Cultural influence seen in reporting child abuse cases

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 08/07/2012

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How do you define Maori, and what is "other" in child abuse reports?

Hospital admission data obtained using the Official Information Act has raised questions about a victim's culture influencing reporting.

Some hospitals failed to record suspected abuse cases, while others collected extensive details, but the reporting differences raise questions on how valuable the information is.

According to details provided on 128 admissions across the country last year, the most common abuse victim is a Maori boy with head injuries. But two health boards, Capital & Coast and Taranaki, classified victims only as Maori, Pacific Islander or "other".

Those working in the field say the focus needs to be on stopping children becoming a statistic at all. Social work lecturer Raema Merchant said if a child was of Maori and Pakeha descent, they were generally recorded as Maori.

"It's really tricky. We're not denying Maori are over-represented, but my question is: who is really Maori? And I don't know how to approach that."

In her recent research, the Eastern Institute of Technology lecturer found Pakeha killed as many of their children as Maori, who remained the "face of abuse" in the media. "Often people don't know Pakeha children are being abused as well," Merchant said. "And in New Zealand, who is `other'?"

She said abuse reporting should also show things like poverty and family violence, because blaming Maori parents only clouded the issue. "If you think the problem doesn't belong to you, you don't need to do anything about it."

People had to accept child abuse was not restricted to certain cultures. Neglect and maltreatment were the most under-reported forms of abuse, and they were common to all ethnicities.

The latest Child Youth and Family figures show about 60 children a day suffer sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Hamilton-based organisation Child Matters uses Child Youth and Family, police and hospital data in its work. Chief executive Anthea Simcock said the substantiated cases were the tip of the iceberg, but greater reporting of suspected abuse had risks. "We don't want to be reporting 'just in case'. Reporting has to be well-considered. It's devastating for a child or family to be confronted by a social worker because someone got it wrong. But people do have to say, 'what if I'm right'."

Ethnicity classifications could be useful to target resources to high-need areas. "You can see it as focusing on Maori and Pacific, when in fact it's trying to be proactive and give more support."

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Simcock said training was essential for people working with children, such as doctors, nurses and teachers, so reporting was accurate. "Reporting is the last resort. What is really important is that people intervene by offering support, or knowing who in a community can support a family."

The Capital & Coast board did not respond to questions on what "other" meant.

HOSPITAL ADMISSIONS 2011 – SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE

Ethnicity Maori 40% European 12.5% Other 34% Pacific Islander 12.5% Indian 1% Age 0-5: 61%6-10: 10% 11+: 29% Gender Male: 58% Female: 42% Injuries Head injuries: 52% Fractures: 21% Bruising: 9% Eye: 7% Neck/throat: 4% Other: 7% Abuser Parent: 57% Friend: 6% Unknown: 37%

- Sunday Star Times

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