Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Abuse checks on all children 'too much' - Rankin

Nia Glassie died after months of abuse at home. Photo / Supplied
Nia Glassie died after months of abuse at home. Photo / Supplied

A coroner has called for compulsory state monitoring of all children until they are 5 - but his hard-line approach has been dismissed as "too much" by Families Commissioner Christine Rankin.

Dr Wallace Bain, of Rotorua, yesterday made several bold recommendations for the Government on tackling child abuse when he issued his findings into the death of local toddler Nia Glassie.

The 3-year-old died of a serious brain injury in 2007 after months of physical abuse at the hands of some of her extended family.

Dr Bain's proposals include checks on all children aged under 5, compulsory state intervention for single-parent families, mandatory reporting by schools of suspected abuse and, where necessary, compulsory sharing of case information that could breach the Privacy Act.

He said the state-funded Well Child service available for all children aged under 5 could be of "great assistance" to infants enrolled in it.

"The problem is that it is voluntary and the obvious outcome is the risk that the very children in need will be the children of parents who choose not [to] take up or continue to work with the Well Child service providers."

Dr Bain called for a return to the "good old days where every child was seen regularly by the Plunket nurse".

Ms Rankin supported most of Dr Bain's recommendations but said the "vast majority" of parents would not accept mandatory state monitoring.

"I can understand his frustration and I can understand his caring, but [checking on] every child in New Zealand would be too much. I think we would agree it's not best for all families to be monitored - we need to be on alert for children who are vulnerable."

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said many of Dr Bain's recommendations, including the mandatory monitoring of vulnerable children, mirrored ideas raised in the Government's green paper.

"As a country, we have to decide what we are prepared to give up to stop other children experiencing the abuse baby Nia did."

Labour social policy spokeswoman Annette King said compulsory monitoring was "over the top" and would be "widely rejected" by parents.

Instead, she favoured early intervention for specifically identified at-risk families.

Former Women's Refuge chief Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, who gave evidence at Nia's inquest, backed the idea.

"People look at monitoring as pointing the finger, blame, something's going wrong," she told the Herald.

"Monitoring should be seen as an opportunity to provide support and assistance.

In July 2007, Nia Glassie slipped into a coma after being kicked in the head by brothers Wiremu and Michael Curtis and was taken to Rotorua Hospital 36 hours later.

She died from her injuries in the Starship hospital 12 days later.

Dr Bain said the toddler died from "cerebral infarction against a background of extreme violence".

"I have never had to endure such horrendous evidence which led to the death of this little girl in horrific circumstances," he said.

"My earnest wish is that no one ever has to experience that again."

DR BAIN'S CALLS
* Compulsory monitoring for all children from birth to five years, with scheduled and unscheduled visits to homes.

* Compulsory state intervention wherever there has been domestic or child violence in households, and for children living in single-parent families, single parents who are receiving the DPB, known to CYF, or working full-time and placing their child in the care of others.

* "Significant" penalties for those who fail to report child abuse.

* An anonymous 0800 number for reporting child abuse.

* Compulsory information-sharing between Government agencies, health providers and others, with the Privacy Act over-ridden where necessary.

* Mandatory reporting by early childhood facilities and schools.

- NZ Herald

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