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United action can beat child abuse, says expert
4:00AM Saturday Sep 19, 2009
By Simon Collins
New Zealand’s top child advocate is urging people to offer practical help to families where children are being abused, instead of simply calling in child welfare officers.
Children’s Commissioner John Angus, a former social worker with what is now Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS), said he was shocked at the number of grandparents who rang CYFS about their grandchildren without having spoken with the parents first.
“There were other situations where they had tried their best. But picking up the phone to CYFS as a first response to concerns about how the grandchildren are getting on doesn’t seem to me a way to get ahead of the problem.”
He told a forum organised by Family First that grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbours who feared that children were being abused or neglected could do something about it themselves.
“It might be really practical things, like who cares for the children when the parents go out drinking on a Friday night,” he said.
“Who makes sure that Uncle John, who is suspected of some odd ideas about children, doesn’t get left alone with the girls.
“Good families do this all the time.”
Dr Angus said that, in his experience, most of the parents who abused or neglected their children were not “mad or bad”.
“Most of them were overwhelmed by things in their own lives that made them very inadequate parents – sometimes by the way they were treated as children themselves, sometimes by alcohol or drug addiction, sometimes by mental health problems,” he said.
“Sometimes it was the family circumstances they were in – they were in a pattern, one sometimes wondered why, of associating with the most hopeless guys you could think of who just used them and made it so hard for them to parent. It’s part of the lives of a whole lot of New Zealanders when you think about extended families and friends. It is not a problem of some small underclass.”
People could also help by getting involved in groups such as churches and community organisations that helped vulnerable families.
“Doing those things goes against the view in New Zealand that bringing up your children is very much a private enterprise … that your home is your castle. But people find ways to do it, and it works. There is a lot of evidence that child maltreatment rates vary from place to place, even though those neighbourhoods might look very similar in ethnic composition and whether money is there or not.
“The factor that accounts for the difference is the degree to which there is social interaction – the degree to which neighbours are concerned about how their neighbours are getting on, the amount of neighbourhood care of children.”