An ambitious plan to slash New Zealand's high rate of child abuse has been unveiled today.
And the Government is confident the series of measures and law changes in the long-awaited White Paper will make a major difference in protecting vulnerable children.
More than 50 abused children have died in the last five years and the much anticipated plan contains 30 new initiatives for establishing more co-operation between Government agencies and identifying at risk children and offenders.
A new service, which will run independently from Child Youth and Family, will allow the community to report suspected abuse. And the information will be fed into a new shared database.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is also promising to give judges more power to stop child abusers from accessing their children, as well as promising better training to detect abuse for those at the frontline like teachers.
"It's absolutely vital, the most important thing is that people recognise when abuse is occurring and also are trained to know how to deal with the situation," Paediatric Society president Dr Rosemary Marks said.
The White Paper includes recommendations to introduce:
A child abuse hotline to report any concerns.
A nationwide education campaign about the signs of child abuse.
New laws to prevent high risk individuals from associating with children.
A scholarship programme for vulnerable children.
Establishing Regional Children's Directors to provide leadership.
Children's charities and opposition MPs agreed this morning that the strategy is a positive development, but some feel it does not go far enough to address what they say is the root problems of abuse - poverty.
This morning on TV ONE's Breakfast, Bennett rejected the criticism and said poverty was a small part of a wider problem.
"Poverty does not cause or excuse abuse, and that's the harsh reality of it. A whole lot of people who are living in hardship do not abuse or neglect children."
She said the strategy has brought together, for the first time, all the groups who have an interest or work with children and created a framework for them to co-operate more closely.
"This is big, it's multifaceted, I've got health, I've got education, I've got social workers, I've got community groups, I'm moving everyone into the same sort of space and I'm making them have legislated responsibility for our most broken children. It's never been done before," Bennett said.
"I am absolutely determined to make it happen, it won't happen overnight but by crikey it's going to happen with this blueprint that's going to move us forward."
What the White Paper proposes
The White Paper for Vulnerable Children contains a raft of changes to improve child protection including the establishment of a new database with details of those most at risk.
The Vulnerable Kids Information System would enable frontline staff to share information about children who been abused or neglected and would be available for a range of organisations.
Bennett said a risk predictor tool would also be developed, alongside Auckland University, which would identify vulnerable children before they are abused.
Other measures include new legislation for reporting child abuse and promoting mentoring of at risk children between Government agencies and NGOs.
A child abuse hotline is also being set up to provide an easier point of contact for anyone with concerns.
"Many people are concerned about children but don't want to call Child, Youth and Family. This new line will be the first point of contact and ensure the right response," Bennett said.
Controversial proposals such as making the reporting of child abuse mandatory and preventing abusers from having more children are not included in the report.
Bennett said $20 million has been invested in the first part of the 10-year strategy and it will require co-operation from all parties to succeed.
"The reality is so many people hold a piece of the puzzle but nobody had put it together, and at the centre of that is a child living a little life of hell quite frankly," she told Breakfast.
Bennett cited the case of a nine-year-old girl from west Auckland who was was found hiding in a wardrobe starving, dehydrated and anaemic from internal bleeding after abuse from her parents.
None of the 25 agencies involved with the girl and her family had been aware of the abuse.
"This white paper is about those most vulnerable children, 30 - 40,000 kids in this country that are quite frankly living lives that you and find quite unimaginable," she said.
"I want to do something about that and this is what the white paper is about."