An alarming increase in the abuse and neglect of children has led to one baby or child being removed from unfit parents in Christchurch hospitals every week.
Last year, 60 to 70 children were taken from the city's hospitals.
The disturbing new statistics come as bashed Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie lost her fight for life at Auckland's Starship Hospital yesterday afternoon.
Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) child protection co-ordinator Sue Miles said that in the year to April there had been 30 babies taken from their mothers soon after birth, compared to four or five cases typically seen in previous years.
Miles said a similar number of child patients were removed from parents in that period. The number of children referred to the child protection services by hospital staff for suspected abuse had risen from about 500 in the year ending July 2006 to more than 620 for the same period the following year.
The health board's hospital advisory committee was told this week that uplifting of children was becoming a significant issue for staff by women's and children's health general manager Pauline Clark.
Security guards were usually present when newborns were taken from their parents at the direction of Child, Youth and Family (CYF).
Miles said this could upset workers and patients on the ward and required a staff social worker to spend many hours liaising with CYF or police.
The reason for the sharp increase was uncertain but it seemed to reflect an increase in notifications to CYF in the general community.
It could also be caused, in part, by medical professionals' greater vigilance in detecting and reporting abuse, Miles said.
The typical profile of a woman whose child was taken from her at birth was that she had several other children, commonly had a drug or alcohol addiction, an abusive partner and a long-term relationship with CYF.
Christchurch Women's Hospital social work adviser Darral Campbell said hospital staff were coping "reasonably well" with increased numbers of abused children and babies and was minimising the impact on other patients.
"This is normally a very happy time for families and we don't want it (the removal of babies) to impact on people in this very public environment."
A former hospital employee has written to The Press expressing his disgust at the constant need for security staff to protect mothers, children, staff and equipment from violent partners.
David Moore, a technician who serviced equipment such as baby monitors in Christchurch Women's Hospital for about three years, said he resigned from his job six months ago because of an increasingly violent environment caused by the presence of abusive and dysfunctional families.
Moore, in a letter to the editor published in The Weekend Press (page A19), said he quit his job because of the "ever-present security guards protecting patients from their partners or family".
CYF deputy chief executive Ray Smith said the department was testing several initiatives focused on early intervention.
The Ministry of Health this week started a nationwide programme requiring every female patient between the ages of 16 and 65 to be asked about family violence when they go to hospital.
- The Press