New Children's Commissioner ready to blow the whistle

Andrew Becroft
Andrew Becroft

The new Children's Commissioner says he's not going to "sit passively and idly by" while adults routinely kill children in their care.

A Kiwi kid is killed on average every five weeks, the vast majority by someone they know. The latest high-profile case -- the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri -- has caused outrage, with his caregivers convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder, following months of abuse.

Andrew Becroft takes over the Children's Commissioner role on July 1, replacing Russell Wills. Mr Becroft has been a Youth Court judge for 15 years, so knows all too well what happens to children without a proper upbringing.

"Judge Becroft's experience of dealing with troubled and at-risk young people will be vital in the development of a youth justice service aimed at preventing offending and reoffending as part of the major overhaul," Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said yesterday.

But can he make a difference? New Zealand's child abuse statistics, in the bottom five of the OECD, have been stubbornly bad for years.

"I don't think I'd take the job on if I didn't think I could make a difference," he told Paul Henry on Wednesday morning.

"It's primarily a role of advocacy and monitoring. I guess it calls for courage, calls for careful thought. I don't want to be a house-trained poodle, but I want to be clear about what the issues are and I hope I can make a difference."

He'll oversee a time of big change, with Child, Youth and Family undergoing a significant overhaul in the next few years. While he says the embattled organisation unlikely to achieve "statutory or organisational nirvana" right away, he's confident things will get better.

"It's seen as visionary and principled, but the devil will be in the detail. It will be important that it really is pushed through, and if it's not it'll be my office's role to blow the whistle on that."

Ms Tolley's appointment of Mr Becroft's has been welcomed across the political divide. Labour spokesperson Jacinda Ardern said he'd be "fantastic", and the Greens' Metiria Turei called his appointment "exciting".

Mr Becroft had only praise for his predecessor, calling Mr Wills "courageous and principled".