It is World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) today thank colleagues and members who are active in protecting the nation’s children / tamariki.
Few are better placed than social workers to recognise the importance of abuse prevention, not only to ensure that children / tamariki are protected in the here and now but also in order to improve their long-term wellbeing.
As ANZASW member Toni Hocquard, Stand for CHildren’s regional manager at the Midland level, told us: "Preventing child abuse is important because if we don't prevent it, it has ongoing costs for each child, who then becomes an adult - and consequently for our whole society."
As we have stated before, the Association strongly believes that early intervention to overcome challenges in the lives of children / tamariki is essential to preventing not only neglect and abuse, but to empower the child and their caregivers to participate fully in society.
In order to achieve this, social workers are strong advocates for the rights of the child; we take a wide-lensed view of the factors that can put children / tamariki at risk. When intervening to prevent or respond to abuse, social workers seek to bolster to the child's wider support network, helping them reshape their relationships in a manner that helps to nurture constructive lasting solutions within the family / whanau as a whole.
As a profession we are always alert to the warning signs of abuse so as to facilitate early intervention to create safer living situations for children / tamariki. We are trained to spot behavioural indicators such as signs of stress or neglect and reports of cruelty toward those outside the immediate family, including pets.
ANZASW member and National Targeted Interventions Manager at the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) New Zealand Nicole Robertson explains that “animal cruelty is an indicator that other family members are at risk.”.
“Neglect of animals is often one of the first indicators that the family are struggling. So if there’s neglect of animals or an animal is tied to the back fence or social workers are witnessing the abuse of the animals it often is an indicator that the family is struggling and also that other members of the family are experiencing abuse,” she added.
As professionals who are trained to look at the wider picture, social workers understand that social and economic factors at the macro level play a role in putting children at risk. The Association believes that tackling economic and social deprivation, inequality and family / whānau poverty is a key way to reduce the risk of abuse and neglect of children, which can however occur at all levels of society. We hope to see more action on this front from government, to be pursued in tandem with early intervention strategies at the micro level.
While most abuse occurs within the home, social workers are mindful of the fact that it can happen anywhere. It is a crucial task for our society as a whole to be vigilant to the threat of abuse and to look out for the wellbeing our children / tamariki / mokopuna in any setting.
Sadly the need for this is highlighted by the fact that despite the efforts of ourselves and colleagues in other professions, Aotearoa New Zealand continues to experience high levels of child abuse. Every year the Ministry for Vulnerable Children receives more than 150,000 reports of concern relating to children.
This situation needs to change, and as a society we need to have a more open discussion about how to best protect our children / tamariki wherever they are and the need to overcome concerns about being perceived as meddling in the affairs of others.
Together we can all help to improve the wellbeing and prospects for present and future generations of New Zealanders.