the help of family and friends or seek the help of the multitude of agencies that are there for you.

I appreciate that breaking the cycle is difficult if you’ve always been the victim, but come to terms with what being a mother is. My definition, and that of all the mothers I know, is to love your babies and keep them safe. And yet so many women in this country fail at the job of being a mother.

It’s not that simple.

A friend met a young, unmarried mother through sport. She’d grown up in a violent home and deliberately got pregnant when she was 16 so she could get away from home.

What does it say about her home and her life that education and work didn’t appear to be options that would give her independence; and that pregnancy and bringing up a child on a benefit were the only way she could see to have a better life?

If “normal” isn’t the love, support and encouragement of extended family; if your sense of self-worth is so low that violence and abuse are better than life alone; if your experience and personal resources are so limited you can’t see any opportunities for change and improvement you simply don’t know there is a better way for yourself and your children.

Kerre’s had enough:

When you look at the hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent by desperate women going through IVF procedures to become mothers, and the millions of dollars being spent by the taxpayer because dumb, stupid, needy, dysfunctional slappers are failing at being mothers, surely even Christians must wonder if there’s a god.

I’ve been writing columns and banging on on talkback for more than 13 years about this and I am so, so sick of railing against the abomination that is child abuse in this country.

So this will be my last column on the subject. What I do is utterly futile. . .

No it’s not. Words aren’t enough but they are something.

Radio is a powerful medium.  Who knows who might be listening, a mother or child, someone in the wider family, a neighbour, someone, anyone who knows something untoward is going on and who might then be prompted to seek help.

As  Lindsay Mitchell says:

 Fight back and keep fighting. Not for a return to the past but for a new approach. Women today have so much more opportunity. They don’t need these state crutches which if anything turn them into victims rather than empowered beings.

Take a breather and wait for the energy to return. It will.

Edmund Burke said all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

Child abuse is evil. Talking about it, by itself, won’t stop it. But if we don’t talk about it, keep saying it isn’t normal and condemn it we will be admitting defeat.

If  people who know what’s wrong give up, we’ll be abandoning children to those who don’t know what’s right.

UPDATE: Dim Post suggests:

She could educate herself on the numerous policy solutions to the problem of child abuse and advocate for them. I’ve written before about how identifying at-risk children and funding home nurse visitations has a huge impact on child abuse rates, in addition to other negative outcomes. If someone who had, say, a weekly column in a major newspaper wrote about projects like that they might effect some real change.


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