Spike in child abuse cases as schools sound alarm

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013

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More than 150,000 cases of child abuse were reported last year and it's schools that are increasingly raising the alarm.

Principals said the spike in abuse and neglect had resulted in increased skin diseases such as scabies, and aggressive and violent children in the classroom.

Social workers in schools are heavily relied on and at Cannons Creek Primary School the public health nurse is busier than ever.

Principal Ruth O'Neill said children living in poverty and neglect had led to a rise in skin problems.

"These skin problems are about poverty because it's children not having the right foods or dry and warm clothes, or too many people living together in one space."

The Dominion Post reported earlier last month that four Lower Hutt children were taken into Child, Youth and Family care after serious neglect, allegedly by their parents, led to them needing hospital treatment for scabies.

Last year 9447 notifications were made by teachers and social workers in schools out of a total 152,800 notifications to CYF. More than 61,000 of those required follow-up.

Overall notifications increased by 1 per cent from 2011 but those that came from schools were up by 1332.

At Masterton's Lakeview School, it's aggressive, violent and angry children that principal Ed Hodgkinson worries about most. "These children see it and live with it and often bring it to school."

Two families a year used to be normal for Waitara Central Primary School principal Sharren Read to refer to CYF.

"In the last 18 months it's been more like two or three a term."

Close to 270,000 children are estimated to live in poverty that Principals' Federation national president Phil Harding said was often a result of financial pressures and alcohol.

"I'm not saying there's a direct relationship between low-income families and domestic violence, but we're talking about kids that are missing out on a lot of things like love, food and safety."

The Ministry of Social Development recruited an additional 149 social workers last year for decile 1 to 3 schools, meaning that, by the end of this year, 131,000 children will be reached by the service.

"While I hate to hear of any incidences of violence, I would rather we knew, so that we could act," Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said.

Labour social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern wanted to see more focus on the first six months of a child's life.

"We need well-resourced parents who are supported, because we know too many parents are bringing kids up in poverty," she said.

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- The Dominion Post

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