Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Child abuse policies 'inadequately informed' - report

File photo, posed by model.
File photo, posed by model.

New research into child abuse suggests current social policies aimed at reining in New Zealand's high rates of abuse are "inadequately informed''.

A Child Poverty Action Group report, which analysed abuse notifications received by Child Youth and Family between 2008 and 2012, found while higher rates of child abuse were associated with socio-economic deprivation, policies which focused specifically on income levels were unlikely to be the correct approach.

In particular, results from the report questioned the focus placed on benefit dependency and child abuse by the Government's White Paper on Vulnerable children.

The group's convenor and social security spokesman Associate Professor Mike O'Brien, from Auckland University's School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work, said policy makers needed to address broader issues of poverty and its relationship to demographics and access to decent employment, housing, health and other services.

''[Social Development Minister Paula Bennett] has made a great play about the link between people being on benefit's and child abuse.

"The critical question is...[one] simply of inadequacy of income and issues about poverty,'' he said.

The research was designed to show what areas could be better examined in tackling New Zealand's child abuse levels.

According to CYF's data cited in the research, nearly 20,000 substantiated notifications of abuse were received last year.

A substantiated notification is where the allegation of abuse has been investigated and one or more outcome has been identified. Outcomes include neglect, sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse.

Professor O'Brien said current policies targeting child abuse were "inadequately informed''

"The fundamental piece is to make sure that we get a comprehensive approach to thinking about issues of child abuse rather than doing what has often happened in recent times which is grabbing at one piece...which might be of interest.

"You finish up asking the wrong questions, if you ask the wrong questions, you always get the wrong answers,'' he said.

The research also showed higher rates of child abuse appeared to be linked with a younger population structure.

This was an area worth exploring, Professor O'Brien said.

The Green Party have also weighed in on the report, saying the Government needed to stop beneficiary bashing.

"Paula Bennett has just introduced punitive welfare policies which put beneficiary families in even more impoverished circumstances,'' Green party Children's spokeswoman Holly Walker said.

"If the minister wants to start turning around New Zealand's horrific child abuse rates she should start supporting families and implementing policies to life them out of poverty, not bury them deeper.''

Ms Bennett was unable to comment on the report as she had not received a copy.


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