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30,000 NZ kids at risk of death - Bennett

Published: 2:57PM Sunday October 14, 2012 Source: ONE News

Thirty thousand New Zealand children are at risk of death because of abuse or serious neglect, according to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett.

She told TVNZ's Q A programme she is "point-blankedly targeting" those children in her new plan, the White Paper for Vulnerable Children. It was launched last week after four years of consultation with community groups and parents.

Asked how she defines the 30,000 "at risk" children she is targeting, Bennett said, "It is those that are currently being maltreated, so we know are being abused or seriously neglected, and then those who we predict will be."

She said "it's pretty horrific" when Auckland University researchers are saying they think 5% of New Zealand children are at risk of serious maltreatment.

"I find it horrific we've got 30,000 children that are potentially living lives of hell. We have to focus on them. It's unpalatable. We all like to think it's not happening. It is.

"They are at risk of death, to put it quite bluntly. We have to do something for those that really need it."

The Government plans to establish a database for 30,000 at-risk children, set up a Child Protect phone line for concerned family, neighbours and friends, and trained professionals such as teachers and doctors to recognised the signs of child abuse.

Not about the money

Twenty million dollars has be budgeted for the first part of the 10-year strategy, but Bennett told Q A it's not about the money.

"An extra 50 bucks a week" into the homes of child abusers wouldn't save lives and more than the extra $20 million budgeted would not get abuse rates down, she said.

"I could easily have gone and scattered more money around and hoped that I actually got it to the children that needed it most. I am point-blankedly targeting, and these are the children that I'm targeting.

"And we can debate where that line should be, and that's fair enough. I've drawn one. Those 30,000 children need it most."

Bennett said: "I don't think it needs more money... What it takes is a concerted plan that puts the right identification across these children and then an individualised plan that sees to them having better outcomes, and that's what this plan does."

Blaming poverty 'too simplistic'

The Minister acknowledged a link between poverty and child abuse, but said poverty was worse after World War II, yet family violence wasn't as common, so it was "too simplistic" to blame poverty.

Labour's Jacinda Ardern said she completely disagreed with the Minister that additional income for families wouldn't have any affect on a child's wellbeing.

"All of the research and evidence suggests that income absolutely does matter when it comes to the wellbeing of a child," Ardern said.

More than 150,000 cases of child abuse went to Child, Youth and Family in the first six months of the year.

Of these, nearly 5,000 cases of neglect, more than 3,000 cases of physical abuse and 1,400 cases of sexual abuse were found. Up to 10 children are killed in New Zealand each year, and each time they are killed by parents or guardians.

Bennett said she is "sick to death" of "the face of some beautiful child turning up that's dead, and then we turn around and say all of these people intervened and everyone sits there and points fingers at each other."

Asked when that intervention will happen, she said under her plan "I think you will see far clearer lines of accountability."

"We will also have a lead professional that is responsible for the outcomes for that young child. And that will be a huge difference."