27 Jul 2011

Mandatory reporting of child abuse flagged by govt

8:29 pm on 27 July 2011

The government is suggesting making it mandatory to report child abuse, as one strategy to help at-risk children.

A green paper on vulnerable children was released in Auckland on Wednesday afternoon.

As well as mandatory reporting of child abuse, the paper looks at whether parents with addictions or mental health issues should be prioritised for support over people who are not parents.

The paper also canvasses the sharing of private information between agencies. That could mean professionals such as teachers, social workers, GPs, nurses, psychologists, the police and therapists are able to freely share information about children they work with.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says the decisions the country needs to make about children are bigger than politics and electoral cycles. She says the green paper focuses on child-centred decisions that will fundamentally change the way the country cares for children.

Ms Bennett says better sharing of information about at-risk children will help early intervention in potential child abuse cases.

Lack of information sharing

Paula Bennett told Checkpoint there is currently no shared database between the Ministry of Health, Child, Youth and Family and police.

"That's going to take a substantial change in our systems and how we collect data and how we share it."

But Ms Bennett says this was already happening to some extent, citing a case where information about a child admitted for abuse to one hospital was matched with details about their sibling who was admitted to another DHB.

"It was actually through information sharing and the changes that we have made in the last two years that that was picked up."

Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, who consulted on the paper, said he's convinced New Zealanders will force politicians to make the hard decisions needed to fund programmes to reduce child abuse.

Dr Wills says the disussion paper details research into which programmes work, but there is no new money to provide funding. He told Morning Report that people need to tell politicians what they're prepared to give up in order to fund what's needed to change the country's appalling child abuse statistics.

Submissions on the paper close at the end of February next year.

Focus too narrow - Labour

The Labour Party says the document should not focus solely on vulnerable children.

The party's deputy leader, Annette King, says Labour's plan is for all children under the age of five to have checks to show which of them are vulnerable.