Abusive mums may be tracked through life

By Claire Trevett

Nia Glassie. Photo / Supplied
Nia Glassie. Photo / Supplied

A panel of experts has recommended an alert system for all abusive mothers so officials know when they have more children.

The Experts Forum on Child Abuse report, due to be released today, said it was concerned that in some serious cases officials did not know when a further child was born into the same family.

It recommended cases remain open indefinitely so an automatic flag rose when a mother had another baby, to alert health professionals about the family history of abuse.

At present cases are closed when a child has died from child abuse or been removed by social services so the family were no longer being monitored.

The change would mean a mother was effectively tracked throughout her life and if she changed partners.

It could lead to a repeat of cases such as that of Chris Kahui, who was questioned by Child, Youth and Family staff at the bedside while his partner gave birth to a daughter last year.

Mr Kahui was acquitted in 2008 on charges of murdering his infant twin sons, Chris and Cru.

Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie's mother Lisa Kuka had previously had a child seized before Nia's birth after suffering non-accidental head injuries. But CYF did not monitor her subsequent children. It is unclear whether CYF knew about the birth of Nia, with whom it had no contact.

The forum was a group of eight working in child abuse, including Starship hospital's Dr Patrick Kelly, Children's Commissioner John Angus, Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier, Archdeacon Dr Hone Kaa, Paediatric Society president Rosemary Marks and university academics.

The report also recommends all agencies involved in child abuse - including police, health workers, Child Youth and Family, and schools - be required to share information about an individual child.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett, who convened the forum last November, said there was a case last year of a child who died in suspicious circumstances which was currently before the courts. CYF had removed two children from the same couple previously but had not known of the third.

"I found it pretty incredible when I became minister that we didn't know about subsequent children, and that was because cases were closed."

Dr Kelly acknowledged the proposals could raise civil liberty concerns. He said the intent was not to permanently taint a mother, but it would give health professionals all relevant information.

"Just because we are aware of that past history doesn't always condemn her to having all the [her] children removed. But it is a safety issue. I don't think that's any different from someone's past driving record being relevant to a job which requires driving."

He also called for greater sharing of information, saying the balance at the moment was geared toward protecting adults' privacy.

Children's Commissioner John Angus said a formal register or database of parents would be fraught with problems.

"But there is sense in recognising child maltreatment isn't about one particular child. If there is another child later, there should be some way of seeing what the risks are for that child."

The forum was part of a wider review Ms Bennett is undertaking following findings that 1800 children subjected to abuse or neglect in 2008 were abused again within six months.

The report recommended schools and hospitals be given a legal responsibility for child abuse and neglect similar to the United Kingdom.

The forum recommended an initial assessment of a family's ability to cope with parenting while still pregnant.

Once the child was born an intensive support service in which well-trained staff visited homes should be provided.

The Recommendations:

* Automatic "flag" to alert health workers when the mother of a child which has died or suffered abuse has another baby.

* Process to help prevent abuse, including assessment and advice before birth, followed by intensive support at home.

* Law change: more agencies, such as schools and hospitals, have a legal responsibility to protect children from abuse and neglect.

* All of those with involvement - including health workers, schools, police, and CYFs - share information on an individual child.

- NZ Herald

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