OPINION: The much-publicised "white paper" released by Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has understandably had a mixed reaction.
Essentially it advocates setting up a Vulnerable Kids Database for the 30,000 children considered most at risk of maltreatment, while Ms Bennett is adamant it will work and the results will be almost immediate.
More than $20 million has been set aside to set up the database and fund the model, which would identify the children predicted to be most at need.
Teams of health and social professionals would work with vulnerable children in each region.
In portraying the move as a new initiative, Ms Bennett said it had not been done before because it was complex and involved many government agencies working together.
"It is intrusive if you've got a group of people sitting around discussing a child. Quite frankly, parents are the best people to bring up their kids, certainly not the State, and we should only be intervening when we really have to."
It's hard to disagree with those sentiments, but there remain some unanswered questions.
Both Labour and the Greens are disappointed the issue of child poverty was virtually ignored altogether. Politics are never far away from any social debate and, as such, can be seen for what they are - well meaning but deeply mired in political outcomes.
But a far more independent voice cannot be ignored. Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean admits he is disappointed his recommendation involving the landmark finding into the Kahui twins' deaths by Wellington Coroner Garry Evans has been ignored by the Government in its white paper on child abuse.
His comments follow the call by Mr Evans for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse by frontline health workers and teachers.
He made the plea, which was backed by Judge MacLean, following his investigation into the deaths of 3-month-old twins Chris and Kru Kahui.
It is a sad matter of public record that they died in Starship Children's Hospital from traumatic brain injuries in 2006. Mr Evans subsequently ruled the injuries were suffered while they were in the sole care of their father, Chris Kahui, despite him having been acquitted of their murders.
It was a big call by the coroner, but he had no compunction in backing it up with his call for mandatory reporting. Such was the public outcry at the time, and the smouldering resentment that a "cone of silence" among family members was a factor in hampering the police inquiry, that Mr Evans' recommendations have huge public support.
Any ethical and legal dilemmas that frontline staff suspecting child abuse may face, should not have counted for too much with the minister.
Replacing their discretionary power with a statutory duty to report concerns is surely the least the State can do to protect the very young, who are being killed and/or maimed at alarming rates.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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