But Dr Russell Wil' />

New Zealand's shameful child abuse rates have hit a "plateau" and will nosedive by 2014, our new Children's Commissioner says.

But Dr Russell Wills conceded figures revealing 25 hospital cases of infants suspected to have been assaulted before their first birthday in the year to April were "still too high".

Figures released under the Official Information Act also showed nearly 300 babies less than a year old were tagged with special assault codes at hospitals between 2006 and 2010.

A breakdown by the National Health Board showed 69 babies were given such codes last year - a rate of 106 per 100,000 live births - although the total was less than the 75 cases recorded in 2009, the highest rate for the period.

Dr Wills, a Hawkes Bay Regional Hospital paediatrician who stepped into his new role just over a week ago, said New Zealand's child abuse rates were still higher than in most OECD countries.

He put that down to a high rate of children in poverty, low investment in services to support parents and services that had been allowed "to drift into things that don't work".

But a combination of new campaigns and programmes, better collaboration and an increased awareness of child abuse would see the number of cases drop sharply by three years' time, if not sooner, he said.

"Already, we are seeing the top of the curve. Cases reported to [Child, Youth and Family] have gone through the roof but substantiated cases have plateaued and in some areas have even fallen slightly."

Dr Wills is credited with having helped to shape a highly successful child-abuse screening programme in Hawkes Bay that has since been introduced to all New Zealand hospitals.

Hawkes Bay saw the rate of non-accidental injuries drop by as much as two-thirds, CYF referrals quadruple and referrals to domestic violence agencies triple.

Hospitals nationwide also now have violence prevention officers, while major hospitals have resident CYF social workers.

"We have something called multi-agency safety planning at all hospitals, which means if a child is admitted to a hospital with a non-accidental injury, there has to be a joint plan between CYF and DHBs that includes the child's ongoing needs and a safety plan." Dr Wills said.

"As domestic violence inter-agency work improves and community attitudes around violence to women and children change, we should soon see the number of hospital admissions fall."

Varying policies between hospitals meant that data for Emergency Department cases discharged within one day was not included.

Last month, the Herald reported that the number of babies taken into CYF care had climbed in the past few years - 248 babies were taken into state custody in 2009/10, compared with 202 five years before.

Between July 2010 and the end of March this year, 151 babies less than a day old were taken into custody after orders by the Family Court or assessments by police that custody was "critically necessary" and would protect them from harm.

Fourteen were placed in care when they were less than one day old, 26 were aged between two and seven days, and 111 were aged between eight days and one year.


Cases of infants aged less than 1 year old discharged from hospitals with assault codes.

* Total: 88,449
* With assault code: 58

* Total: 93,174
* With assault code: 45

* Total: 96,383
* With assault code: 51

* Total: 97,857
* With assault code: 75

* Total: 98,116
* With assault code: 69

* Total: N/A
* With assault code: 25*

*Figures are from January to April 2011

Source: National Health Board