by Jan Logie
Today the Government released their long awaited white paper on vulnerable children. This is the paper that is going to radically reduce child abuse in this country. The paper talks tough but in fact it misses the point entirely.
Over the last several years there has been an increasing awareness of the connection between domestic violence and child abuse, yet no attention has been paid to the implications of this in the white paper.
International research clearly shows that the presence of one form of violence is often associated with the other.
Reinforcing this is the evaluation of programmes designed to reduce child abuse that show that effectiveness is reduced whenever domestic violence is present.
The White paper does not acknowledge the critically important reality that intimate partner violence exists in the majority of child abuse cases. This omission means it will face the same fate and be ineffective in curbing child abuse because quite simply domestic violence is present.
How do we identify and intervene early and safely when intimate partner violence also exists?
This paper offers no consideration for this in any of its proposals. The government wants to treat all families where child abuse exists as though the presence of domestic violence makes no difference to how we respond or the type of services families need to rebuild.
This is the paper’s downfall
Unless child protection practitioners and our government are able to take domestic violence seriously and develop the relevant training and risk assessment processes that take account of the specific needs of children who live with domestic violence, effective services to children and their mothers will flounder.
Police note that in New Zealand approximately 70% of Domestic Violence cases children have been abused as well as the partner and given they estimate that only around 25% of cases are reported the size of the connection cannot be underestimated..
I am concerned that with no clear definition of vulnerable children the only indication I have of who may be considered vulnerable is the number of children identified “at risk”- 20,000 I am concerned that this number corresponds to the number of children already identified by Bennett who she says will be monitored under new obligations for beneficiaries
Is this just a co-incidence?
In reality abuse happens across the socio-economic spectrum. It simply manifests differently. Women’s Refuge tends to provide emergency housing for women from low incomes but also provides support for women in all income brackets. Research around the world confirms that abuse is not the domain of the poor. Focusing on beneficiaries will miss all other New Zealand families where abuse occurs..
Research clearly shows us that children who witness domestic violence are as much, if not more at risk of negative outcomes as those who are directly abused. In 2010 alone Police reported approximately 95,000 children were present at domestic violence incidents. Studies in Australia show that these children when referred to protection services are unlikely to be judged as substantiated cases of abuse.
Currently these children sit in a waiting room until things get worse.
Under the proposals from the white paper they will still be sitting in the same waiting room.
When child protection services do kick in they will not know how to address the domestic violence or support the protective parent and they will not understand how important this will be to the children and their future.