Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Waikato Hospital reports increase in child abuse cases

A growing number of mistreated and abused children are being admitted to Waikato Hospital. Photo / Thinkstock
A growing number of mistreated and abused children are being admitted to Waikato Hospital. Photo / Thinkstock

A growing number of mistreated and abused children are being admitted to Waikato Hospital, and hospital staff are treating a worrying number of head injuries.

Waikato Hospital treated 60 children for assaults in the past three years. Those most susceptible to assaults were babies less than one year old or older children aged 10 to 14.

The number of children tagged with assault codes grew in the year to June - 25 children were mistreated, compared to 19 in the same period in 2011 and 16 in 2010.

More than half of children's injuries treated by the Waikato DHB since 2009/10 were head injuries; 12 children were treated for them in the year to June.

The injury figures were obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act

Waikato DHB child protection team nurse co-ordinator Gaye Andrews said the abuse figures could be skewed if staff hadn't notified the child protection team.

She said head injuries to babies from being shaken - usually in the first year of a child's life - were a common phenomenon.

Ms Andrews also worked in the hospital's clinic, which saw about 60 children a year who had been badly neglected, severely physically abused or were there for sexual abuse examinations.

"My take on it is thank God someone has found them [early] enough to send them or worry about them ... We know that every five weeks one child in New Zealand is murdered by someone that loves them - that's a pretty grim statistic."

All cases of suspected/definite child abuse identified by Waikato DHB staff are referred to Child Youth and Family and/or the police.

Child Matters chief executive Anthea Simcock said head injuries were quite common, particularly in the younger, more vulnerable age group, and also among older children.

"One is one too many for a child, so absolutely we need to be doing a lot more to reduce that," Mrs Simcock said.

"We need to be getting involved really early to identify which children are at risk."

Although the rising figures were alarming, Mrs Simcock said they could result from increased focus on diagnosing assaults during the same three-year period.

This meant that staff were "seeing what was not seen before and that those children as a result will be protected rather than being sent home to be possibly re-abused."

- NZ Herald

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