Rescuing vulnerable kids: Bennett's master plan

DANYA LEVY AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 08:34 11/10/2012
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PROTECTING CHILDREN:
CRAIG SIMCOX/FAIRFAX NZ
PROTECTING CHILDREN: Social Development Minister Paula Bennett today launched the White Paper for Vulnerable Children.

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New measures to reduce New Zealand's appalling rate of child abuse are being welcomed by child advocates but Opposition parties say the Government has failed to address poverty which can exacerbate the risk.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett today launched the White Paper for Vulnerable Children which is the culmination of four years work and consultation with thousands of community groups and parents.

The Government plans to establish a database for at risk children, set up a Child Protect phone line for concerned family, neighbours and friends, and train professions such as teachers and doctors to recognise the signs of child abuse.

The measures stop short of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse which raised concerns at-risk children would drop out of the system and services would be over-run with notifications.

Child advocacy group Jigsaw's co-chief executive Sally Christie said the measures would help stop children slipping through the net because Government agencies were not sharing information.

"The new system will be secure, with passwords and monitoring built in, which will be reassuring for families."

Comprehensive training for public sector professionals would help them correctly recognise the signs of abuse and know what action to take, she said.

The Government had adopted most of the things Jigsaw had been calling for.

Labour's welfare spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said measures in the report made good commonsense.

"But where we have been let down was this was a wider opportunity to lift vulnerable children's wellbeing and that hasn't been used."

Poverty was one of the best determinants of a child's future wellbeing and success. It is estimated there are 270,000 children living in poverty.

"Yet we are not doing enough to address that. The minister certainly suggested this would be an opportunity for that and it hasn't been the case."

Ardern said the Government could address poverty by redirecting funding for poverty related health problems such as rheumatic fever into addressing causes such as crowded and damp housing.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei said the moves were "half measures" and Bennett had ignored much of the advice she had been given.

"There has been strong calls for a nationwide universal child health database that manages all the information about a child, from pre-natal issues right through their childhood, as being the core ways to identify children at risk without making judgements about families."

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A database for only vulnerable children required people to first identify abuse or target particular family types or risk factors, she said.

"That will mean children who are at risk will be left out."

The Child Protect phone line was simply a renaming of the Child, Youth and Family notification system, Turei said.

"It can only be useful if there are immediate places for families to be referred to and there is a workforce that can intervene with that family."

Bennett said the White Paper didn't claim to address child poverty.

"I was always blatantly targeting these most vulnerable, abused and neglected children in this country and that's what this piece of work was always about."

- The Dominion Post

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