NZ Herald Jul 11, 2011
New Zealand’s shameful child abuse rates have hit a “plateau” and will nosedive by 2014, our new Children’s Commissioner says. But Dr Russell Wills conceded figures revealing 25 hospital cases of infants suspected to have been assaulted before their first birthday in the year to April were “still too high”. Figures released under the Official Information Act also showed nearly 300 babies less than a year old were tagged with special assault codes at hospitals between 2006 and 2010. A breakdown by the National Health Board showed 69 babies were given such codes last year – a rate of 106 per 100,000 live births – although the total was less than the 75 cases recorded in 2009, the highest rate for the period. Dr Wills, a Hawkes Bay Regional Hospital paediatrician who stepped into his new role just over a week ago, said New Zealand’s child abuse rates were still higher than in most OECD countries. He put that down to a high rate of children in poverty, low investment in services to support parents and services that had been allowed “to drift into things that don’t work”. But a combination of new campaigns and programmes, better collaboration and an increased awareness of child abuse would see the number of cases drop sharply by three years’ time, if not sooner, he said.