Child abuse report urges sexual health services overhaul

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 19/11/2013

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Child health experts are lauding a parliamentary report which calls for sweeping reforms to reduce the high rates of child abuse.

An overhaul of sexual health services provided to teenagers is one of the most significant measures recommended by the health select committee after its inquiry into improving child health and preventing abuse.

In a report out yesterday, it called on the Government to address New Zealand's high rates of unplanned and teen pregnancies.

Although the rates have begun falling for the first time in decades, New Zealand is consistently ranked as having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the OECD.

The committee recommended providing "best-practice" sex education in schools. It made nearly 130 recommendations to the Government, ranging from warning labels on alcohol to a new national target to book 90 per cent of all pregnant women in with a maternity care provider by their 10th week of pregnancy.

Committee chairman National MP Paul Hutchison said the problem with New Zealand's approach was that it was "reactive" rather than preventive.

The focus on early intervention was crucial, and that began before conception, he said.

It was thought 40 per cent to 60 per cent of pregnancies in New Zealand were unplanned.

Family Planning chief executive Jackie Edmond welcomed the recommendations.

"One of the best recommendations from my perspective is the co-ordinated cross-sectoral approach and strategy that's been recommended.

"We have not got a current sexual and reproductive health strategy. Our one is very old - dated 2001. It hasn't been reviewed and we're in dire need of having a co-ordinated approach to these issues."

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills said he thought the committee had been pro-active.

"They have said we need to have a clear focus and it needs to be across government, on investment in the early years and I absolutely agree."

Figures showed that if teenage parents were well supported, and continued to achieve academically, the outcomes of their children were no different to children who didn't grow up in poverty.

"It's when those teenage parents are poorly supported and out of school, that their infants have dismal outcomes. So we need to work hard to prevent teenage pregnancies."

Dr Wills, who is also a paediatrician, said New Zealand needed a whole-of-government, inter-agency plan to improve outcomes for children.

He was delighted that the committee recommended the Government give greater consideration to the earlier Evidence for Action report.

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The report last year, from a group put together by Dr Wills, laid out initiatives it believed New Zealand needed to undertake to lift families out of poverty.

The Government had already either completed, or was still working on 23 of those actions, but Dr Wills said the most crucial one, which was yet to be dealt with, was a plan.

The committee's report will now be considered by the Government. 

- Fairfax Media

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