Two weeks ago the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) released, in two parts, a report into the links between poverty and child abuse (Part 1 pdf, Part 2 pdf). I covered Part 1 last week, today for Part 2.
This document is called “Child abuse: an analysis of Child Youth and Family data”. Early in the introduction we get this assessment of the National government’s policies to date:
The current National government has made a strong commitment to highlighting and addressing the plight of ‘vulnerable’ New Zealand children. The 2011 Green Paper on Vulnerable Children (New Zealand Government, 2011) (hereafter ‘Green Paper’) sought public submissions on dealing with child abuse. The Green Paper was criticised by many organisations working with children for its narrow focus (Caritas New Zealand, 2012; Child Poverty Action Group, 2012; UNICEF NZ, 2012) and its focus on dealing with child abuse by re-prioritising existing spending on social services. Based on public feedback on the Green Paper, the government produced the White Paper (New Zealand Government, 2012c) (hereafter ‘White Paper’). The White Paper failed to reflect the many submissions received that noted the role of poverty and deprivation in child maltreatment and neglect (New Zealand Government, 2012b). The White Paper included a Children’s Action Plan (New Zealand Government, 2012a) that had little to do with preventing the abuse of children but was more pre-occupied with identifying and tracking “high-risk adults and offenders” and workforce training and development.
In contrast to this narrow focus, here is CPAG’s position:
Two key points emerge from the large body of literature and research into child abuse: firstly that child maltreatment and neglect are associated with poverty, an association that cuts across individual and community characteristics; and secondly that child maltreatment and neglect occurs within a dynamic matrix of individual stresses and capabilities, changing household circumstances, and the wider family/whānau, communities and neighbourhoods (Wynd, 2013). This complexity means it is difficult to identify at-risk children reliably, and to design programmes that work to protect children. Indeed, accurately identifying at-risk children and designing programmes that are effective at protecting children in the long-term remains the Holy Grail of child abuse research.
This paper explores the association between poverty and deprivation and child maltreatment and neglect in New Zealand, as reflected in the data available from Child, Youth and Family (CYF). … The paper proceeds as follows: a discussion of the aims and methodology of the research including the strengths and weaknesses of the study; the results of the study; a discussion of the results and their implications; and finally a conclusion and some thoughts on areas of further New Zealand- based research.
I’ll skip the brief chapter on aims and methodology. The results section is organised as follows:
3.1 Substantiations by type: A breakdown of the “substantiated” cases of abuse by type. Emotional abuse dominates (over 10,000 cases per year) with Neglect second (around 4,000), then Physical (over 2,000), then Sexual (over 1,000)
3.2 Proportion of notifications resulting in substantiation: This section looks at the proportion of notifications that resulted in substantiated claims of abuse (typically 20 to 30%) broken down by year and region.
3.3 Proportion of 0-17 year olds who were victims of abuse: Shows the proportion of children who are the victims of substantiated abuse, broken down by region, from Papakura (4%) to far North (over 2%). This regional analysis was one of the few aspects of the report that attracted any mainstream media attention.
3.4 Rate of substantiated abuse findings and proportion of young people: No strong result here but “a higher proportion of young people in the population may be a factor in child abuse”.
3.5 Benefit uptake: This section correlated rates of substantiated cases of abuse with proportion of beneficiaries over various regions. There was no statistically significant effect. This is probably the most politically fraught data, so a brief quote:
The weak [not statistically significant] relationship between benefit receipt and child abuse may be no more than a reflection of the impact of the low incomes of benefit recipients (Perry, 2007). The data here shows no evidence of an association between benefit receipt and distinct substantiated rates of child abuse.
3.6 Ethnicity: The data collected had “shortcomings” so this brief section notes only that, as anyone familiar with the racial dimensions of poverty and race in NZ, that compared to Pakeha, Maori are overrepresented, with Pacific and Asian / Other more mixed.
Finishing with just a couple of quick quotes from the conclusion:
The data presented in this paper lends support to the proposition that higher rates of child abuse are associated with socioeconomic deprivation. This relationship is not conclusive in part because there is significant diversity within many site offices. However, the inclusion in the list of less diverse areas such as Clendon and Whakatane (which includes the low-income districts of Kawerau and Opotiki) strengthens the case. Conversely, the more affluent areas of Wellington City, Takapuna, and parts of Christchurch/Canterbury have far lower rates of substantiated abuse.
Of some surprise was the broad – although not definitive – finding that higher rates of child abuse appear to be linked to a younger population structure. Also surprising given the assumptions behind much current social policy was the finding that benefit income does not appear to be related to rates of child abuse.
Overall, even a cursory examination of the New Zealand data such as that presented here suggests that dealing effectively with child abuse will entail paying a great deal more attention to socioeconomic deprivation than has been the case so far. …
As I said at the end of last week’s post – we have all the studies and evidence that we need. Time to stop wringing our hands over the national shame of our child abuse and poverty rates. Time to stop ignoring and marginalising the poor. Time to address the real problems. Can Labour lead the way?
Here’s the standard footnote. Poverty (and inequality) were falling (albeit too slowly) under the last Labour government. Now they are on the rise again, in fact a Waikato University professor says that poverty is our biggest growth industry.
Before the last election Labour called for a cross party working group on poverty. Key turned the offer down. Report after report after report has condemned the rate of poverty in this country, and called on the government to act. Meanwhile 40,000 kids are fed by charities and up to 80,000 are going to school hungry. National has responded with complete denial of the issues, saying that the government is already doing enough to help families feed their kids. Organisations working with the poor say that Key is in poverty ‘la la land’.
The Nats refuse to even measure the problem (though they certainly believe in measurement and goals when it suits them to bash beneficiaries). In a 2012 summary of the government’s targets and goals John Armstrong wrote: “Glaringly absent is a target for reducing child poverty”…
The costs of child poverty are in the range of $6-8 Billion per year, but the Nats refuse to spend the $2 Billion that would be needed to really make a difference. Even in purely economic terms National’s attitude makes no sense.