Parents may soon get education on how to handle crying babies without hurting them - even though the Ministry of Health says it has not got the money for it.

New Children's Commissioner Dr John Angus yesterday weighed in behind an Auckland District Health Board proposal to educate all new parents about the risks of "shaken baby syndrome" and safe ways to handle babies.

"This successful international programme, based on robust research, is an excellent example of practical action being taken to reduce child abuse," he said.

But the board is struggling to find the $1 million it needs to run a three-year pilot programme across Auckland's three health districts and Health Ministry chief child health adviser Pat Tuohy said there was not enough money for it in the health budget.

Dr Angus issued a report yesterday reviewing child deaths and injuries from assault.

It found that 443 children under age 5 were admitted to hospitals after intentional assault or neglect between 1995 and 2004 - an average of almost one child a week.

More than half of them (255) were babies younger than 12 months, and 25 of those died as a result of their injuries.

The Society of Paediatric Surgeons told Parliament this week that New Zealand's death rate of children under 19 from accidents and injuries was the worst in the 30-nation OECD.

Carol Stott, Auckland District Health Board planning manager for child, youth and women's health, said a programme developed by American neurosurgeon Mark Dias reduced head injuries caused by shaken baby syndrome by 47 per cent.

"It is the only child abuse prevention programme that has any real evidence of effectiveness," she said.

She has led a team that has developed a plan for booklets and DVDs in seven languages and "brief interventions" about constructive ways to handle crying babies to be given to new parents at antenatal classes, in maternity wards and through midwives and Well Child services such as Plunket.

"They will get told: have they heard about the dangers of shaking babies, do they know what actions to take if a baby is crying inconsolably, do they realise that inconsolable crying is normal and not a reflection on them as a parent?" she said.

Starship Hospital paediatrician Patrick Kelly brought Dr Dias to New Zealand in 2006 to promote thescheme and Ms Stott has been tryingto find someone to pay for it eversince.

The plan is backed by Plunket, the College of Midwives and antenatal educators Birthcare and Mama (Mothers and Midwives Association).

The Starship Foundation has offered financial support, recruiting agency Solutions has offered free project management and Child, Youth and Family Services rang Ms Stott after Dr Angus' comments yesterday to offer "a financial contribution".

But the money is still not enough.

Dr Tuohy said he had been pushing for the scheme for two years and would continue to do so, but the health budget was tight.

"A combination of departments may well be able to do this but we haven't been able to put it together so far," he said.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said stopping "the heinous and incomprehensible abuse of New Zealand's children" was a priority.

"We continue to look at what's being done - and what can be done - to push those messages about how to protect very young infants."


* New Zealand has the highest child death rate from accidents and injuries in the OECD.

* Auckland District Health Board wants $1 million over three years to educate parents on how to handle crying babies without hurting them.

* Ministry of Health says it has not got the money for it.

* But support is growing from the Children's Commissioner, Child, Youth and Family and ministers.