Cradle to early grave

The amending of Section 59 has not stopped this child abuse or child deaths.

Cradle to early grave

By LANE NICHOLS – The Dominion Post | Tuesday, 06 January 2009

More than 350 children and young people whose safety or welfare had been brought to Child, Youth and Family’s attention have died since 2000.

Children’s commissioner Cindy Kiro says many of the deaths were preventable.

Some died from suicide, abuse, assaults by parents or caregivers, neglect and shootings. Most died from natural causes, medical complications or accidents, including vehicle crashes, fires, falls and drownings.

Last year, Dr Kiro carried out a review of the deaths and she criticised CYF social workers for not focusing enough on at-risk children. The review found “gaps” in information provided to her office and triggered a new focus on neglect by parents and caregivers.

Dr Kiro said she was frustrated by the significant number of preventable child deaths through violence, neglect, injury or suicide.

Though CYF had dealt with some issues identified in her review, it needed to do more to protect high-risk children it was notified about. “I want to see more impetus and focus … because that’s where I think we can save the lives of a lot more children.

“It’s immensely frustrating and it makes me feel sometimes angry that we can’t and don’t do more.”

Figures in Dr Kiro’s 2008 annual report show her office was notified by CYF of 86 deaths last financial year alone a large increase on the previous year.

A further 271 deaths were reported between 2000 and 2007.

All the dead children were known to CYF through notifications of concern or suspected child abuse, though only a small number were in CYF custody.

CYF is defending the figures, saying it investigated all child abuse notifications, but many warranted no further action.

“We know about them, but it might just be a phone call that’s made about a kid who’s driving fast down the road,” a spokesman said.

Numerous children referred to its care had pre-existing medical conditions.

About 50 children have died since 2000 while in CYF care, four from violence or abuse.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett refused to comment on the numbers, saying only that any child’s death was tragic. She would work with Dr Kiro on child advocacy issues.

Dr Kiro’s review last year criticised CYF social-worker practices, and found “significant issues around supervision and chronic neglect” by some parents and caregivers, especially in cot death cases.

She said children notified to CYF were dying from the same causes as other children but were a higher-risk group. “So there’s going to be an increased proportion of them who will die from physical assault, injury or other violence categories.”

Generally when children died through deliberate violence or neglect, most were aged under five, not known to CYF officials and from families with intergenerational abuse.

The rate of child assault deaths had been falling since the mid-1990s.

The number of reported cases of potential child abuse jumped from 40,939 notifications in 2004 to 89,461 last year.

CYF said it was “symptomatic of an increase of public awareness and a growing intolerance of child abuse in society”.


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