WHAT'S worse - Kiwi children getting hurt by adults, or damaged Kiwi children hurting adults and children?

Impossible to answer - both are horrific.

Of course, by hurt I mean abused, tortured, raped and murdered. Sorry for the graphic simplicity but it's another week of news in New Zealand.

Gracie, a 6-month-old Raumati girl, died while left with her mother's new boyfriend for 45 minutes. His charge was upgraded to murder on Wednesday.


A 14-year-old boy has been convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in jail for killing Auckland dairy owner Arun Kumar when he was 13 years old. The details of his foetal alcohol syndrome, exposure to extreme violence and addiction to synthetic cannabis, plus brain injury from a car accident were revealed this week.

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills' first annual report, State of Care, into the treatment of children in Child Youth and Family (CYF) care stated 117 children were abused while in CYF care in 2013-14.

It's not exactly uplifting stuff. And it's not new - New Zealand has example after example of shocking stories. Some stick with you longer than others, like the Turangi teen who raped a 5-year-old tourist, he himself having been raped as a 9-year-old and as a 15-year-old. Every story means the loss of a child and the loss of a childhood.

I grew up in a family where children were cherished and protected and I do not have direct experience of these sickening realities. However, my mother worked as a special needs teacher and there is an overlap between some of the children she taught and those who have experienced abuse.

Not every child in her class had an abusive background and not all children with a terrible upbringing end up in a special needs class, but mum would share sad stories sometimes.

My own small anecdote was as a 20-year-old when I helped drive mum's class on a school trip to the beach. The road out there was one lane, windy and unsealed and - unfortunately - we encountered another car. Ok, we collided.

We were both going slowly but not slow enough to stop in time and there was no room to pull over. No one was hurt and there was only a minor dent in the bumper, but a car-full of very excited children resulted.

The reaction I remember was one kid asking my mum why she hadn't smashed me in the face for crashing her car. Where does a child learn that reaction? How does that influence their life choices?


Another alarming statistic this week with Judge Andrew Becroft reported as saying an overwhelming majority of young people coming through the Youth Court have CYF backgrounds, with 83 per cent of inmates aged under 20 having been in the care of CYF.

If you have the stomach for it, read the novel Push by Sapphire about a teen's life of abuse and incest. It was made into the 2009 award-winning film Precious, but the novel is better. It gives insight into broken lives and somehow leaves you with hope.

It is hard to feel hopeful when confronted with these heartbreaking stories year after year. However, I believe we can break these cycles and improve the lives of our children.

Certainly, the Children's Commissioner believes it - his report sets out seven recommendations and it said they "found a number of examples of transformational practice in CYF sites ... with strong leadership, innovative approaches, and a genuine commitment to child-centred thinking, it is possible to achieve great outcomes for children".

Let's not give up on our children; let's not leave this sad tragic situation in the too hard basket. While throwing money at this complex problem is not the single answer, the report does say increased investment is needed for "high quality on-going case management for these children".

We must invest in these kids - we, as taxpayers funding CYF, are part of the village that must help raise these children. We need an improved CYF so when children are taken from their damaging homes, they have a chance to turn around their lives.

-Nicola Young has worked in the government and private sectors in Australia and NZ and now works from home in Taranaki for a national charitable foundation. Educated at Wanganui Girls' College, she has a science degree and is the mother of two boys.