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New Zealand Urgently Needs To Do More To Protect The Lives Of Our Youngest Children

Save the Children is deeply concerned by the recent spate of child deaths in New Zealand.Three very young children two years of age and under have died in less than two months, the most recent a two-year-old in Palmerston North in unexplained circumstances. Their deaths are being investigated by Police.

These very young children have had their lives cut short. Their deaths clearly show that we, as a nation, are not doing enough to protect our youngest children from harm.

The violent deaths of children are highly preventable, yet New Zealand has unacceptably high rates of children dying from non-accidental causes with 224 children dying from abuse, neglect, and assault between 1992 and 2017. One in eight victims of homicide is a child aged 0 - 15 years old. [1]

Although it is too early to conclude whether all three children are victims of family violence, we do know that we have a serious family violence problem in New Zealand. Whilst significant investment has been made by the Government in response to family violence, it is unclear how much of this is aimed at preventing violence occurring in the first place and particularly in prevention of violence in the home against young children.

Save the Children would like to see significantly stronger investment in ensuring that all parents and families are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to support their child’s development and use positive non-violent parenting practices in the early years of their child’s life.

Research recently undertaken in New Zealand by Jacqui Southey, Child Rights Advocacy and Research Director for Save the Children, shows that parents are open to receiving information that supports their parenting practices. Yet there is potentially a knowledge gap and not all parents can easily find information that supports the use of positive discipline strategies for children aged up to five years of age. The research found that parents who are closely connected with the early childhood education sector are more likely to be aware of and use pro-social parenting strategies and be able to refer to professional information sources. Whereas less connected parents referred to at times ‘winging it.’ Southey said, "The research raises questions on how well parents not so closely connected to ECE are informed and supported, and what can we do at a population level to ensure all parents have the information and support they need?"

According to UN Committee on the Rights of Child [2], "The role of the family in protecting children is critical and is the first child protection system for the child."

Therefore, if we are to make a significant shift in reducing violence against children, we must ensure every home is equipped with the information and skills they need to raise their children using prosocial violence free strategies.

Furthermore, we need to develop a culture where adults see every child as an individual, treating them with love, dignity and respect from the earliest age, and that parents and primary carers understand the fundamentals of positive parenting and child development. These are essential elements in supporting children’s positive behavioural, social, emotional and physical development, and in reducing the violent treatment of children.

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