Whangarei's shocking child abuse rate of almost two-and-a-half cases a day should start to turn around with the district's vulnerable children having a new team of experts to support them.
Whangarei has become the second district in the country, behind Rotorua, to get a Children's Team to work with vulnerable children.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the teams are a new, community-driven way of engaging with and supporting vulnerable children and families.
Children's Teams see trained people in the community referring children who are at risk of abuse and neglect to a group of local professionals from health, welfare, education and social agencies.
Whangarei is the second place to get a team because of the high rate of child abuse here. Figures from Child Youth & Family show that in 2012, 1511 substantiated cases of child abuse were reported in Northland, with 911 in Whangarei - almost two-and-a-half cases a day. The cases covered a range of abuse from physical to sexual.
Children's director of the Whangarei team Lianne Egli said the programme already had its first Whangarei referral.
Ms Egli said the team had 12 lead professionals who would work with vulnerable children and their families and a service broker from the health, education, justice or social services fields. Brokers would ensure the child and their family received help from the appropriate sector.
The team also has two clinical advisers - noted pediatrician Roger Tuck and senior registered psychiatric nurse Nicky Beasley - and a cultural adviser. They expect to work with up to 25 children over the next three months.
"It's about accountability and getting the services to our most vulnerable children when they need it, and at a pace our children and their families can sustain," Ms Egli said.
"The children and their families will be giving priority for the services they need. All children who come to the Children's Team will receive a full medical assessment, paid for by the District Health Board."
This would discover if there were any unreported medical issues that could be impacting on the child, such as glue ear, affecting learning abilities and hearing. She said the team was the ambulance at the top of the cliff to stop abuse occurring.
Mrs Bennett was confident the team would help address Whangarei's abuse rates.
"Children's Teams are a new, community-driven way of engaging with and supporting vulnerable children and families.
"I've visited Whangarei several times in recent months and am impressed with how enthusiastic and committed the community is to making a difference for their children. Children's Teams have been designed to be flexible and unique to the communities in which they are established.
"They'll evolve over time as we discover what works and what doesn't, so that we can make the best possible impact for vulnerable children."