Known child abuse and neglect has fallen in Tauranga over the past four years, but the government's chief social worker says it's too early to draw any conclusions about a decline.

Child, Youth and Family recorded 700 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect in the June 2016 year, following annual falls for the last four years and a 16 per cent drop from the 838 cases in 2013.

CYFs also took further action in 20 per cent less cases of concern than in 2013, and received 11 per cent less notifications of possible abuse.

The figures included emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as cases of neglect.


However, CYFs chief social worker Paul Nixon said it was difficult to definitively say abuse had fallen.

"I don't think we know yet... We have to watch the trends over time... I think it's just too early to reach any conclusions about that.

"Child, Youth and Family's focus is not on whether particular numbers go up or down; it is on whether we are making the right decisions when we get notifications."

Bay support trust Te Tuinga Whanau social services manager Piki Russell said child harm was a recurring, cyclical form of abuse.

"A lot of the families that we deal with come from backgrounds of child abuse or violence in the home, so it's normal. It's a normal behaviour, and it gets passed down," Ms Russell said.

Ms Russell said the key driver of child abuse was a lack of parental education to break the generational cycle of abuse being passed down.

"Then you've got the addictions as well. We do have a lot of parents using P."

CYFs recorded 1992 cases of abuse in the wider Bay of Plenty in the 12 months to June - almost 40 a week. This figure has dropped from more than 3000 three years earlier.

The Government said family violence figures were likely five times higher than reported.

Justice Minister Amy Adams and Social Development Minister Anne Tolley recently announced "sweeping reforms" to combat the "horrific" rates of family violence and abuse in New Zealand.

"Young people exposed to family violence... are four times more likely to commit sexual violence against a partner... three times more likely to attempt suicide, and 57 per cent leave school without a qualification," Minister Adams said.

Cabinet papers accompanying the announcement admit previous efforts to stem the issue failed, and the changes have been "piecemeal, reactive and lacking coordination."

Amanda Meynell, national manager of a child abuse prevention charity Child Matters, said while there were many dedicated efforts to reduce abuse, it's difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from the data due to the unknown extent of unreported cases.

Young people exposed to family violence... are four times more likely to commit sexual violence against a partner... three times more likely to attempt suicide, and 57 per cent leave school without a qualification.


"It's really hard to pinpoint why there's a reduction in the statistics, and whether actually that's a true representation of what is happening in society for children," Ms Meynell said.

The Government said 80 per cent of family violence incidents were unreported.

Ms Meynell said most children don't disclose child abuse, and many reports hinge on other adults picking up on sometimes subtle cues or changes in behaviour.

Ms Neynell said a collaborative approach across a number of government agencies, non-governmental organisations, sectors and community groups was needed to tackle child abuse.

Nationally, CYFs found 16,394 cases of substantiated child abuse or neglect in the June 2016 year - 45 each day. Around 8500 cases were emotional abuse, 3600 cases of neglect, 3100 cases of physical abuse and 1200 cases of sexual abuse.

The total figure dropped each year since the 22,984 cases in 2013.

"While we're talking about the tip of the iceberg, actually that's 16,000 children who have suffered at the hands of people who are supposed to love and care for them."