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Review of non-accidental harm to babies

8 October 2004

Child, Youth and Family to review non-accidental harm to babies

Child, Youth and Family is responding to high rates of infant homicide in New Zealand with a review of non-accidental injuries and harm inflicted on babies under the age of one, over the past decade.

Acting Chief Social Worker Craig Smith has announced the research in recognition of the particularly high risk that vulnerable infants face.

Recent research by former chief social worker Mike Doolan has found that 26 per cent of children murdered between 1991 and 2000 were less than one year old and 63 per cent were younger than five.

To guide the research, Child, Youth and Family has established a reference group comprising Pat Tuohy, Ministry of Health chief advisor, child and youth health; Jan Egan, Early Start Christchurch clinical practice manager and clinical supervisor; Patrick Kelly, clinical director of Te Puaruruhau, the Child Abuse Unit for Auckland District Health Board; and Gordon McFadyen, investigations manager for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner .

“The research will involve looking back through Child, Youth and Family and health data bases to identify infants who have been harmed non-accidentally and establishing whether there are common patterns which may provide us with an understanding of how we can respond as a nation and stop children from being harmed and killed,” Mr Smith said. “It is about identifying those children who are most vulnerable so that all agencies can be cognisant of the support those families need as early as possible.”

The findings will be fed into Child, Youth and Family’s planning and development programme for new social workers to help them better understand the dynamics of families who seriously harm their children and will be shared with community organisations and other agencies who work with new parents, Mr Smith said.

“Reducing the harm inflicted on children is something that government agencies can not do alone,” he said “The first year of parenting can often be a difficult time for new mums and dads, so friends and neighbours need to recognise when parents are under stress and do what they can to assist before problems escalate.”

“If people know parents with new babies are stressed, they should be providing support themselves, connecting with family and neighbours, and liaising with primary health providers such as GPs, Plunket, public health nurses and community based organisations that offer parents support to ensure that parents do not feel isolated. Where problems do escalate, they should make a referral to Child, Youth and Family”.


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