New Zealand has one of the worst rates of child abuse in the world and critics say we are doing "bugger all" to fix the problem.

In the last 10 years, despite millions of dollars being spent and various initiatives aimed at tackling the problem, 61 children have died as a result of abuse or non-accidental injuries.

Currently the Government is overhauling Child Youth and Family after an expert panel found the agency was failing vulnerable children.

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But as the majority of children killed were not on the Cyf radar when they died, it is unlikely any changes at that level will make a difference.

More needs to be done. Everyone from lawmakers to experts agree. But they disagree on what.

Since the murder of 90-day-old twins Chris and Cru Kahui in 2006, little progress has been made on the abuse front, says a leading paediatrician.

Of the 61 babies and children killed, 31 died at the hands of a parent or caregiver and the majority suffered fatal head injuries or unsurvivable blows to their little bodies.

The most recent was a 2-year-old boy who died at his Manurewa home just before Christmas. Police are investigating and say his death was the result of a non-accidental injury.

"Since the Kahui twins died, to be frank, not a lot has changed," said Dr Patrick Kelly, who heads the child abuse team at Starship Children's Hospital.

"In terms of the rates of child abuse, what we are seeing coming through the doors at Starship, I don't see that as having changed. Certainly I don't think we've gotten on top of the problem 10 years down the track."

Dr Kelly said there was "a lot of goodwill" but attempts to tackle the issue to date have been misguided.

He believed the solution was shifting the responsibility around abuse.

"I don't think the solution lies in the reorganisation of Cyf. We have reorganised enough, there needs to be better resourcing."

"Since the Kahui twins died, to be frank, not a lot has changed," said Dr Patrick Kelly, who heads the child abuse team at Starship Children's Hospital. Photo / Natalie Slade

Dr Kelly wanted to see child protection teams operating in every hospital, enabling staff to identify anyone in need and work with them from the outset.

"District health boards have little money dedicated to child protection. It is just not seen as a health problem - and why not? Why not turn the health workforce into a child protection workforce?"

Labour's spokesperson for children Jacinda Ardern believed that abuse prevention needed to start at a much simpler level. She believed working in schools with children before they became parents later in life, educating them on the right way to treat babies and others, was the key.

"I think it's fair to say we're trying to fix the wrong thing," she told the Herald.

"I think that's where we've got to be really pragmatic about this stuff. Any law change, any extension of punishment does nothing to prevent a child from being harmed in the future, it perhaps at best makes society feel better at the time, in the aftermath.

"But we've got to start just actually saying that some of this stuff is about changing the way that we view those most vulnerable children and the support we place around future parents. We talk the talk all the time on this as politicians. We constantly talk about breaking the cycle but we do bugger all in reality to do it."

"I think it's fair to say we're trying to fix the wrong thing," Jacinda Ardern told the Herald. Photo / Getty Images

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley conceded much more could be done - and needed to be done to protect Kiwi kids.

But she was confident the Cyf review and other mechanisms put in place since her tenure began, including the establishment of regional Children's Teams and an information-sharing hub that could be accessed by all support people working with vulnerable children, would pay off.

"There is a lot of stuff happening to address abuse, and not all of it is seen. Certainly we have seen some big changes. But it's still horrific," Mrs Tolley said.

"None of us are proud to live in a society where this is happening to innocent children. None of us want to see this happening. One child [dying] is too many."

Mrs Tolley said the key to protecting children was identifying risk factors before a child was put in harm's way. Education was also crucial - breaking the cycle and normalisation of violence and abuse that is commonplace for a significant number of Kiwi families.

"It's easy to say, not so easy to do," she said.


We encourage anyone who knows of abuse or neglect of children to take action to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children. If you see or hear about a child whose safety and wellbeing is in immediate danger, don't wait, and don't assume someone else is acting.

Where there are crimes being committed or there is a suspicion of such, people should report to police directly via 111 or through their local police or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

You can also report any suspected child abuse, neglect, harm or maltreatment to Child Youth and Family on 0508 326 459.