Another Review, But The Same Old Questions

Another Review, But The Same Old Questions
Archived Article: Trust Newsletter Spring '09

who_we_are_1_1.jpg   In June of this year the Office of the Children’s Commissioner published ‘Death and serious injury from assault of children under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature and recent findings’.

The review is comprehensive and draws on research from around the world. Results highlighting the plight of New Zealand children are grim. However, true to its nature the review does little to contribute to policy
suggestions, and although providing some valuable information, it neglects to ask the crucial questions of why we again hear more of these shocking statistics,
and see little action being taken to address the underlying issues that lead to these tragic outcomes.

Between 1995 and 2004 (inclusive) 443 children, under age five were admitted to hospital as a result of assault (including neglect); almost one child a week. Further, during the same time period, 51 children under age five, died tragically as a result of the assault they experienced. More recent results show that over the 2005/2006 financial year period Child, Youth and Family (CYF) received 6699 notifications of children under two years of age. One quarter of these were deemed to require no further action; however 62% of these children had been renotified to CYF by August 2008.

The review goes on to identify ‘risk factors’ for child abuse and neglect leading to serious injury or death. These risk factors include: the maternal age of the mother, her access to and use of prenatal services, the attitude of the father towards the child, the role of non- biological parents, previous history of family violence, the mental wellbeing and/or illness of the mother, the use of alcohol and other drugs, the ethnicity of the child, as well as disability of the child, previous physical injuries and the immediate circumstances of the injury.

In brief:
  • Children whose mother is under 15 years of age are seven times more likely to experience abuse and neglect. If the mother is under 17 and already has one child the risk increases ten fold.
  • A child whose mother does not receive, or drops out of prenatal care have a ten times higher risk of suffering from abuse and neglect. 31% of child deaths under five years of age. Further the likelihood of serious child abuse increased six to eight fold if the mother of the child was engaged in hazardous drinking around the time of conception, or during the first trimester of her pregnancy.
  • Significant concerns about ‘making ends meet’ lead to an increased likelihood of abuse of up to six and a half times the population average.
  • Ethnicity is tragically a significant factor for New Zealand Maori in particular; with a six fold in- crease in risk of serious in- jury or death from assault for male children and a threefold increase for female children.

Risk factors do not appear in isolation. Multiple risk factors mean the likelihood of abuse and neglect are extremely high in some cases.

While highlighting some valuable information, the review fails in the first instance to ask new and courageous questions in regard to the role of marriage, the impact of family structure and welfare dependency and the long term effects of welfare dependency.

Further the review fails to draw the connection be- tween the exhibiting risk factors and their commonality. The identification of these risk factors will prove most useful if used as tools to begin to look at the deeper issues surrounding the social policy, family structures and welfare, as well as substance abuse that exhibit themselves as leading contributors to these risk factors, and in turn to the deaths of too many of our precious tamariki. Despite these risk factors forming a common and relatively clear picture of the social and economic circumstances of children, prior to or during their experience of abuse and neglect, they in themselves are not enough to direct clear policy changes.

Mainstream media failed to pick up on any light the review shed on the subject of child abuse. Likewise many of our elected representatives did little to make meaningful changes and capitalise on the legitimate questions that it raised.

Unless we, as individuals, and communities, in our conversations, the groups we find ourselves a part of, and the positions of influence we hold begin to look at these risk factors as a whole picture, unless we (including our Children’s Commissioners) ask the courageous and imperative questions in regard to how children and their families find themselves in these circumstances, and demand answers to these questions, we will neglect to address the deeper issues.

We will never truly address the problem in more than a superficial way, allowing cyclical patterns of abuse and neglect to continue, and turning a deaf ear to the voices and stories of vulnerable children who live, and used to live in New Zealand.

To read the full review go to