This nation must face up to its terrible child abuse record, writes Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Development, who urges everyone to stop looking the other way.
In the lead-up to Christmas, while many Kiwis were busy preparing for family gatherings, buying presents and sending cards, police attended a domestic callout and found a 9-year-old girl with horrific injuries, hidden in a cupboard.
Her little body was almost entirely covered in bruises. Her toenail had been ripped out, salt and boiling water poured in the wound.
Quite simply, if officers hadn't opened that cupboard, this little girl would have spent her Christmas in abject misery, horrific pain and suffering more abuse.
I am absolutely disgusted at the torture of this little girl and I'm sure for those of you who sat down to read the Weekend Herald and learned about the horrific abuse experienced in this child's own home, the overwhelming wave of national shame has hit hard.
As soon as this case was brought to my attention I started demanding answers. On behalf of this 9-year-old girl I'll continue to do so.
For now, the court case continues and I hope to God justice comes.
New Zealand leads most OECD countries in beating, abusing and neglecting our own children.
There were 125,000 notifications to Child, Youth and Family this year, 55,000 were serious enough to warrant further action and 21,000 were found to be substantiated cases of serious abuse.
We undeniably have a problem that is ugly and unpalatable. If we don't face this together as a nation, we turn our backs not just on the truth, but on those thousands of children who deserve to be protected from harm.
As Social Development Minister I've maintained a focus on child abuse. I entered this office and questioned why all agencies didn't place a top priority on protecting children. We're changing that.
I questioned why abuse and neglect isn't monitored, even defined by different agencies the same way. We're changing that.
I questioned why when a parent badly abuses their child there is no flagging system if they have another child. We're changing that.
Despite these changes and on a basic level, as a nation we're letting our children down. We let them down when we don't make protecting vulnerable children our first priority. We let them down by not stepping in when we suspect abuse. We let them down when we simply look the other way.
I cannot and will not, look the other way. I will continue to raise the issue however uncomfortable the conversation may be.
I met with iwi leaders in August and challenged them to reach out to those in their own communities who need help to stop abuse. I was humbled by the response I got. Many gave their support to work together. But let me be clear, this is by no means an issue for Maori alone. My challenge goes out to all New Zealanders.
Alongside ministerial colleagues, I have been working on solutions. The Government introduced a number of initiatives to address child abuse, including the Never Ever Shake a Baby campaign, First Response pilot, introducing social workers into hospitals to help identify children at risk of abuse, improved monitoring systems, Home for Life, supported housing and help for teenage mums and dads.
We're working with government and non-government organisations and we're working with individuals who are committed to the protection of children. We initiated an independent expert's panel solely to examine child abuse.
I will continue to drive change at a Government level, but let's be clear - the Government cannot tackle the causes of child abuse alone. We have to do this together as individuals, as communities and as a nation.
We must be clear with whanau, families and friends that abuse and neglect will not be tolerated.
We must protect children who, like this 9-year-old girl, are actually too young and too small to protect themselves.
This Government shares your anger, your disgust. It's impossible to think of this 9-year-old girl, what she's lived through and the wounds she'll bear for the rest of her life, without feeling both outraged and deeply sad.
Child abuse is difficult to deal with. To make a difference, we have to think differently, act differently and respond differently. This is why we're trying initiatives like Whanau Ora and the Community Response Model. It's about getting back to the grass roots and reaching those most dysfunctional families.
We make no apologies for trying new things and ensuring current initiatives are actually working.
I've recently reviewed Family Start, which provides intervention for dysfunctional families as well as Child Youth and Family's Differential Response Model. I know we still have a long way to go.
I wish I could give New Zealanders a guarantee child abuse won't happen. I can't, but I can guarantee I'll keep fighting, keep asking hard questions and keep doing anything within my power to protect children. And this Christmas my thoughts are with a 9-year-old girl who simply deserves to spend the day not in fear, but in safety.
HOW TO HELP
If you think a child is suffering abuse, contact the police or phone 0508 Family (0508-326-459)