11 Oct 2012

Computer programme 'helps predict' potential abuse

7:22 pm on 11 October 2012

The development of a computer system to predict which children are at risk of being abused or neglected has been announced at the launch of the Government's plans to tackle child abuse.

In a White Paper on Vulnerable Children released on Thursday, the Government detailed plans to set up a database of all at-risk children, establish a phone line for people to call if they're worried about friends or neighbours, and train doctors and teachers to spot signs of abuse.

Chief information officer David Habershon is in charge of the database and says it will build a complete picture of an at-risk child by drawing on information from a variety of agencies.

"We anticipate that there will be data from other parts of government that go into the system so that a complete picture can be built up.

"But we have to work through what that data's going to be and do that in a way that we ensure that we are getting the right data and that we're using it for the right purpose. We don't want to gather data which is not necessary for the purpose of protecting children."

The computer system has been developed by a University of Auckland economist to help predict at-risk children.

Associate Professor Rhema Vaithianathan focused her research on children from families on a benefit as she says 83% of abused and neglected children are from that group.

She said researchers looked at the history of 58,000 children under the age of two, their caregivers and the caregiver's partner.

"(We) isolated 132 variables that helped us predict whether they were going to have a maltreatment finding by age five."

Ms Vaithianathan says children who have a high risk rating will be offered more help, in order to prevent problems.

The finishing touches are being placed on the system, which is expected to be set up initially as a pilot scheme.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the tool will inform professional judgement rather than replace it, and social workers will still decide what action, if any, is taken.