Bravo to Wallace Bain, the Rotorua coroner who has had the unenviable task of reviewing all the evidence of poor little Nia Glassie's last tragic days and years.
Armed with details to sick for most people to even get their heads around, and safe in the knowledge that this kind of abuse happens every day, all day, in this country to large numbers of children, Dr Bain has made some bold comments about the types of parents that should have the full weight of state observation at their backs.
Unfortunately it has come to this. Set against a background of inter-generational violence, abuse and poor parenting, we are never going to have the luxury of time in untangling the knots these families are tied up into. We have some great initiatives; some punch-packing ad campaigns and services dedicated to stamping out family violence, but it is simply not enough for the hundreds of families who live below and outside the radar.
Of course, we do have an agency that in theory has an arm into every home of a young child in the country - Plunket. But their nurses don't have computers, or much in the way of support staff, or anything much in the way of additional resource at all. Then they have a Ministry of Health contract full of PC mumbo-jumbo to adhere to, and enough paperwork to sink a battleship. They are an impoverished, weakened organisation that regularly has to beg for money from the public, and it's a disgrace.
So, it's hard to see where the Government would find money to provide additional oversight of "at-risk" families (i.e. families where known thugs reside and have easy access to children) but in order to do justice to what Dr Bain is recommending, the money would have to be found.
Dr Bain found the five risk factors for children were the following:
- a single parent family
- a single parent who had previously come to the attention of CYF in respect of another child
- had a single parent who was working full-time and placing their child in the care of others
- had a single parent who received the domestic purposes benefit
- household where there was domestic or child violence issues
He advises the registering, monitoring and frequent visiting - of both the scheduled and unscheduled type - to children fitting these categories.
That shouldn't of course mean that simply receiving a benefit and running a household with children by yourself, in and of itself, would open you up to state supervision. But adding these factors in with the others, and knowing from countless examples that it adds up to trouble, is a no-brainer. Parents, whether single or together, who had previously come to the attention of CFY in respect of another child should not have many more chances to get it wrong. Any domestic or child violence issues are obvious red flags that require the full force of state intervention.
Dr Bain's comments point to one thing: that when the state is paying a family, it is mainly in the service of ensuring children have what they need to develop properly without being overly handicapped by their parents poverty/ lack of opportunity / lack of education/ other issues. The state's main duty, I would argue, is to the child. It should be throwing its full weight behind protecting him or her, without excuses and without apology.
One day sense might prevail, and contraceptive use, both of the voluntary and heavily incentivised sort, be on offer to prevent any child experiencing the tragic life arc of Nia Glassie. In the meantime, the little girl's horrible story provides - at the least - a starting point for some pointed discussion, and hopefully much more.