Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

'Bold' child worker law changes receive unanimous backing

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett admitAs the changes will be controversial. File photo / APN
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett admitAs the changes will be controversial. File photo / APN

A major law change which will introduce compulsory security screening of up to 376,000 people working with children has been unanimously backed in Parliament at the first hurdle.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett welcomed the cross-party support for the Vulnerable Children Bill, saying she had tried to keep politics out of the wide-ranging child protection measures.

She told Parliament that the law changes were designed to address New Zealand's "horrific" record of child abuse.

"These changes are bold and, by their nature, controversial," she said.

The legislation would mean that all staff working with children in schools, government agencies, and organisations that get government funding would have security screenings every three years.

Mrs Bennett: "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.

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

The bill would also give new legislated responsibilities for vulnerable children to five government departments - police, justice, education, health and social development.

Labour Party social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said Labour generally supported measures that were proven to protect children.

She hoped that the bill would be broadened to take into account all factors in abuse such as child poverty.

Ms Ardern also expressed concern about proposed Child Harm Protection Orders. Courts could issue the orders to prevent a person from associating with children for up to 10 years, even if they had not been convicted of a crime.

"We will be seeking evidence at the select committee that that is what these orders will do, particularly because this is such a significant change and because of the threshold around the burden required to impose a significant order."

The bill will create two new acts - the Vulnerable Children Act and the Child Harm Prevention Orders Act.

It has been sent to a select committee, which was expected to report back in March next year.

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