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Society must advocate for children - expert

Last updated 16:27 27/02/2014

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Stopping child abuse will only be possible if New Zealand acknowledges children belong to all of society, not just their families, international child-protection experts say.

United States experts Randell and Sandra Alexander are in New Zealand for two weeks to address the issues of child abuse and neglect.

During their visit they will meet government officials, health professionals and businesses.

New Zealand has the fifth-worst child abuse record out of 31 OECD countries. On average, one child is killed every five weeks.

Randell Alexander said he believed it was important to gather information from families of concern because a child's safety overrode any privacy concerns.

"It doesn't have to be an intrusion," he said.

"It's important that children belong to the family but they belong to some extent to all of us and all of society. We need to be advocates for them."

He said there was a definite connection between physical child abuse, child neglect and child poverty.

Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were harder to quantify and were more "egalitarian".

He recommended New Zealand adopt a national medical network that would work specifically to identify and treat cases of abuse.

Alexander said child abuse was a problem in every country he had been to and the countries that claimed it wasn't often had an issue with under-reporting of abuse cases.

Child Matters national manager of child protection Amanda Meynell said she hoped the visit would highlight what worked well in the United States and what could work in New Zealand.

She said 2008 figures showed New Zealand spent about $2 billion solving the after-effects of child abuse.

"We have got some significant child-abuse statistics and we have huge numbers of children who are reported to Child Youth and Family," she said.

"We have really poor child-abuse statistics."

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said there had been some recent positives such as increased reporting and a drop in children hospitalised for non-accidental injuries.

"However, while we can be reasonably happy with the improvement . . . the picture is not all good for our kids," Wills said.

"If we compare ourselves to other OECD countries, the number of children with substantiated abuse and admissions to hospital with non-accidental injuries is high.

"We simply have far too many children being harmed by the adults in their lives." 

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- Stuff

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