For as long as I have been alive we have lamented the dreadful hurt and death we inflict on our children. But nothing has changed.
We have had promotions, public relations campaigns and an incessant diet of exposure dished up by the media. We have had successive commissioners for children parading around talking about how appalling the latest case is or the latest set of statistics are, telling us we are amongst the world's most heinous abusers of children.
But nothing has changed.
Over the last two decades we have heard the same debates, proffering the same solutions to a problem we find so hard to face. Or cannot face. We hear the same people taking the same positions. It must be family/whanau that takes responsibility for the fact that we hurt and kill our children. They must step up to the plate and take responsibility. It is a community responsibility. Neighbours should take responsibility.
But nothing has changed.
In New Zealand there are some 20 confirmed cases of child abuse every day. Not to mention those not reported or confirmed. During the last five years over 50 children have been killed. Nineteen of these were under the age of one year. Many more have been hospitalised and traumatised by the institution they should trust the most - their family.
In some cases those doing the killing were protected by other adults who have been brought up to believe that somehow protecting those who abuse and kill children is worth more than the children themselves. What of the families and communities in these cases? Where were they? Someone always knows.
This is not, as some commentators would have you believe, solely a Maori issue. It is not a Pasifika issue. It is not a Pakeha issue. It is an issue for all of us as New Zealanders regardless of who we are, what our ethnic background is or where we are from. In all my years of professional experience I have never heard anyone from any ethnic background express anything other than revulsion at what can happen to our kids.
This is about our people and what we are doing to them. It is not or ever should be regarded as something so trivial that it can be identified or described away on the basis of ethnicity alone. It goes well beyond that. It is about what is fundamental to all of us and what we do to confirm that.
There are some things that all people hold dear and that is the safety and welfare of children and young people. We may do it in different ways but not matter where you go or who you are with the place of children is and must be sacrosanct. Sadly, it is not in this country.
So when do we wake up to the fact that what we are doing has failed? Failed to the extent that every hour of every day in this country some child lives in fear and misery because we put the rights of those who abuse before those who are abused. They are small and helpless yet we bog ourselves down in a dialogue that is as banal as it is ineffective.
We currently have a Minister of Social Development who says that this is not good enough. We just cannot keep doing what we have been over the last decades and expect to change anything. She is right.
It is clear from the evidence that families, communities and other agencies are not capable of dealing with this situation in any manner that even resembles success without both considerable support and incentives to do so. What is being proposed is hardly radical. Some of the measures include:
• information sharing to protect children;
• tracking at-risk children;
• greater use of schools after hours;
• mandatory reporting of child abuse;
• whanau first placements for children in state care;
• better targeting of the resources to families that need it; and
• a clear agreement on what is the responsibility of parents and what is that of the government.
It is hard to imagine how any of these measures could be seen as anything other than sensible given the current state of affairs. Yet, already we have had the same arguments proposed against them. The two that are likely to be the most contentious are those of mandatory reporting and the targeting of resources.
We are told by opponents mandatory reporting that it will somehow dis-empower the families of children who may be being abused. What about the children? We are told that it will drive a wedge between family members and alienate the children concerned. How could abused children be any more alienated than being abused by their kith and kin?
And, we are told that it may involve some children being removed from their homes without sufficient cause. Perhaps it might in some cases because such judgments are an inexact science. But for every child who is removed a little quickly we may just save the dignity and lives of others who were left for too long.
We have been told all of this for years and despite accepting such arguments our children continue to be abused and killed at rates that are beyond the pale. When do we counter such arguments as these with the chilling evidence that we are failing here and that we must take other measures?
One political party described them as a "political stunt". It was noteworthy that nothing but the status quo was proposed by that party and it must be seen as sad indictment that over such a high stakes issue as this our politicians cannot even for a moment engage with each other over what we might do by way of solutions. As always, the politics take over.
There will be those who say that all children must receive equal resources under such circumstances. That is nonsense.
Thomas Jefferson once said, "There is nothing more unequal then the equal treatment of unequal people". In education and health we do not and should not treat all children the same. We treat them on the basis of need. The same applies here.
Those with the greatest need should receive the greatest resource for without that there is little hope that many will lead a near normal life. That resource should be clearly targeted and based on evidence that it has the impact for change that is required.
The Minister wants to make a difference. She wants to go where we have been afraid to go before. She may be right or she may not. I think she is right to be bold. Instead of decrying such initiatives as cheaply as political stunts let us at least see and judge by the results.
Our children deserve nothing less.
* Dr John Langley is a education and social policy adviser