Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's speech to iwi leaders last week, calling for a co-operative effort to address child abuse.

New Zealand is a land of opportunity and for most, a great place to bring up kids. But there is a dark side to this remarkable country which resides within too many homes.

Thousands of children are growing up unsafe and unprotected in chaotic homes. Many are abused and neglected by the very people who should love and protect them. This is New Zealand's ugly secret.

In the last year Child, Youth and Family received over 125,000 reports from people concerned enough about a child's safety to notify authorities. In over 21,000 of these cases, child abuse or neglect was confirmed.

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So that's over 340 notifications and 57 confirmed serious abuse and neglect cases every day. That's 2,400 reports of child abuse and neglect every week in New Zealand.

There is no excuse for beating, abusing and neglecting our children. No child's life should begin this way. And when it does, the harm is substantial and long lasting. The social and economic costs of abuse and neglect are beyond comprehension. A baby shaken in anger and out of ignorance may be left with permanent brain damage, or even die as a result. Children beaten and sexually abused grow up carrying the burden of that abuse. Many driven by anger, low self esteem and distrustful of others, follow a path to crime and violence and many repeat their experience on the next generation.

The neglected child is a silent timebomb. Left alone, unwashed and unloved this child may not be physically bruised or injured but will be deeply affected and is unlikely to grow into a healthy, loving individual who is a productive member of the community unless we step in to help.

What we are discussing here is ugly, it is shameful and it is unpalatable. But it is New Zealand's reality and one we must all address. Not just the Government, not just Police and Child, Youth and Family, but community, families, individuals, neighbours, teachers, friends, uncles, aunties. We must face this together. We must do everything we can to protect our children from abuse and neglect.

This is a challenge for all New Zealanders. It is a challenge for Maori. Maori children are over-represented in abuse and neglect statistics. Maori clients make up more than half of all findings of abuse. In New Zealand, there can be no excuse for beating and

neglecting children.

I invite you to

. It shows that Child, Youth and Family is more responsive now than any time in the past two decades and able to respond to increasing notifications and reach out to more at-risk families.

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It outlines important changes to further improve the way we protect children which are in the pipeline as well as some recent initiatives. It's clear there is a lot of work being done and more to do because protecting children and keeping them safe will always be a Government priority. Which is why we need to think about the following things:

No matter how efficient and how innovative Child, Youth and Family continues to be, resources are limited. The organisation and its dedicated, hard working staff are coping well with current demand but in truth that only takes care of the critical cases.

We all know early intervention is the best way to make a difference, but Child, Youth and Family is in the position of having to throw the bulk of its resources into dealing with critical cases when the aim is to be more involved with families before things get really bad.

Surely, the answer ultimately lies in a change in our country's culture; a change which leads to zero-tolerance for child abuse and neglect. Otherwise, we will continue to lead the world in beating, neglecting and abusing our children.

And we know those children who are abused and neglected are the same adults we see years later filling New Zealand courts and prisons. Many of those who live ruined lives will ruin the lives of others - the victims of their crimes and also their own children.

That is the price for tolerating child abuse. We must work together to protect our children.

- Hon Paula Bennett
Minister for Social Development and Employment