The Child Poverty Action Group has released Child Abuse: What role does poverty play? a review of the past 25 years of child abuse research and finds higher than average rates of child maltreatment and neglect associated with poverty.
CPAG Health spokesperson Professor Innes Asher says the report strongly identifies poverty as a key risk factor in child abuse. While the government seems genuinely committed to protecting children it is failing to address poverty as one of the key drivers of child maltreatment and neglect, despite many of its own reports over many years suggesting more action.
Government policies can make a real difference to the lives of our children by providing adequate income, housing, education and health, but many families are missing out on these. Current government policy responses to the tragedy of New Zealand’s child abuse are far too narrow. The recent 2012 White Paper focuses on identifying, reporting and monitoring of child abuse and was disconnected from the numerous evidence-based submissions linking child maltreatment and neglect to poverty.
The government has chosen to introduce policies such as punitive welfare reform that will cut benefits to struggling parents of children where strict criteria are not met, rather than increase child-related payments to the most disadvantaged.
“There is plenty of reason for the public to remain anxious about the issue of child abuse and the lack of government response to protect our beautiful children,” says Professor Asher.
Professor Asher says the government focus on individual behaviour continues to put children at risk. “The government needs to look at ways of minimizing the stresses that families living in poverty come under. It must reassess the narrow response it is taking and change it to one that is multi-dimensional and comprehensive. Poverty is the product not only of national economic and social policies but how those policies are implemented and administered.”
The report draws attention to the increase in socioeconomic inequality, with M?ori and Pacific families falling further behind. This was concerning given the much younger age structure of M?ori and Pacific families.
Asher says Child Abuse: What role does poverty play? has been welcomed by a number of health experts given the estimated 270,000 children living in poverty in our country, a much higher rate than 2 decades ago.
The message is loud and clear that reducing child maltreatment and neglect to a meaningful extent requires the government adopting wide ranging child-focused policies that directly address poverty and other causal factors.
“Central and local government can do so much more to prevent child abuse. Children must be protected with policies that will improve their access to adequate income, housing, education and health. As a nation we can choose to dramatically reduce poverty and by doing so lessen the risk to our beautiful children from suffering abuse.”