'Children are going to keep dying': Advocacy group warns of little action on abuse

By Andrew McRae for RNZ 

There has been no progress in dealing with New Zealand's high rate of child abuse despite strategy talks in recent years, according to an independent child abuse advocacy and training provider.

Child Matters said one child died every five weeks as a result of abuse last year and thousands more were abused and injured.

Chief executive Jane Searle said New Zealand was unable to effectively protect vulnerable children.

Searle said there had been a lot of talk, but nothing had changed and tamariki were still dying or being harmed.

''We've had a lot of strategy and a lot of talk in the last few years but we have had very little implementation and when you don't have change at the front line with the support around our most vulnerable families the children are going to keep dying.''

She believed that at a high level, there was a disconnect between the actual risk factors on the front line and the realities of it.

''That disconnect means the implementation is difficult and means it's not creating real change.''

It was a struggle to get leadership courageous and informed enough to implement the needed changed, Searle said.

She wanted to see an increased priority on the issue.

''It hasn't been a big enough priority for our country. So every election year in recent times, we have had discussions around housing and we will at the next around Covid, but actually this is a huge issue for our country when we have a child dying every five weeks," Searle said.

''We have had a lot of political spin but we haven't had honest discussions about how far we haven't come and what hasn't changed. Until we get a true view of what the situation is, we are not going to make that change," she said.

''This is too much of an important issue for it to be something that becomes a political football or for political spin to be put around it. We have to have honest discussion and then we have to actually commit to the changes that need to be made.''

Searle said added to the challenge of change was inter-generational trauma.

Some required changes would be easier to bring in, she said, such as better resourcing for front line organisations and government agencies.

''Making sure Oranga Tamariki social workers have a work load that is manageable and that they are trained to do their job and the same for police. That is completely manageable and feasible to do.''

Another missing element was training for professionals working with children, she said.

''Unlike other parts of the world, we don't have training for nurses, doctors, teachers.

"Even social workers may be doing their jobs with no actual training on child protection and that's completely illogical and it puts us out of line with much of the rest of the world.''

Mandatory vetting of anyone working with children, either paid or in a voluntary capacity, was necessary, Searle said.

''We are asking a lot of those who work on the front line with our at-risk families and children. We need to train and resource them so they can do their jobs properly.

''New Zealand children are being harmed every day, in many cases in their own homes, where they should be safe. New Zealand needs to do more."

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