We’re still killing our kids
So, I’m repeating myself. No apologies.
Two years ago, I wrote this:
Quote: Imagine the uproar, the state of emergency, the official horror and fear, the Royal Commission, the law changes, the huge emergency budget funding if it happened.
If 48 MPs, police, departmental heads, judges and community and Maori leaders were rushed to a hospital in one year after suspicious incidents.
Half of them with injuries from bashings – “non-accidental head injuries” is the description. If seven of them died. Those are the figures, but the casualties are not highprofilers. They’re children, mostly under a year old.
Those totals are from Starship, for 12 months – the worst on record. They don’t include battered children admitted to other hospitals
The Starship total at that stage – two years ago – 181 cases of “suspected or definite” child abuse in six years. Thirteen of them died. In one hospital.
The government, its departments with responsibilities to protect our children, the community, families and whanau, neighbours and friends have all been regularly and publicly consciencestricken over the years.
And they then put the terrible details of the deaths behind them – until the next incident when they unconsciously repeat the process.
This is one of those times. The country is in a guilt phase. But how long will it last, what will be the outcome? Unquote
Then, last year, this newspaper published what I described as tombstones, an accusing litany of the innocent dead, children who had died at the hands of family, whanau and those they were entitled to trust.
Readers told how they wept when they read it – and a posthumous letter I wrote carrying the signatures of a list of children and how they had been murdered.
For soiling their pants, for wetting their beds, probably from fear, for bringing home a packet of jellybeans from kindergarten, beaten to death, kicked to death, their genitals brutalised.
I quoted a Unicef report naming us as having one of the worst levels of child maltreatment in the developed world, with OECD also listing us as the third worst killer of children among its members.
I have news for you. Tears are understandable but they’re not enough. Two years later, those terrible labels still apply.
We are still killing our kids – a horrifying average of 10 a year, three in little more than one recent month.
The latest OECD reports vulnerable children in our society are among the most abused, deprived and at-risk in the developed world.
All this as tough times rob important help agencies like Barnardos of sponsors’ money they depend on.
In the words of Dr Annabel Taylor, senior lecturer in social policy and social work practice at the University of Canterbury:
“What the OECD report confirms is that those tragedies are the most obvious and most damning examples of the epidemic of maltreatment and abuse of New Zealand children.
“They are the most horrific symptoms of a much wider problem.”
She wants the government to “take a more focused ap- proach and put the interests of children first”.
As an example, Dr Taylor cites the government’s current campaign to persuade parents not to shake their babies as a sign of New Zealand’s poorly focused response to what she calls “this country’s greatest shame”.
“Of course, shaking a crying baby is totally wrong, and parents should be given practical strategies to deal more appropriately with their baby when he or she cries.
“But pamphlets and posters will not save infants in families at the highest risk of child abuse.
“Neither will social workers in hospitals, who will simply become inundated and overwhelmed by the number and severity of cases they are faced with.
“We know that the highest risk families are where maltreatment and abuse such as shaken baby syndrome is most likely to occur.
“High quality early intervention programmes have proven successful in working with these families to prevent abuse.
“If it wants New Zealand to climb off the bottom of the OECD child maltreatment ladder, the government needs to focus investment on these evidence-based programmes.
“Screening in hospitals is not enough. Hospitals screen a whole range of illnesses and then operate a form of triage to provide services to the most seriously at-risk patients.
“In a similar way, the government’s differentialresponse child protection system needs strengthening so that specialist support services are available to the families that need help the most.”
Dr Taylor says child abuse imposes a huge cost on the whole community.
“Within the first three years of life, children who live in homes where violence and maltreatment are commonplace are at high risk of becoming traumatised to such an extent that their brain development is impaired. When this occurs it creates life-long difficulties for the individual and has a profound impact on society.”
She cites child abuse and neglect costing the equivalent of around $2 billion a year in policing, imprisonment, mental health, healthcare, drug addiction and the other “negative consequences”. That is simply money.
But, there’s much more – lost opportunities for young people and adults who have spent the early years of their lives as victims of violence, neglect, maltreatment and abuse, and who lead blighted adult lives as a result.
“Re-deploying New Zea- land’s social services budget to focus more directly on the 2 percent of families at greatest risk would, in the long term, drastically reduce this drain on our society as well as improving our shameful rankings in international child health and safety indices, like those from the OECD,” she says.
She has grim experience which goes with this terrible territory. Canterbury’s Family Help Trust – which she chairs – works in the homes of infants at the greatest risk of child abuse.
Its skilled social workers focus on the causes of dysfunction in families hit by poverty, crime, fragile mental health, unemployment, lack of education, poor housing, drug abuse, and histories of violence and victimisation, families where child abuse is most likely to occur.
Families where children live at risk and too often die as infants.
So, while millions of dollars of our taxes go into a sweptup harbourside party centre for world cup revellers, Barnardos and other specialists go short of money, risk closing doors rather than opening them, and more children are killed.
To contact Pat Booth email firstname.lastname@example.org or write care of this newspaper. All replies are open for publication unless marked.