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New response to child abuse horror ‘urgent’

National child abuse charitable trust Child Matters says the number of child abuse cases so far this year is testament to New Zealand's horrific child abuse problem.

Following two serious incidents in Gisborne, chief executive Jane Searle said the worsening child abuse figures continued to prove that New Zealand was not making any progress in protecting its children and young people.

“During the first 11 days of 2022, there have been three very serious alleged child abuse cases in New Zealand. A three-month old from Christchurch died last week, a 19-month old toddler from Gisborne died (on January 10), while a three-month old was admitted to Gisborne Hospital with critical injuries on New Year's Eve,” she said.

“Between January and November last year, nine children were killed allegedly at the hands of a caregiver or family — or one child every five weeks — and unfortunately these appalling figures are already worsening just two weeks into the start of the year,” she said.

“To add to that, these figures don't include the thousands of children who are suffering abuse at the hands of a caregiver or family member every single day in New Zealand.”

Ms Searle said real support for at-risk families and children was urgently required.

“These issues will never change unless we change the way we are responding. We need to get serious with frontline community support, resourcing and training, otherwise our children and young people will continue to be harmed.

“We all have a role to play, whether that's knowing what to do if we have concerns about the welfare of a child (and acting on it), being vigilant regarding child safety in our work and personal capacity, being willing to speak up when there is a safety concern, or holding our politicians and community leaders to account on these issues.

“The sad truth is that New Zealand is not a big country, yet we are unable to effectively protect our most vulnerable tamariki,” she says.

“While some of the solutions take time to implement, such as increasing community capability to support families so intervention happens earlier, there are some things that can be implemented easily such as mandatory child protection training for professionals who work with children and young people.”

Unlike many other countries, Ms Searle said child protection training was not mandatory in New Zealand for professionals or volunteers who work with children.

This meant teachers, sports coaches and even social workers may have never received training related to child abuse and neglect, so didn't know how to recognise the signs of abuse, nor how to best respond if risk was identified.