Western Leader : February 8th 2011
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Appalled at the level of abuse New Zealand children suffer, Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett wants -- and expects -- action. She says her nominee to investigate what she describes as the horrific abuse of a nine- year-old west Auckland girl has my full backing and that of my ministerial colleagues to ask the hard questions of the numerous government and non-government agencies involved . Ms Bennett wants to know why the financial resources and number of professionals engaged in this area has made little difference to the shocking statistics. In a statement to this column she says she wants broader public debate on New Zealand s shocking abuse statistics. Here is her reaction: You make a valid point regarding the value of Lord Laming s inquiry. It was a strong piece of work instigated by an appalling case of child abuse in the United Kingdom. Yes, there are similarities between that case and abuse we have seen in this country. However, I do not believe bringing the highly respected Lord Laming to New Zealand is the answer. Let me tell you why. On January 20 I announced a ministerial inquiry into a horrifying case of abuse against a nine-year-old child. Two people face a litany of abuse charges and court proceedings are under way. As a result I must be extremely cautious to avoid prejudicing the trial in any way. Once the children are safe this is most important legal pri- ority. However, questions remain about the way agencies worked together and I believe this can- not wait until the conclusion of the legal process. This is why I asked Mel Smith to head the inquiry and he immediately began work the day of the announcement. Mel Smith has my full back- ing and that of my ministerial colleagues to ask the hard questions of the numerous gov- ernment and non-government agencies involved. I fully expect the recommen- dations will lead to further work. I would welcome a broader public debate about abuse and neglect, because, quite frankly, I continue to be appalled at the level of abuse New Zealand children suffer. Also in the mailbag: I just read one of your earlier columns, Tiny voices from the grave, and it broke my heart. I believe that every single one of us has the responsibility to speak out for those who can t do so for themselves. If I saw that happen to my neighbours, friends, family or a person down the street I would stop short of nothing to prevent another child from suffering from that sort of abuse. I came from an abusive relationship. I understand how hard it is to leave. But there is no excuse for not protecting your children. I left when I finally realised that he wasn t going to change and that our son would be next in his firing line. I could not accept that. So I don t have empathy for anyone how could stand by and let a child get hurt. If you do nothing, it s as bad as striking that child yourself. Thank you for doing your part. I m going to go hug my kids now. -- Name supplied I have just finished reading your article and I m both extremely sad for children involved, yet equally angry at those who took their lives and received such pathetic sentences. It is sickening stuff. I m a mother of a two-year- old and I cannot imagine ever hurting her or allowing some- one else to do so. My first priority is to protect and love her, and that is a child s right. Thank for you being so brave as to write down the facts. It must have been a very difficult article to write. -- Helen North, North Shore I am fortunate not to have had to live through such an ordeal and nor do I wish this upon my children or anyone s that I know. I am dreadfully sorry for all those who have been subjected to such monstrosities and their treatment is unforgivable. I wish to offer you my full support in your journey to abol- ish this country s tolerance for child abuse! IamasinglemumandIam verywaryofwhoIletinto mine and my children s lives. I truly congratulate you on your standing up to the world. I am a student nurse also and I am sure that in my career I will come across such tragedies. -- Carmel Destounis Wouldn t bringing Lord Laming to New Zealand just be more of the same old thing? Getting another report with all the recommendations is the easy bit. The problem is ensuring that what the report recom- mends is enforced, and it is this issue that the minister needs to be addressing. She needs to look at issues such as: Is more training needed on how to recognise signs of abuse or neglect, what happens when people report concerns and why are they often ignored, why is there not more follow-up and monitoring when concerns have been raised, why is help not immedi- ately put in place for families at risk, why is there not more co- operation between all agencies? Not only social agencies but the courts dealing with child welfare issues -- and how they address them -- need to be included in any investigation. Parental rights seem to be the priority over the welfare of the child. I have experience of reporting serious concerns relating to a child only to see this promoted in the court as fabrication on the part of a family member before any investigation was carried out, and which the judge appeared to endorse. I walked out of the court feeling absolute disgust for all those involved, and complaints made to the minister of justice, the judicial ombudsman and the prime minister about this issue have brought no response. If the courts are going to treat such issues in that man- ner what incentive is there for people to report concerns? As a CYFS social worker told me the court is the highest authority and we can t go against them. -- Anne Tomlinson, Browns Bay Several readers have written in support with details of their family experiences with the system. Thank you. You have provided valuable background material but space and some- times legal issues prevent me publishing them.
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