Report prompts call to action from new Children’s Commissioner

July 16, 2009

Efforts to prevent the tragic deaths of children in New Zealand must not be allowed to slow down, new Children’s Commissioner John Angus urged today on the release of a report into maltreatment of young children.

The report, Death and serious injury from assault of children under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature, was commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and reviewed common risk factors for death and injury from abuse in New Zealand and worldwide.

“Every year about 45 children under 5 years old are seriously injured and around five are killed because they are maltreated at the hands of people they should be able to trust.  That’s a distressing statistic,” John Angus said.

“And sadly, as this reports suggests, it is very young babies that are most at risk of abuse. Their vulnerability means that almost all forms of assault can lead to serious injury and death. It only takes a small slap to the head or a short shake of a baby to do real harm.

“The report also highlights some risks we need to give more attention to in this country. For instance, there is a particular risk when babies are left in the care of young men who are not biological fathers. They are often totally unprepared for the stresses of a crying baby and may already have problems with anger or alcohol abuse.

“International research has found that they often lash out in an attempt to ‘silence’ the child. With knowledge like this we can make sure that funding and resources to reduce child abuse are directed to the right places and at the right people.

“For instance, I would strongly urge government agencies to consider funding the Shaken Baby Prevention Programme – which is currently being looked at closely by the Auckland DHB.

“This successful international programme, based on robust research, is an excellent example of practical action being taken to reduce child abuse.

“The programme targets parents of newborns, including fathers, to give them information about infants’ vulnerability to brain injury and to teach them how to deal with the frustration of a baby crying inconsolably. One American study of the programme found a 47 per cent decrease in head injuries caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“I would strongly recommend this programme is piloted in Auckland and the results evaluated. If effective it could be introduced New Zealand-wide.”

Report co-authors Mavis Duncanson, Don Smith and Emma Davies suggest that child abuse is often the result of a multitude of risk factors within families. It is compounding factors like a previous history of violence, impending parental separation and a lack of antenatal care that can suggest a higher risk of child abuse.

“Reviews like the one I’m releasing today make an important contribution to what we already know about the risks to young children and to the work underway to reduce the rate of abuse and neglect,” said John Angus.

“My intention during my time as Commissioner is to use evidence like this to support recommendations on matters concerning children and to ensure that such information is used to good effect by health, education and child protection agencies.

“I’m pleased that CYF and health services are already focusing on the prevention of abuse and neglect amongst infants, for example in the changes to the Well Child services.

“We simply cannot afford to ignore the harm done to our children – it is a significant issue for New Zealand and one that requires the full efforts of all those working with families and young children.”

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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