INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT CONFERENCE

  • Roger Sowry
Social Services, Work and Income

Aotea Centre
Auckland

Dr Levy, President of ISPCAN, Dr Sham Kasim, President Elect, Dame Augusta Wallace, Mr Frank Fahey, Danny Tumahai and Dave Mackey (Kaumatua), delegates

E nga mata-a-waka o te motu, tena koutou katoa All groups throughout the land, greetings to you all

Firstly, I want to welcome you to New Zealand. I know I speak for all New Zealanders in thanking the many of you have travelled from far afield to be here at this conference to share your ideas and research on matters related to child abuse. We look forward to hearing about the best practices from the 54 or so countries represented here, and also to share with you some of our innovative programmes.

Delegates at this conference will be aware of the research which shows that good outcomes for children depend on:

the investments that families make in their children, particularly during a child's early years;
the wider social investment in children made by communities through local services, and by government through health, education, welfare and other programmes; and
the natural attributes of the child and, in later years, the choices they make.
It is a fact that most children in New Zealand grow up in healthy and safe families with a good education.

But not all children are so fortunate.

Some experience poor health, some fail to achieve academically and tragically, some have their childhoods destroyed by abuse.

This abuse creates costs which we all, ultimately, bear. The reality of child abuse is that it impacts on families, communities, the state and above all - the children themselves.

New Zealand research also indicates that around 1 in 20 families, nearly 25,000 families in total, are at risk of serious disadvantage.

In an attempt to arrest this, the New Zealand Government has adopted a proactive strategy we call Strengthening Families.

The strategy focuses on strengthening high risk families by:

Government and community agencies working together more effectively around the family's needs;
co-ordinating policy, funding and purchasing of the health, education and welfare sectors; and
improving the ability of families to resolve their difficulties and focusing on good parenting.
Progress has been good. The implementation of the strategy started in April 1997, and it is now launched across the country with local groups now well established in areas covering 90% of our population, with case management underway in 50% of these areas. The case co-ordination model is based on a lead agency, a co-ordinated casework plan, and a focus on providing a seamless service to work with families to meet their needs.

The work under the Strengthening Families Strategy to date shows the benefits of a family focused intersectoral approach. The Government is keen to look at the benefits of a similar approach to children and young peoples mental health problems.

It's true Government can't do everything to ensure our children have the best opportunity to become capable and confident adults. But it can do a lot in partnership with other sectors. The Strengthening Families Strategy is showing how these partnerships can work - across all sectors, at central and at local levels.

The beauty of Strengthening Families and its local co-ordination approach is that local managers and front-line staff are encouraged and empowered to develop their own models of working together, of bringing about that seamlessness of service to which we all aspire.

For at risk families the dream is starting to become a reality. It's too early yet to get too starry-eyed about it all but I can assure you that it is working and that cases are beginning to emerge with results that would bring tears to your eyes.

Under the Strengthening Families umbrella another new intensive home-visiting programme called Family Start is being trialed in three areas of the country. It is modelled on a programme developed in Christchurch, called Early Start, which is also being expanded.

We are spending $20 million on Family Start over the next five years, and expect that 850 families will be on the programme by the time it is fully running across the four sites.

The Family Start programme will work with 15% of families with newborn infants in the targeted areas. Families will be referred by medical professionals such as GPs, midwives and nurses at the time of the birth of a child into the family. Referrals will be discussed with the family where it is considered that they could significantly benefit from the programme. Parents must first agree to the referral then Family Start workers can assess the level of service required.

Family workers will work with the family to develop a plan to meet their needs, building on the strengths already there. The functions of the family work include:

providing advice and help to meet family needs (e.g. to find more appropriate accommodation or to improve money management);
helping to develop positive parenting behaviour;
co-ordinating access to services (e.g. specialised services for child or parent);
strengthening support networks for the family;
working with other services involved with the family; and
assisting parents to improve their circumstances.
I believe that Family Start has the potential to bring about a significant improvement in the lives of many children and their families. It ?s important to get the service right and to evaluate the results, and we are building in evaluation right from the beginning.

I would like to briefly talk about the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act. I know that some of the overseas delegates will be spending time with officials from the Children, Young Persons and their Families Service at the conclusion of the conference and will be interested to learn about this highly innovative piece of legislation. It is a tribute to the architects of the legislation that ten years since it was enacted it is still acknowledged internationally as being at the forefront of child welfare legislation.

The spirit of the Act is enshrined in its objects and principles. The four key points underpinning the Act are:

firstly - the child is of paramount importance,
secondly - families are empowered to make decisions in respect of their children;
thirdly - the principles of the Act endeavour to enhance the relationships between children and their families; and
finally - the Act acknowledges that the family has a key responsibility in caring and protecting their children and young people.
The Act also provides for the delivery of social services by Iwi, Cultural and Community social service groups. This enables the delivery of social services to be specifically targeted "by the people to the people". Fifteen iwi have received approval to deliver social services, and of these six are delivering services which have normally been delivered by the Children, Young Persons and their Families Service.

The Act is also unique in that it provides for the appointment of the Commissioner for Children and I would like to acknowledge the presence here today of the current Commissioner for Children - the Hon Roger McClay.

Section seven of the Act requires the Director-General of Social Welfare to promote awareness of the unacceptability of child abuse. Consequently, the Children, Young Persons and their Families Service's Breaking the Cycle public relations campaign was developed. The campaign has the objectives of educating the public about child abuse and neglect, improved parental behaviour and enhancing the public understanding of the role of the Service.

This campaign represents a significant commitment to preventing child abuse and neglect and improving life outcomes for children. Over a three year period we will be implementing prevention programmes and community activities which target at risk communities to raise awareness, and to change attitudes and behaviours towards chronic neglect. And the evidence indicates that the campaign is having a significant effect in changing attitudes towards child abuse. I understand that the Service will be giving a presentation on the campaign during the conference.

Breaking cycles and changing family patterns is not easy. The long term benefits of positive changes cannot be underestimated. The Breaking the Cycle campaign is showing people that there is a better way.

I wish you all the best for your conference.

Thank you.