Editorial: So far, so godawful

Far too many coffins needing not nearly enough wood.

This brand new year of ours has dawned with a catalogue of cruel reminders about the vulnerability of our children.

Two farm deaths: a 6-year-old Invercargill boy crashes on a quad bike at Lorneville and is pinned under it in a creek; then a 2-year-old drowns in a pond on an Otapiri dairy farm.

Two home deaths: a 3-month-old baby seriously hurt in what appears to have been a fall at a Riverton house dies in hospital; and two children, 6 and 9, are shot dead by their father in a Dunedin murder-suicide.

A 13-year-old Balclutha girl in a boat capsized in Surat Bay, east of Owaka, is found on a beach. She was wearing a lifejacket but the sea was rough and they can't revive her.

The grief and loss beneath those few sparse sentences is immeasurable.

Behind the community's empathy for the young victims, their anguished parents, families and friends, our collective protective instincts are surely jangling by now.

Stampeding to judgments would be dumb. It might help us feel better, sooner, but it would be a spurious sense of resolution. The ponderous, careful process of coronial inquests should reveal the information on which to draw precise lessons.

Meantime, we should look only to general and oh-so-familiar ones; the ones we forget at more than just our own peril.

So let's say it, again, but not just as a dutifully intoned chant.

Farms are workplaces with homes in them. They can't be entirely child-proofed but ponds and quad bikes are inherently attractive to the young and all the more dangerous for it.

Seas cut up rough, babies will fall if you let them, and violent parents, in their reddened rage and distress, are capable of killing their own kids.

We knew all of these things already but that does not make them trivial truths.

All of us need to keep such awareness as vivid as possible, or else look what can happen.

Parents live with the exquisite tensions between the twin imperatives of keeping their kids as safe as they can while opening their lives to adventure.

It's a really hard balance between raising children so secure they can't budge and letting them run so free they're mercy of predation, carelessness and luck.

It is unhelpful, pious and deluded to say you can never turn your back on your children. Quite apart from the truly hapless, helpless kids you'd be raising, it can't be done.

Parenting is more about knowing you've done what you need to before you turn away, even for just a bit.

The same goes for the way the state must treat problematic parents. It cannot intrude and frog-march them out of their children's lives at the first sign of trouble, any more than it can, or should, continuously monitor what goes on inside homes. But a well-resourced, swiftly reactive system to offer all possible protections, refuges and emergency responses has to be in place.

We can't keep our children safe all the time. We just can't.

What redeems us, or not, is how ardently, consistently and intelligently we strive to do better.

The Southland Times