Child abuse paper 'falls short'

By Teuila Fuatai, Tessa Johnstone tessa.johnstone@age.co.nz


Local child advocates say initiatives in the White Paper for Vulnerable Children do not go far enough to protect all children.

A database designed to identify the country's most vulnerable children and families is one of the key initiatives announced in the Government's white paper, published yesterday.

Community organisations, teachers, doctors and Child, Youth and Family workers will have access to the database, which will register between 20,000 and 30,000 vulnerable individuals.

Plans to red-flag child abusers were included in the paper. Measures such as protection orders for potential abusers and alerts for high-risk adults who move into homes with children were outlined.

Violence Free Network Wairarapa co-ordinator Gerry Brooking said she could not speak on behalf of the network, but her personal opinion was that the paper did not go far enough.

She said the Government's commitment to reducing harm to children, raising awareness, reporting concerns and sharing information, would support what Wairarapa as a community was already doing well but she was disappointed the focus was purely on "at risk" kids.

Mrs Brooking said many of the at risk children were known to agencies already, but it was the ability of those agencies to act on information and protect children that needed to be addressed.

"Unfortunately, while there are some good initiatives to support families, such as for grandparents raising grandchildren, I feel that the Paper falls short of helping all of our vulnerable children and is yet to deliver on the Green Paper's promise of a society where 'every child thrives, belongs, achieves'."

Masterton Christian Childcare social worker Frances Dearnley said she supported many of the initiatives in the White Paper, but more could have been done around prevention.

"Child poverty is not addressed, and that's one of the issues that creates a huge stress which can lead to violence."

She said supporting families to manage some of the financial pressures they face, and working pro-actively with beneficiaries would be a good start.

She said the database would work well if it allowed different agencies to work together more.

Users will be able to view a child's case and compare their own notes to those of other professionals working with that child.

The database is part of a raft of legal reforms planned to tackle child cruelty over the next five years. It was developed by the University of Auckland, which assessed 52,000 children over a five-year period whose parent or parents were on a benefit.

However, the initiatives stopped short of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases.

Wairarapa DHB Associate Charge Midwife Manager Women & Children Tess Geard said the DHB already has high rates of reporting and coordinated policies which come into effect when child abuse is suspected.

She said they worked closed with Child, Youth and Family, and had a coordinator who pulled together all the social, health, and education information relating to the child and different professionals agreed on a plan.

"By working together, we are able to build a complete picture of the child's needs, and make sure they get access to the right services."


White Paper plan


Database of 30,000 vulnerable children and families. Available to teachers, social workers and health workers.

Child Abusers: protection orders preventing them from accessing children. Alerts across agencies if potential abusers move into a home with a child.

Local Children's Teams which can award contracts for services targeting children.

Extra training for people working with children to assist in identifying vulnerable children.

Legislation formalising screening process of people who work with children.

Register of pre-approved Iwi caregivers who can take in children of the same tribe removed from their homes.

Added financial assistance for grandparents raising mokopuna and other next-of-kin carers.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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