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Dunne Speaks: What to do about Child Abuse

Dunne Speaks

10 September 2015

Every day the government collects information about some aspect or other of our lives. Whenever we interact with a government agency, some sort of record is generated about us. A visit to the doctor, the pharmacist, the local school, the Police, paying a traffic fine, or calling ACC will have a similar effect.

In the information age, there is not much we can do to stop all this. It is difficult to have the advantage of increasingly joined-up government services without acknowledging some of the costs. And in most cases, anyway, privacy law and the rather mundane nature of the information gathered means it is not really a major issue.

What we have to guard against is the government’s desire for information becoming insatiable and overbearing, and its failing to use the information already gathered to maximum positive benefit. This is no more important and relevant than in the case of vulnerable and abused children, and our response.

We all know of the significant problem of child abuse in New Zealand. Over the years, successive governments have poured millions of dollars into agencies like CYFS, and special programmes, yet the frequency of child abuse seems no less and in some cases considerably worse than it was in years gone by. CYFS has undergone frequent reviews, yet is still treated warily by many New Zealanders as an agency of state that interferes unduly in the lives of New Zealand families.

At the same time, through various longitudinal studies, and through the data already gathered by CYFS and other agencies, we have a pretty fair idea of who and where the at-risk families and children are in New Zealand, and in most cases could probably just about name them. Yet because of an understandable fear of stigmatising these families, we have deliberately shied away from a more direct approach, in favour of a broader brush “whole of society” approach, which has left us in the predicament we currently are.

Given the maxim about doing the same things producing the same results, is it not time to change the way we deal with vulnerable and at risk children? Why not utilise the information the government currently holds to intervene directly and early with at-risk families and children to ensure they get the love and care needed to avoid their becoming the victims of abuse later on? While governments cannot legislate to provide love and affection, they can act to ensure their resources are directed towards every child having the chance to be raised and cared for in a stable environment. No child can determine the circumstances of its birth and upbringing, but every child surely has the right to be raised in a stable and caring environment.

We have the capacity to make this change right now – but it may require a few sacred cows to be killed off first. So it is not a question of can we – we most assuredly can – but rather one of will we. Our appalling record demands that we make every effort to do so.


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