As I was giving evidence in the Coroner's Court last week I could hear myself saying virtually the same things I said 10 years ago.

Back then it was at the inquest into the death of Nia Glassie. Last week it was the inquest of Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri. Both children were killed by adults. Adults trusted to care for children in their care. To keep them safe and out of harm's way.

Anyone sitting and listening to the horrific story of wilful abuse, of the most despicable and abhorrent kind suffered by baby Moko, would demand action be taken and insist on reviewing where the hard work and effort is currently being applied. This was expected after the findings and recommendations from the Coroner after Nia's inquest too.

Yes some changes have been made but not enough and not the right kind of action. Because 94 children have died, been killed by adults, during that 10-year period. Interesting the reaction to the number.


"That's a gross exaggeration. You should stop quoting that number," was one comment fired at me. "I don't think you should talk numbers Merepeka, it's not helpful." This from a concerned social worker.

On that score he's right. The numbers aren't helpful to the children who lost their lives. Too late for them. But by keeping count we continue to shine the spotlight on child killings in New Zealand. Keeping it right where it should be, in your face.

I would love to say the number was 60, or maybe only 27. But that's not true. And I'm sorry if the 94 children's lives make some people feel sick and uncomfortable, I can understand that the number beggars belief, but it is what it is. And there should be no glossing over the number because of queasiness when hearing the count.

Perhaps in 10 years time that after a committed plan of action, with input from all sectors of our communities, no children will have died at the hands of abusive adults. But I don't think it's going to happen. Because we focus all our attention, and resources, on working with the "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff". Time and effort is spent being reactive.

We have to move to the top of the cliff, and way back from the cliff face. We have got to get into the homes.

If you have a vulnerable child you will have a vulnerable family. These families are easily identified. The majority of children killed in New Zealand have already come to the attention of multiple government agencies. These are still reluctant to share information with each other, citing the Privacy Act as the reason for doing so. They need to refresh themselves on the intent of the Privacy Act.

Children have often been removed from these homes then returned, but the home environment remains the same. Unsafe for the child. No behaviour change is insisted upon, with little specialist support and resources being provided to the family to make the necessary changes. No evaluation to see what improvements in the home have occurred.

All support is directed to finding and funding a safe home for the abused children. This costs millions of dollars. The new government agency Ministry of Vulnerable Children, formerly Child, Youth and Family Services that got under way on July 1 this year, is making every attempt to provide quality services for children that come to their attention and need their help. They want to get it right this time.

The ministry has said it needs five years to embed culture change within the organisation. They want to build capacity within the workforce too and improve and deliver quality services to children taken into care.

But there would be "bigger bangs" for the taxpayers' dollars if the ministry's budget was halved. The other half, millions of dollars, should be then applied to support behaviour change within vulnerable families.

If we focus on the family we might have a chance of reducing child abuse in our country. We have to get into the homes with all that entails. We should use non-judgmental service providers who really want to make a difference for families. Providers who know what's at stake when nothing changes. They must be funded to be successful and we have to trust them to get on and do the job.

The emphasis should be on long-term outcomes. We should not be content to tick boxes. Ticking boxes makes ministers feel good "see something is happening" but that's no measure of change. So what if you've visited a family twice a month for six months. What does that prove other than box ticking? Measure what matters, the difference made to the family. Keep measuring and keep monitoring.

We mustn't let up on public awareness raising campaigns either, keeping them going all year round. There is never a "quiet time" for child abuse.

Reframing the message to one of hope with families feeling confident and proud of who they are starts to raise their expectations. Let them know they are supported by family and friends in good times and bad. Why not "think big" for our families.

Time, resources and adequate front end investment is more cost effective than "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff" funding.

Just like the children killed in the past 10 years, it's all about numbers. Had there been adequate investment in those families, when the children first came to the attention of the multiple agencies we now know were informed and involved somewhere along the line, lives might have been saved.

If nothing changes within families we'll still be scratching our heads in 10 years time wondering why the killing of New Zealand children continues unabated. It's not rocket science. Change the home environment and lives will be changed and saved.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait is a Rotorua Lakes Council councillor, Lakes District Health Board member and chairs the North Island Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency. She writes, speaks and broadcasts to thwart political correctness.