Editorial: How can adults fail children so badly?

By Scott Inglis

Monday's front-page lead story left me feeling sick.

How can so many people in our community abuse or neglect children? How can they hurt our most vulnerable people by assaulting, terrorising or not feeding them?

I cannot understand how adults can fail so badly at being parents or caregivers that social workers have to get involved or worse - their children end up in hospital and they end up in court.

But this, sadly, is the reality.

Figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act reveal a shocking truth about the Western Bay.

The number of suspected child abuse cases reported by Western Bay health providers has more than doubled in the past three years. The number of Reports of Concern made to Child, Youth and Family by the health sector rose from 214 cases in 2009/10 to 356 in 2010/11 and 455 in 2011/12.

About 10 children are admitted to hospital each year for abuse-related injuries or neglect. Most were infants or pre-schoolers.

Examples include malnutrition, untreated medical conditions, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and multiple fractures plus internal bleeding and organ damage. The worst-case scenario is children who can die.

In total, CYF received 3752 reports in 2010/11 of child abuse. In 2011/12 there were 5374, and so this year, to March 31, there have been 4091 notifications.

The good news is the Government is doing something about it.

It has given New Zealanders a say on how the country can do better for at-risk children and more than 9000 submissions have been made.

Now it is looking to deliver a practical plan that will include better identification of vulnerable children; support for them, and leadership and accountability. Full details, including how success will be measured, are on the Ministry of Social Development's website.

Adults who neglect children are a blight on our community, and as a community we all have a responsibility to look out for children and report anything that appears wrong.

Take the appalling case of Reuben Anthony Major, who repeatedly beat five children in his Katikati home, including kicking them with steel-capped boots and using a plastic pipe, in a two-year reign of terror.

We reported on this case last month and neighbours this paper spoke to say they had no idea of what was happening.

But surely someone must have known of the horror in that house.

Major is due to be sentenced at the end of the month. He should go to prison for a long time. This would not only be the appropriate punishment but may deter other would-be offenders.

The Government's move to tackle abuse is to be commended but it will need support from all decent New Zealanders and the courts to be successful.

I hope it works.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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