Some years ago, I vowed I would never write another column in this newspaper about another dead baby, murdered by the very people who were supposed to be protecting and caring for them. I couldn't. It seemed almost disrespectful to the baby to be wringing my hands, exploding with anger, railing against families that closed ranks to protect the perpetrator of appalling violence from being brought to justice when nothing happened to change things. Nada. Zip.
I felt better for venting my spleen but babies kept being broken and pulverised and shattered and my columns were utterly irrelevant in the face of that. Word + word + word might equal power in Margaret Atwood's world, but I'd love to see how a woman even as skilled as she could use words to bring reason to the sorts of men and women who kill their babies.
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And when you read of the horrific injuries they suffer, this is not a man or woman having a momentary rush of blood to the head and lashing out once. These children are tortured over a period of time, and any number of adults must have known what was going on. Yet they made the choice to do nothing.
It was the Salvation Army's State of the Nation report released this week that shocked me enough to take to the keyboard again. Among its findings, the authors reported that serious assaults on children resulting in serious injury had risen 40 per cent over the past four years.
Forty per cent. Our figures were already appalling – in 2012, a report prepared for the Ministry of Health found that a child was admitted to hospital every two days as a result of assault, neglect or maltreatment – and the report suggested the numbers of abused children were likely under reported.
What the hell is going on in this country? The Salvation Army's findings came in the same week that police launched a homicide inquiry into the death of a Rotorua 5-year-old – a family member is facing assault charges – and a 4-year-old boy suffered injuries the worst a veteran cop had seen in his 30 years of policing. No charges have been laid as, once again, a family has closed ranks.
The Chair of Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency Merepeka Raukawa Tait says Māori are over-represented in the appalling child abuse statistics but taking children away from families is not the answer. There needs to be more funding for an holistic approach, she says. One where kuia and members of the Māori community who are trusted by whānau can come in and assist a family in crisis.
Raukawa Tait told me on my radio show this week that there some Māori are so wary and mistrustful of state agencies like the police and Oranga Tamariki that they would rather leave a child in a dangerous situation than alert the authorities.
As soon as the words had come out of her mouth I received a text from a listener who made the point that while some of those people may be suspicious of the police and OT and spurn their services, they don't seem to have the same disdain for Work and Income. They're happy enough to engage with a state agency to receive a benefit.
I accept that raising babies is hard work, that it's stressful even when you have a supportive partner and family support and enough money to pay the bills. But nobody I know has ever been so stressed that they have maimed and killed their babies.
Maybe the spike is the result of the P epidemic ravaging families. Maybe it's babies who have survived childhood abuse having children of their own.
I think all of us have an abused baby that we remember. Delcelia Whittaker is mine. She would be 31 now – the same age as my own daughter – and I remembered Delcelia every time Kate hit a magical milestone. Leaving school, graduating university, getting married, having her own babies. All of that denied Delcelia because she had the appalling bad luck to be born into the wrong family.
This government loves a good enquiry – so let's have another one. Find out why child abuse has spiked and get tough on the perpetrators.
Oranga Tamariki is talking about supporting the whānau in the Flaxmere case – supporting them?! Bloody hell. They should be locked away, the way the Kahui clan should have been, until they came clean.
When it comes to the sadistic men and women who are killing these defenceless children and those who turn a blind eye to the violence, we shouldn't be pulling our punches. The perpetrators don't pull theirs when they're bashing their babies to death.