Child agencies tread carefully

Norm Hewitt.
Photo / Supplied
Norm Hewitt. Photo / Supplied

Child experts have reacted cautiously to the recommendations of a ministerial inquiry into better preventing child abuse following the torture of a 9-year-old girl by her mother.

The 31-year-old woman was this week sentenced to 7 years' jail for horrific assaults on her daughter, including attacks with a machete and a hammer - leading to recommendations for reform in the child welfare sector.

The child was handed back to the mother by Child, Youth and Family and was abused despite the involvement of 25 agencies in her development.

The ministerial report recommended greater co-operation between agencies, mandatory reporting of abuse and more social workers in schools.

John McCarthy, general manager of the Lifewise foster care provider, said collaboration between agencies was the key.

"I would go as far as to say that the Government should not fund agencies that cannot demonstrate collaboration when working on these issues," Mr McCarthy said.

"Collaboration is critical to stop violence against children and in families."

Liz Kinley, the chief executive of the Jigsaw child welfare charity, told Radio New Zealand the report would fail to produce dramatic changes.

Former Commissioner for Children Dr Ian Hassall said it did not offer any new ideas.

It had taken years for New Zealand to outlaw assaulting children, and the Government was focused on welfare dependency rather than on whether the help given was adequate to raise children, he told Radio New Zealand.

The present Children's Commissioner, Dr Russell Wills, spoke of gaps in the training of professionals dealing with vulnerable children.

"We should be angry about cases like this. We should be disappointed. But there are things we can do to reduce the chances of a case like this in the future. There are no guarantees but there are things we can do as a society to better protect our children."

Child, Youth and Family head Bernadine MacKenzie also acknowledged failures in the agency's care.

Norm Hewitt, the former All Black turned children's champion, said the failure to protect vulnerable children was the whole country's responsibility.

"It's too easy for a community to say child abuse is the fault of someone else - of Child, Youth and Family, or of health professionals who should have spotted the abuse. Helping vulnerable children is up to all of us.

"There are only 1000 social workers and 11,000 or so health professionals, but as a nation we are close to three million adults. That's three million pairs of eyes and ears that will see and hear what's going on, and three million pairs of hands that could help."

Hewitt encouraged submissions on the Government's green paper on vulnerable children, for which input is sought by February 28.

"You don't need to have all the answers; all you need is an opinion. We don't just want to hear from adults - children's ideas are welcome too. After all, they are the ones who live with the decisions we adults make."

- NZ Herald

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