11 October 2012

A stronger focus on sharing information among professional groups to identify vulnerable children and serve as an early alert for improved prevention of child abuse and neglect, was commended by the New Zealand Medical Association, which has welcomed today’s release of the Government’s White Paper for Vulnerable Children.

The Government’s initiative to build a Vulnerable Kids Information System to collate information on the most vulnerable children from government agencies and front line professionals is a significant step forward says NZMA Chair Dr Paul Ockelford. 

“Strengthening data collection and information sharing will help to identify and provide care for vulnerable children. We are pleased to see the Government has made a commitment to developing new, integrated solutions to improve outcomes for young people. The NZMA has expressed concern in the past that the current system is reactionary rather than preventive and that there is little inter-agency coordination. Changes announced today should ensure fewer children are lost to the system.”

A code of conduct will be developed to provide robust safeguards for information sharing.

The announcement that comprehensive training will be available for professions such as teachers and doctors to better recognise the signs of child abuse and to know what actions to take is supported, and in conjunction with other measures announced such as a ‘child protect’ phone line for the public to report concerns of child abuse and a national public awareness campaign, it was envisaged there would be greater shared accountability, says Dr Ockelford.

“We are seeing progress to achieve a whole of government, whole of society approach. The prevalence of neglect and abuse of children in society is an issue that we must all take responsibility for.”

The NZMA was pleased to see universal services would continue to be offered but that there would be more targeted investment for those children that were most vulnerable to neglect and abuse.

Providing care at the very earliest stages, such as to pregnant mothers and then linking them to lead maternity carers and other support is also essential. “The White Paper talks about improving the coverage of Well Child/Tamariki Ora checks and providing additional visits and services to those that are the most vulnerable.”

Dr Ockelford says the White Paper did not specifically look at the social factors, such as income, housing and employment, which have a strong correlation to the degree of vulnerability of the child.

“However it does mention the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group report on Solutions to Child Poverty so it is hoped that the recommendations made by this Group will be closely looked at. If we are to prevent the abuse and neglect from occurring at all, and really taking a preventive approach, social factors must be addressed.”