Dr Patrick Kelly

Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to children's health

Leading child-protection expert Dr Patrick Kelly feels honoured to be recognised but warns that New Zealand's rate of child abuse is getting worse as key solutions have not been implemented.

Dr Kelly, who is today made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, has spoken out about the lack of progress on recommendations made to the Government in 2010 by the Experts' Forum on Child Abuse, of which he was a member.

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Dr Kelly, the clinical director of Te Puaruruhau, the Starship hospital child protection service, said, "A lot of things we identified as problems haven't fundamentally changed."

He listed four:

• Inadequate data-sharing between government agencies.

• Poor communication between healthcare practitioners, teachers and other workers serving children's needs.

• Variable and inconsistent provision of home-based support.

• Under-funding of mental health services for the parents of young children.

"The key thing I think has changed is that at least there is a philosophical commitment now at a government level to collaboration in child-maltreatment prevention. The most recent example is the Vulnerable Children's Act where the philosophy is that multiple government departments ... have to have a focus on the welfare of vulnerable children and they all have to come up with a strategy. And although I think there are some problems with the kinds of strategies being developed, at least for the first time there's a commitment to have a strategy."

Last year there were 150,000 notifications to Child Youth and Family of suspected child abuse or neglect.

"That's one of the highest notification rates per head of population in the entire developed world," Dr Kelly said.

"The rising rates of child abuse in New Zealand have coincided reasonably closely with what you might call the partial dismantling of the welfare state - increased income inequality, increased child poverty, increased issues of housing, the free availability of alcohol.

"That's not to say poverty means people are inevitably going to abuse their children, because most people who are poor don't abuse their children."

When asked for response to Dr Kelly's criticisms, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley pointed to a number of things the Government was doing, including an overhaul of CYF.