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Health And Wellbeing - Maharey Speech

Hon Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Health And Wellbeing

Address at the launch of Child Abuse & Neglect Referral Process For General Practitioners. Beehive Foyer, Wellington.


I extend a warm welcome to you all, especially those who would have travelled here to be a part of this launch.

I would like to start by paying tribute to those of you here today who have made a positive contribution to reaching agreement on the referral process outlined in this booklet entitled “Suspected child abuse and neglect”.

I would also like to acknowledge the significant contribution of those who are unable to be here to share in this launch.

Today we are standing on the threshold of making a significant step forward to improve and enhance our respective responsibilities in the area of child health and well being.

We are here to mark the work of a number of committed and dedicated professionals from four agencies, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, the Ministry of Health, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and the New Zealand Medical Association. It involved extensive consultation among all four groups. It is endorsed by working General Practitioners. It demonstrates that all who work with children have a shared responsibility for protecting and safeguarding their wellbeing. With each partner making a distinctive contribution within a context of collaboration and shared understanding.

The problem of child abuse in New Zealand

Developments over the past years have placed child abuse and neglect on the public agenda in a way not previously seen.

The initial impetus for greater GP involvement came after an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1962 by Kempe and his colleagues . This article identified the “Battered Child Syndrome” and challenged medical practitioners to recognise the incidence. The controversy surrounding this proposition drew attention to the issue of physical abuse and neglect and as a result it was recognised that widespread damage was being caused to children by society’s denial of the problem .

During the 1980s, the focus of attention moved to child sexual assault when physically abused and neglected children began revealing they were often the victims of sexual abuse as well . Alongside this, surveys by rape crisis and sexual assault centres showed that many adult women had been sexually abused as children, while young boys were often victims of sexual abuse by people they knew and trusted , .

In the last decade, there has been a huge increase in public awareness of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect and its tragic consequences, as well as a realisation of the complexity of the responses required.

There is therefore a concern to understand both how best to respond to the issue and what can be done to prevent all types of child abuse and neglect from occurring. The long-term nature of the problem and the difficulties in finding solutions has led to the search for more refined responses and services .

Agencies have sought more effective ways to address their child protection responsibilities. Research shows that an interagency approach is vital in facilitating change and ensuring the best possible outcome for children and their families .

The issue of violence within families, particularly child abuse, remains a high priority area which this Government is committed to addressing.

Working together to prevent child abuse

The development of this protocol has and will continue to contribute to the Government goals by making sure that:

* Children, young people and their families get a better and more professional service;

* There is better collaboration with communities in services planning and delivery; and

* There are broad-based strategies and initiatives which will work to prevent child abuse and neglect.

The Department of Child, Youth and Family Services allocates over $75 million to community providers annually. This year funding has been increased for specialist services to at-risk children and their families with complex issues, such as family violence.

In addition, Iwi social services and Maori providers will receive extra funding, as their capacity to provide services has grown.

The $75 million of community funding demonstrates the importance of the role community providers play in dealing with child abuse, neglect and problem behaviours. Their help ensures at-risk children, young people and their families receive the assistance and support they require.

Guidelines for reporting suspected case of abuse by medical practitioners

For a number of years, Child, Youth and Family and the Health Sector have had a close working relationship.

It is now quite common for medical practitioners, such as Paediatricians, to be members of Care and Protection Resource Panels while in some areas DSAC doctors are members of Sexual and Child Abuse Teams.

I am aware that some Child, Youth and Family offices already have strong and well-developed relationships with their local medical practitioners. We need to ensure that these relationships are maintained and strengthened. This booklet, and the referral process contained within, will make a significant contribution to this.

Some here today may be aware that the actual referral process for General Practitioners reporting abuse was initiated a few years ago in the Northland area.

It occurred when various people from the Health and Welfare sectors decided to formulate local guidelines which would assist General Practitioners identify and, if necessary, refer a child or family to Child, Youth and Family. Those guidelines formed the foundation of the recommended referral process that we are launching today.

The release of the Commissioner for Children’s report into the death of James Whakaruru last year provided additional impetus to finalise the work. As you know, the Commissioner’s report highlighted the need for Child, Youth and Family and Health professionals to work much more closely together to protect children from abuse and neglect.

He specifically recommended:

* a co-operative interagency approach towards child protection;

* the development of reporting protocols;

* the sharing of information between agencies; and

* that training in the recognition and reporting of child abuse and neglect and in the assessment of risk factors be undertaken.

The extensive intersectoral collaboration that has taken place has culminated in the production of the booklet and the joint training that will be delivered. These are clear indications that the Commissioner’s message has been heard and more importantly, acted upon.

All information that General Practitioners may need, should they suspect child abuse and neglect, is contained in this booklet. Again, I reiterate that it was designed by medical professionals and endorsed by your colleagues. As such, I urge GPs to:

* enhance your awareness of at risk children and their families;

* seek assistance for at risk children and their families; and

* enable families and communities to keep kids safe through a shared understanding, partnership and vision to protect children.

Where requested, Child, Youth & Family and the Ministry of Health will jointly organise briefings for community-based General Practitioners. These forums will also provide General Practitioners with an opportunity to work through issues around identifying and reporting abuse.


I acknowledge that some GPs find their role in the reporting of child abuse and neglect a challenging and difficult one. This may be reflected in the lfact that only about 1% of child abuse reports come from GPs.

Your reports are vital to children.

As GPs, you are in a unique position to identify and assist children and families at risk. All here today have been entrusted to safeguard and promote the interests of children. Your actions and concern can strengthen the community and help the abusive family interrupt its cycle of violence.

In closing, I would again like to thank each of you for attending today. I especially want to express my gratitude to those on the Working party and all who contributed their time, energy, skills and expertise.

Finally, I would like to share with you a quote taken from the journal “Every Child” .

“You are the mirror that reflects the personal worth of each child”.

Thank you.

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