Child abuse review called political stunt

Opposition parties say a Green Paper on child abuse is a political stunt designed to wallpaper over the Government's inaction on the problem.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett ordered a review of child abuse in April and on Wednesday will launch a Green Paper in Auckland calling for public consultation.

A formal White Paper will be released in eight months along with a Children's Action Plan.

The Green Paper will look at issues such as mandatory reporting, greater information sharing between Government agencies and giving parents preferential treatment to address drug and mental health issues.

Labour's social development spokeswoman, Annette King, said although a Green Paper was "laudable", the Government already had enough information on child abuse.

The Green Paper process, which is a tentative report into an issue, meant it would be months before the Government enacted any policy.

"We're talking about a minister in a party which said before the last election that they were going to make children a priority. Now we are talking about the 11th hour of a Government that they are going to put out a Green Paper. I'm inclined to think it's more of a political stunt."

Her comments were echoed by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, who said the Green Paper was a way of "distracting the community from the failure of this Government".

"It sidelines the issue for the election, which is what National wants do to, because what they have done with their financial policy is to make the situation worse for families and for children."

There is currently a moral requirement for health professionals, teachers and social workers to report any suspected child abuse and mandatory reporting would create a legal requirement.

Ms King said she was one of the last sitting MPs who was in Parliament when it passed the 1989 Child, Youth and Family Act, rejecting mandatory reporting.

"It was strongly put by the agencies that deal with families that those that abuse, if they know a professional was coming into their home, would not let them in the door."

Mandatory reporting also encouraged vexatious and vindicative reporting, as well as misreporting, she said.

Ms Turei said Ms Bennett was not dealing with the most important issue, which was family poverty. "She can make all the agency changes she wants but until she deals with some of the social disparities, then children and families will remain at risk."

The Government needed to raise the minimum wage or lift benefit levels. "The most poor families are in serious poverty and cannot manage on the incomes that they have."

Punitive measures against beneficiaries introduced by the Government were creating further hardship for children, Ms Turei said.

Ms Bennett said she expected the elderly would be put out by suggestions parents should be given preferential access to health treatments.

But Grey Power president Roy Reid said the elderly would be prepared to make sacrifices, by being bumped down waiting lists, to help reduce child abuse.

The Dominion Post