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Predictive risk model in the prevention of child abuse

Predictive risk model in the prevention of child abuse – UNICEF NZ urges caution

Research and testing of a predictive risk model to assist in identifying and responding to children at risk of child abuse is important work but must be developed carefully, with a range of safeguards built into it, says UNICEF NZ.

“The fact that the Minister for Social Development, Hon. Anne Tolley, has received a recommendation from officials suggesting the predictive risk model be tested by not intervening to protect a child at risk, signals a gross disregard for the rights and safety of vulnerable children. We congratulate the Minister for rejecting the proposal outright,” said UNICEF NZ’s National Advocacy Manager, Deborah Morris-Travers.

Auckland University of Technology's work on a predictive risk model has drawn on a wide range of evidence about conditions that predispose families to violence against children and for that reason it may have an important place in efforts to improve the safety and wellbeing of children.

However, as the recommendation from officials demonstrates, there are a variety of risks associated with tools that may influence people’s response to vulnerable children - including a decision not to act in their interest.

Ms Morris-Travers added, “One of the keys to reducing child abuse and neglect is for all New Zealanders to be placing children’s wellbeing at the forefront of every decision they make. The authors of the Government paper recommending non-intervention in a situation of risk seem to have lost sight of that.

“UNICEF NZ strongly advocates for policy and practice regarding children’s welfare to be rigorous and evidence-based, but tools that analyse retrospective data to assess risk must also sit alongside high quality training and professional development for those working with families.

"Assessing a family’s wellbeing - and the safety of children - requires a wide range of relational and communication skills that cannot be replaced by a check list and should not be pre-judged."

UNICEF NZ underlines that the predictive risk model is just one of many tools at the disposal of the government and that more focus on how tools are implemented in practice, by a capable workforce and effective systems, is essential.

“We urge caution in the development and implementation of this or similar tools, to ensure all of the ethical and human rights issues are thoroughly tested. And we remind the Government of the opportunities to improve children’s safety through a wide range of social, economic and community development measures.

“As every parent knows, each and every child is different and certain tools can oversimplify their needs and circumstances. There is a wealth of evidence demonstrating the need for investment in parents to ensure all families are safe,” concluded Ms Morris-Travers.


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