Almost one in four Kiwi kids have been reported to child protection services, a new study has found.

The report, titled Cumulative Prevalence of Maltreatment Among New Zealand Children, followed the 55,443 children born in 1998 until 2015 when they would be 17. It determined the frequency of notifications, maltreatment cases and first entries into foster care.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft called the picture the study painted "profoundly concerning".

Judge Andrew Becroft, Children's Commissioner, found the study results
Judge Andrew Becroft, Children's Commissioner, found the study results "profoundly concerning". Photo / Alan Gibson

By age 17, 23.5 per cent of kids had at least one report to child protection services. Almost 10 per cent had been a victim of abuse or neglect and 3 per cent had been put into foster or other care.

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The number of notifications was higher than the rate of medicated asthma among children and the prevalence of abuse similar to that of obesity.

Four types of maltreatment were included: neglect (3.8 per cent), emotional abuse (5.3 per cent), physical abuse (3.1 per cent), and sexual abuse (2 per cent).

Half of the substantiated neglect occurred by age 6 years, whereas the medians for emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse were 9 years, 11 years, and approximately 13 years respectively.

Girls were more likely to have reports of concern and be found to be maltreated. The largest difference was for sexual abuse: at 17 years of age 3.2 per cent of girls and 0.8 per cent of boys had experienced sexual abuse.

The report concluded that notifications and substantiated child maltreatment were more common in New Zealand than is generally recognised.

"Given the large number of children who touch the child protection system, our findings raise questions as to whether our child welfare systems are resourced and organised appropriately," the report authors wrote.

Becroft said that the issue of child protection was crucial for the country in the coming years. The creation of the new Ministry for Children - Oranga Tamariki in April last year was part of this.

More emphasis on prevention and early intervention was needed, partnering with and transferring resources to Māori, and creating a single point of entry into a family, with significantly greater resourcing, Becroft said.

"The Government of course must take the lead, but it is not just a matter of providing better services and systems. We need a whole of community approach, and a fundamental shift in how we value children and their families.

"Every child is a taonga and blessing. There is no greater responsibility than bringing a child into the world and nurturing it through to adulthood."

Ministry for Children - Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert said any harm against children was unacceptable and the report would be used to guide and inform their work.

Lambert explained that the Ministry was on a journey over the next four years to make a system-wide change. It would include an intensive programme to provide caregivers with critical training and formulate a deeper analysis of the causes of harm.

"We are building a consistent quality approach to social work practice that is child-centred, trauma informed, and effective for Māori.

"Standards of care are being finalised. These standards will provide a level of transparency and accountability that has not previously existed in New Zealand.

"Our absolute focus is keeping kids safe, and helping them to be healthy and happy and fulfil their potential.

"It does take a village to raise a child – we can all help."

The Minister for Children Tracey Martin said the report highlighted some of the most difficult issues in society.

Martin said the high numbers were distressing, but not surprising.

"We have a problem in New Zealand with harm to children and we simply have to do better. This research confirms that.

"This is a societal issue – it's about parents and whanau and communities. If more people are playing their part, then we'll be getting somewhere."

The number of notifications was higher than the rate of medicated asthma among children and the prevalence of abuse similar to that of obesity. Photo / Getty Images
The number of notifications was higher than the rate of medicated asthma among children and the prevalence of abuse similar to that of obesity. Photo / Getty Images

The Auckland University of Technology authors of the report Benedicte Rouland and Rhema Vaithianathan used three data sets from the Integrated Data Infrastructure for the research.

Vaithianathan said the cumulative prevalence of child maltreatment was a "hidden statistic" and revealed the true workload placed on our system.

"The high levels of notifications are not a concern in themselves, but do highlight the need to make sure our CYF system has the best funding and systems possible to respond effectively to triage these notification.

"This research may prompt a closer look at the quality of "triage" for incoming allegations of maltreatment, and how to best fund and support the social workers who are doing the triage."

The findings showed that cumulative rates of notifications to CPS were much higher in New Zealand than in Western Australia (24 per cent vs 13 per cent). In addition, substantiated maltreatment across childhood was lower than in the United States, but 2.6 times higher than in Western Australia.

The cumulative incidence of out-of-home placements at age 17 years was also lower than in Denmark (5 per cent) and the United States (6 per cent) but twice as high as in England (1.6 per cent).