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Report Highlights Need for Inter-Agency Response

27 July 2006

Child Mortality Report Highlights Need for Inter-Agency Response

A Child, Youth and Family report on child death from maltreatment confirms the need for government and community agencies to work together in reducing child abuse.

The report, "Children at increased risk of death from maltreatment and strategies for prevention", released today, provides valuable insights into risks associated with child homicide.

"The report is a step toward better understanding child homicide, cycles of abuse and the risk factors associated with fatal child maltreatment," said Ray Smith, Deputy Chief Executive of Child, Youth and Family.

The report is in two parts: the first seeks to identify factors associated with an increased risk of fatal child maltreatment. The second part looks at ways in which the research informs responses to vulnerable children.

"The report reassures us that child homicide in New Zealand is a relatively rare occurrence. It does, though, signal a need to for us to focus greater attention to the care and protection needs of the younger child. Children under five are most at risk, those under one year particularly so," said Ray Smith.

The report identifies that child death from maltreatment occurs predominantly in the context of poverty, psychological stress and limited support. .

Factors include poverty, low education, unemployment, being young, having poor mental health including drug and alcohol abuse, being the victim of family violence and a history of criminal offending.

"It is important to understand that while the report identifies risk factors associated with child homicide, most people with one or many of these factors will never harm children" Ray Smith said.

"Strong people and strong families can overcome adversity. Providing the right support for families at the right time can make a huge difference. Entering a healthy relationship or getting a good job can also turn peoples' lives around.

The report reaffirms the need for a life course perspective in developing services. Multiple disadvantages can have an accumulative effect and reactive services will often deal with issues in isolation.

The report reinforces that Maori are more likely to experience the socio-economic factors associated with increased risk of death by child maltreatment. UNICEF research shows that while ethnic minorities often have higher levels of child abuse, the operative factor is poverty which disproportionately affects ethnic minority families.

"It is important that multi-agency services are able to respond to the particular needs of families including their cultural needs.

"Research shows that only one family in five where a child homicide has happened had previous contact with Child Youth and Family. This tells us how important it is for agencies to work together across the spectrum of services in identifying early those families who need more support than others.

"Building cross-sector capacity and providing a coordinated response has the potential to strengthen the safety net around vulnerable children and information from the report will be used to improve this.

"Although the report indicates that it is extremely difficult to predict child homicide, it is important that we collectively strengthen our services so they are the best they can be in responding to the needs of vulnerable infants," said Ray Smith.


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