Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has released the White Paper for Vulnerable Children today at the Jigsaw national conference in Wellington.
"We will target support and services to our most vulnerable children through more than 30 new initiatives introduced in the White Paper," says Mrs Bennett.
"Too many New Zealand children are seriously abused and neglected. In many cases of extreme abuse a range of people held some information but no one put all the pieces together, it is time for fundamental change," she says.
A Vulnerable Kid's Information system will be implemented and alongside Auckland University we will develop a comprehensive risk predictor tool to identify vulnerable children before they are abused and get them the help they need.
A legislative change will mean that Chief Executives of Social Development, Health, Justice, Police, Housing and Te Puni Kokiri will be jointly accountable for achieving results for all vulnerable children, while Regional Directors and Children's Teams will coordinate individualised responses locally.
A new child protect line will also mean calls are triaged appropriately.
"Many people are concerned about children but don't want to call Child, Youth and Family. This new line will be the first point of contact and ensure the right response," says Mrs Bennett.
Non-government organisations will be contracted to offer ongoing support to families who take in a child and the number of specialist trained caregivers for high needs and high risk teens will be expanded.
The Child Youth and Family complaints process will be reviewed as will parental leave provisions, with a view to extending these to families who take on a child permanently.
And whether by accident or design, TVNZ featured this week one of New Zealand's worst child abuse cases; the Nia Glassie case. Six adults were imprisoned after having been found guilty of abusing Nia in a cruel and systematic fashion. The lead offenders, brothers Michael and Wiremu Curtis are serving life sentences with a minimum seventeen-and-a-half years without parole, whilst Nia's mother Lisa Kuka is serving a nine-year sentence, and has already had one parole application declined.
Although we MySkyed the Beyond the Darklands episode on Monday night, we only got around to watching it this morning. And as we watched with an increasing sense of discomfort and horror there was a mental segue; if ever a child could have been helped by what Paula Bennett is implementing, it was Nia Glassie.
Here's the Darklands episode, for those who haven't yet viewed it. Caution; it's a very tough watch:
No-one seriously believes that Mrs Bennett's initiative will stop child abuse in its tracks. But had there been one number that the neighbour who witnessed Nia being flung from a spun-around clothesline at least four times could have called, there might have been intervention. Or had there been one number that the Kohanga people who noticed a dirty, hungry unkempt child being dropped off (with decreasing frequency) reeking of cannabis, there might have been intervention.
Nia Glassie need not have died. Nor need the Kahui twins, nor James Whakaruru, nor any of the dozens of children whose names have become familiar to us simply because the people who should have loved and cherished them abused them, beat them and ultimately killed them. The civil liberties folk are already complaining about privacy, but check out what paediatrician Dr Patrick Kelly says at the 18 min mark - "I think we have to give up some of our obsession with privacy".
Dr Kelly makes a very valid point. Nia Glassie had no-one in her corner whilst six adults including her own mother showed indifference to her plight, and systematically beat and tortured her leading to her death. If precious children's lives are to be spared, someone has to speak up. Does a suspected child abuser's right to privacy trump the right of that child to be protected, and for authorities to intervene if necessary? In our book it does not; ever.
Let's give the Vulnerable Kid's Information System a chance; if it saves one more potential Nia Glassie from becoming a headline, it's worth it.