Tackling child abuse

This morning Social Development Minister Paula Bennett released the Government’s White Paper for Vulnerable Children, along with the Children’s Action Plan.

The paper is the next step on from the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children and it outlines a plan to identify and protect at risk children.

Its recommendations come after several years of consultation with communities and those who work with at risk kids. 

Too many people are neglecting and abusing children in New Zealand. 

In ACT’s Confidence and Supply Agreement with National we asked that the Welfare Working Group recommendation 28: supporting at risk families be implemented;

It states that: 

  • an assessment of risk to the well-being of children should form part of a more systematic assessment of long-term risk of welfare dependency and provide a basis for intervention through participation in intensive parenting support;
  • at-risk families and whānau with complex needs be provided with wrap-around services, preferably by single, integrated providers which address family and whānau needs as a whole. These programmes need to be responsive to Māori through culturally appropriate, holistic, and whānau-centred solutions. In addition, they need to meet the needs of other parts of the community, such as Pacific, migrant and refugee communities.

The aim of the recommendation is to ensure any services designed to assist at risk kids take a holistic approach and include Government and non-Government agencies working together.

That approach is true in welfare and also true when it comes to abuse and neglect – so it’s great to see the white paper address this.

As a result of today’s white paper, a ‘Vulnerable Kids Information System’ will be implemented, which will bring together information held by Government agencies to help identify the most at risk children.  This means that if a teacher and a doctor report concerns about the same child, their concerns will be put into one database so the child’s welfare can be monitored.  

For too long Government agencies have been failing to act simply because they are not communicating with each other.                          

A ‘Child Protect’ phone line will be established so that people can call if they have any concerns about the welfare of a child.

All agencies working with children will be required to train their staff on how to recognise signs of abuse.

Importantly, high risk adults who have a history of violence towards children will be monitored, and in some cases, the court will be able to stop these high risk people from living in a household with children.

This is a great step.

Those who are violent towards children must not be around them.

Of course these recommendations aren’t the only answer.  The changes will work alongside other changes Minister Bennett, with recommendations from ACT, has made to welfare to ensure that children of beneficiaries are in early childhood education and make regular visits to the doctor.  These initiatives also came from the Welfare Working Group Report.

Partnership Schools are also an important part of the picture because children who don’t succeed in education are far more likely to live in poverty in the future.  Educational success is the engine for upward social mobility for children from deprived families.

Let’s hope this paper is the beginning of a new future for our most vulnerable kids.

On the flip side, no doubt some will be concerned by the range of powers that government agencies are being given.  This policy makes them proactive about sharing information across departments, allows them to build up profiles on citizens.   There is a risk to liberty from this, but that risk must be balanced against the seriousness of the problem and the failure of existing arrangements.

ACT is always concerned about government intruding into people’s lives or creating dependency.  However when children are at risk of abuse or neglect, the State needs to be more active (and it should be less active in the lives of families that can take care of themselves). 

In the long term, such focused intrusions will hopefully lead to happier and healthier children who grow up to become independent citizens who can take personal responsibility for their life choices.