An ex-crime reporter once told me that police had told her that in any given community, there will be a handful of families that cause the majority of trouble - and cost to the taxpayer.
Just this weekend, reading the Herald on Sunday, proved just how true this observation is. Consider the case of Maine Annabella Ngati and her partner Teusila Fa'aisila, who managed to have a child while in prison for the manslaughter of their three-year-old son, who they beat with a variety of instruments including a bat, and whose blood was found throughout their house, including on the ceiling.
Ngati is in line for counseling on Corrections' dime, and her large brood of children is in care, being monitored by the state. There is nothing to stop this woman having more children.
There was also the case of Katrina Rose Briggs, who is accused of defrauding the IRD to the tune of $1.16 million with a group of others. She is also the mother of a child murdered 11 years ago by her partner Landles Ropiha, who threw her 11 month old against a hard surface, smashing his skull.
Then there is Jamie Ginns, a man with a very long criminal record and well known to Tokoroa police and surrounds, who shot himself and his partner - Matakapua Glassie, herself a member of family now infamous in the annals of crime - leaving her critically injured.
That doesn't mean that every case of child abuse involves families that have gone off the rails. One story in the paper concerns the death of Terepo Taura-Griffiths. The full, sickening facts of this case are yet to come to light. But let us hope they were not as ominous - for what it is worth - as the lead up to the death of two-year-old James Joseph Ruhe Lawrence - a boy who CFYS were onto in some way - but who had one his internal organs split in half in November, before they could get to him.
Where social services, the police and many others are involved with a family, it doesn't seem to prevent a big tragedy occurring - even when the family is known to be a wellspring of trouble. And it's not a problem unique to New Zealand. In Britain, according to the Daily Mail, research has shown that across that country, there are 120,000 families costing the taxpayer 9 billion pounds each year in child care, social support, and tackling the crime these family members take part in.
British police have unofficially calculated that it would cost less to have a police officer stationed in each of the 120,000 family homes than forking out for subsequent state intervention. At the moment, well over half the young men from these families end up in the clink themselves, at a huge cost to victims, society and the families themselves.
British PM David Cameron, who has recently enraged all of Europe by refusing to sign a pact to save the Euro, is expected to reveal new sanctions against these 'unruly' families soon - including cutting benefits to those that persistently fail to send their children to school.
The PM has also promised better information sharing between agencies as a way of simplifying how these families are dealt with by the state. As a Tory Government voted in to counteract years of Labour rule, it will be interesting to see just how popular these measures are with the general public.
Will anything similar happen here? Cameron's doppelganger Key, voted in again and now with an even stronger mandate to fulfil a centre-right wishlist, might be looking for ideas on how to get tough on crime.
An interesting first point of departure might be to investigate whether in fact we really do have the kinds of 'unruly' families that bleed our agencies dry - and then if we do, whether we can be a little bit more proactive as a community about preventing major calamities long - perhaps even generations - before they happen.
- HERALD ONLINE