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The SPCA will be on the lookout for child abuse when inspecting or taking animals from homes in a joint initiative with Child, Youth and Family.

And CYF social workers who spot neglected or abused animals when working with families will report them to the SPCA.

The agreement, a response to links between family violence and cruelty to animals, is thought to be the first in the world between a national child protection agency and a national animal welfare society.

The plan builds on research led by Utah's Professor Frank Ascione which found that 71 per cent of women with pets who entered women's refuges in the state said their partners had harmed or threatened to harm their animals in the previous year.

He told an Auckland conference in 2006 that both United States and Australian studies had found harm or threats to animals in only 5 per cent of the general population. But these rates rose to 30 per cent among criminals and 40 per cent among those guilty of the most violent crimes.

"That animal abuse is part of a web of factors that make up family violence is now generally accepted," said SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger.

"Our animal welfare officers, when inspecting or uplifting animals subject to cruelty, may be the first to see signs of abuse of children in the family. As an animal protection agency, we're really proud to be world leaders in also helping reduce child abuse."

Child and animal welfare agencies have been talking about joint protocols since getting together in a group called First Strike in 2002. The project aimed to raise awareness about the connection between animal cruelty and human violence.

Some SPCA inspectors have already been trained to recognise potential child abuse.

The SPCA is hoping for similar agreements with the police, Plunket, women's refuges and Age Concern's elder abuse and neglect service.

In Auckland and Wellington, the SPCA has already arranged to look after pets for women who go into refuges.

CYF deputy chief executive Ray Smith said preventing child abuse was the responsibility of the community.

"By working with the SPCA we're helping our children have the best chance of being free of abuse."

The agreement will be signed tomorrow at the CYF national office in Wellington.