Linda Hall: Protecting our children is vital

By Linda Hall

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Linda Hall can't understand why someone would hurt a child. Photo / File
Linda Hall can't understand why someone would hurt a child. Photo / File

My daughter and her two children stayed with me for four short, loud and very busy nights last week.

They live in Australia and were in New Zealand for just six nights. It was fantastic, I loved every minute of it.

We watched the news one night about proposed changes to child abuse laws.

My daughter is a social worker so she had lots to say about this. She has seen some pretty terrible things in her time working here and in Australia.

She reminded me of the reason she decided she wanted to help abused children and it brought back memories of a terrible day more than 20 years ago.

We were living in Dannevirke and someone told me that a little boy had been killed by his father.

Surely not I thought. How could anybody parent or not hurt a child let alone kill them.

Rumours were rife. This had happened, that had happened.

But in the end the horrifying truth was that Craig Manukau's father went to a school disco, removed his son, took him home and kicked him to death while his mother turned up the radio to drown out the noise.

While my daughter wasn't friends with Craig she knew who he was and from that day on she knew what she wanted to do. Stop this happening to anyone else.

If only she could.

She has helped hundreds of families though and I'm very proud of her. I asked her if she could change the laws what would she do.

First, she said, people must understand that the first three years of a child's life are so important.

I got this bit of information from Google: "If a child is continually put down, not encouraged, or exposed to family violence their brain will be hardwired for these emotions and feelings. By the age of three the damage may be difficult to change."

Again, I can't imagine treating a child like this and I know that the vast majority of parents wouldn't dream of it either.

But for those children who are being abused in a place they should feel the safest (home) the law changes can't come soon enough.

My daughter thinks that all pregnant women who have history of children in care and or alcohol or drug addiction should be in a monitored facility with health professionals who can do their best to ensure the safety of the unborn child. She says we shouldn't just be focusing on preventing abuse of children after they are born. If the parent is not capable of caring for their unborn child what chance does the child have once it's born?

She has seen children hoarding food when they are in foster care. Even though there is food available for them whenever they want it they will still hoard it, sometimes until it goes off.

She says until the "pathways in their brain" change and they realise food is there for them whenever they want it they continue to hoard.

She has also seen children's behaviour change dramatically when carers have a glass of wine. Many abused children associate alcohol with violence and when they see that bottle of wine come out they expect the worst. They don't know that people can have a glass or two of wine then stop.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says that under the proposed new legislation parents who kill or seriously harm their children will need to prove they're fit to be parents again.

Well hallelujah. About time I say. Being a parent is a privilege not a right. You get one chance if you can't do it properly, your are out.

And by right I don't mean children should have the latest toys and the best clothes in the shop. I mean your child should have your unconditional love, they should feel home is the safest place to be. Ms Bennett also says all Government employees who work with children will also be screened and vetted and those with serious convictions will be permanently restricted from working closely with children,

Really? I thought this would already be law.

The Police and the Ministries of Justice, Health, Education and Social Development will all have new powers under the proposed changes. However, Maori Party co-leader Tatiana Turia doesn't agree with the proposed changes.

She thinks the state should be the last port of call when it comes to child abuse and that the changes must come from the families and communities.

I agree with this. Changes must come from the community and families but in the meantime we need to protect these vulnerable children and if that means tougher laws than I say bring it on.

Linda Hall is assistant editor at Hawke's Bay Today.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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