Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Abuse rate 10 times higher in welfare families: study

Researcher singles out stress arising from chronic money shortage as a major factor

Paula Bennett's office says the abuse assessment tool could potentially be used to look at risk factors for every child, not just those whose family are on welfare. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Paula Bennett's office says the abuse assessment tool could potentially be used to look at risk factors for every child, not just those whose family are on welfare. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Five out of every six children who are abused or neglected in their first five years are in families on welfare, new research has found.

The research, conducted by the University of Auckland for the white paper on vulnerable children, found that 13 per cent of children in families that went on welfare in the child's first two years were abused or neglected before they turned 5, almost 10 times the rate for children whose parents were never on welfare (1.4 per cent).

That meant 83 per cent of New Zealand children who were abused or neglected in their first five years lived in families that were on welfare in the child's first two years.

The finding was based on matching Child, Youth and Family Services data on substantiated cases of abuse or neglect with Work and Income data on children born between 2003 and 2006 who were included in the main benefits of their caregivers.

One of the authors, social work lecturer Dr Irene de Haan, said: "The problem is the cumulative stress that arises from people being chronically short of money. I am concerned that the children live in families with chronic financial stress, lack of food, lack of money, constant moving around."

The researchers developed a "risk assessment tool" to predict whether a child was at risk of maltreatment based on 132 indicators in the CYFS and Work and Income data such as the children's past maltreatment, their parents' own maltreatment in their childhoods, single versus two-parent families, birth intervals between children and the parents' ages and educational qualifications.

Another author, economist Dr Claire Dale, said: "The theory is that we can take action before any harm comes to the child."

But the research came under political fire last night when Green MP Metiria Turei challenged Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to say whether the tool would be applied only to families on welfare.

"It justifies a very punitive approach to a very narrow number of people that she has already decided she wants to target," Ms Turei said.

A spokeswoman for Ms Bennett said: "Eventually they will be able to use the predictive model to look at risk factors for every child - not necessarily delving into the lives of every child, but they could potentially look at the risk factors around them."

- NZ Herald

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