Calls to screen pre-school chil­dren


The Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner is call­ing for all chil­dren to be screened for de­vel­op­men­tal and learn­ing dis­or­ders when they en­ter school.

Judge An­drew Be­croft said iden­ti­fy­ing is­sues early could even out the play­ing field for chil­dren ear­lier in life, and al­low au­thor­i­ties to tar­get re­sources more ef­fi­ciently.

His com­ments come as new Otago Uni­ver­sity le­gal re­search fo­cuses on Foetal Al­co­hol Spec­trum Dis­or­der (FASD) and a Min­istry of Health plan to im­prove its de­tec­tion and di­ag­no­sis, as well as ed­u­ca­tion for preg­nant moth­ers, gets un­der­way.

FASD is an um­brella term for birth de­fects that can cause phys­i­cal, cog­ni­tive, be­havioural and emo­tional im­pair­ments.

Health Min­istry fig­ures show at least two in five preg­nan­cies in this coun­try are un­planned, and half are ex­posed to al­co­hol, with one in 10 ex­posed to high lev­els of drink­ing.

Be­croft be­lieves the dis­or­der has been un­der-di­ag­nosed in New Zealand, mean­ing some young of­fend­ers in the past who were not flagged up in the jus­tice sys­tem as need­ing special con­sid­er­a­tion due to FASD prob­a­bly did not re­ceive the kind of help they needed, and will now be in the adult court sys­tem.

‘‘I think in 50 years’ time, those of us who were in the youth jus­tice sys­tem at this time will be judged quite harshly, it will be like we were send­ing blind peo­ple to prison for the of­fence of not be­ing able to see.’’

Teina Pora’s wrong­ful con­vic­tion was one high-pro­file case. He had been told there was a reward on of­fer for an un­solved crime and gave a false ac­count to po­lice that ul­ti­mately im­pli­cated him the 1992 rape and mur­der of Su­san Bur­dett when he was just 17. Pora sup­ported the idea of a uni­ver­sal assess­ment for all chil­dren for learn­ing and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­or­ders at age five, which could in­clude screen­ing for FASD, dyslexia, and other dis­or­ders.

‘‘I just won­der if New Zealan­ders know how pro­foundly dam­aged these young peo­ple are.’’


Chil­dren’s Com­mis­sioner An­drew Be­croft is in favour of screen­ing ev­ery child at age five to check if they are fac­ing de­vel­op­ment is­sues.

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