Why city has edge in beating abuse

By Anne-Marie Emerson

The Government's White Paper on Vulnerable Children is "sensible and logical" but will be a huge task to implement, according to Tim Metcalfe from Jigsaw Whanganui.

The White Paper was released yesterday at the national Jigsaw conference in Wellington, by Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett.

It contains about 30 items the Government is committed to, after a lengthy review of the law and processes relating to vulnerable children.

The proposals stop short of introducing mandatory reporting by health workers and teachers - but do impose legislative requirements for government agencies when dealing with suspected abuse.

They also introduce measures such as protection orders to keep potential abusers away from children, and the ability to strip parents of guardianship rights.

A database of about 30,000 "at risk" children is to be created and accessed by health, school and social workers, and a phone helpline will be set up to advise people who suspect a child is being abused.

Mr Metcalfe praised Ms Bennett's commitment to ending child abuse and said a huge amount of work had gone into the White Paper, and the Green Paper that preceded it.

But he said putting the proposals into action would be a very difficult task.

"It will require an incredibly large amount of work and resources for it to happen," Mr Metcalfe said.

"It is a huge plan. But we're talking long-term, as in the next 10 years."

Mr Metcalfe said it was important that agencies had the resources to carry out their work properly.

"It's all very well to have names on a database. But the only ones who can really change New Zealand's horrendous child abuse statistics are the families themselves, and agencies need the competence and capacity to help them do that."

Mr Metcalfe said smaller centres such as Wanganui had an advantage because it was easier to set up relationships between non-government organisations such as Jigsaw, Child Youth and Family, and other government agencies.

"The White Paper will help us build on the good stuff that is already happening in Wanganui."

Mr Metcalfe said he was particularly impressed by the proposal to set up a phone helpline.

"The helpline is an excellent idea. It will give people a chance to talk through what they're observing, and whether any further action needs to be taken."

He said his organisation, which in Wanganui alone has assisted 500 families, was committed to not allowing one child suffer serious harm.

But Mr Metcalfe said there were contributing factors to child abuse that also needed to be dealt with.

"We see huge divisions in our own community. There is a big gap between the rich and poor that is only getting bigger all the time.

"There are wider issues around equity in our society that need to be addressed with the same fervour as the child abuse itself."

Mr Metcalfe said about 100 senior staff from 47 Jigsaw branches throughout New Zealand were at the conference.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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