Tuesday, 10 April 2007

19 September 2006 - nzherald - Parents should sit licence test, say experts


Parents should sit licence test, say experts

12:00AM Tuesday September 19, 2006
By Simon Collins

A high-powered expert group has proposed a kind of "parents' licence test" which all parents would have to sit to keep care of their children and to receive child-related welfare benefits.

The proposed assessment, similar to a driver's licence, would be administered when a baby was born and repeated when the child turned 1, 3, 5, 8, 11 and 14.

Parents found to have "risk factors" for child abuse, such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol problems or mental illness, would be offered help.

Judge Graeme MacCormick, a former Family Court judge who initiated the proposal, told a seminar in Auckland yesterday that parents who refused to accept help, or to be assessed, should have their child-related benefits suspended and possibly lose their children.

"There need to be sanctions for failure to provide the assessments or for failure to engage adequately with the support organisation," he said.

"I would suggest suspension of any child-related benefit and immediate referral to Child, Youth and Family Services with a view to possible alternative placement.

"Alternatively, incentives could be offered for completion of a designated programme, but that could be additionally expensive, and the support and assistance might still not reach those finding it most difficult to engage of their own accord."

About 120 people, including social workers, paediatricians and Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro, attended the one-day seminar called by Judge MacCormick and economist Murray Weatherston to seek a consensus on tackling the high rate of child abuse.

Co-chairwoman Judy Bailey counted 85 per cent support on a show of hands for "a universal assessment of risk at birth".

There was also overwhelming support, with only one objection, to a call by family lawyer Jan Naish-Wallis and paediatrician Simon Rowley for mothers to have a right to stay in hospital until breastfeeding is established - usually two to five days.

Ms Naish-Wallis cited a current case where a couple had split up because of the stress of a baby who "screamed day and night".

"This whole thing could have been avoided if this mother had had longer in hospital, if she had learned how to deal with a baby that was screaming day and night, and these people, who really care for each other, had been able to stay together and care for the child," she said. But there were divided views on what should be done if parents failed to front up to assessments or to accept help.

In a paper, Judge MacCormick said the assessment should be done at birth by the baby's midwife or lead maternity carer, and should be mandatory.

"Just as you must have a birth certificate or other evidence of birth or caregiving to receive a child-related benefit, so you would also need to have a welfare/needs assessment to receive it," he wrote.

"We require people to have a licence to drive a car. But we do not require anything of significance for what is one of the most difficult, challenging and important responsibilities of all: bringing up children."

Parenting Council chairwoman Lesley Max said society should not tolerate "child hostage" situations where "fearsome fathers or father figures frighten away those who might help".

She suggested that children in need should be allowed to stay at home with temporary caregivers while their parents were taken out to "an intensive residential parenting retreat".

But National Party children's spokesman Dr Paul Hutchison asked whether a mandatory regime would be practical, given that "those that are often most at risk are very hard to track down".

"Is not a better approach very clear incentives to have those assessments?" he asked.

His colleague Judith Collins, the party's welfare spokeswoman, advocated a "smart card" that would let parents spend their benefits only on things that were essential for the child's wellbeing.

Child abuse bill costs "$1.25b a year"

Child abuse costs New Zealand $1.25 billion a year, says economist Murray Weatherston.

"That would build three new national stadiums per annum. It's a huge number," he told a seminar in Auckland yesterday.

He based the figure on an Australian study which found that 21 per cent of the cost was the immediate short-term human costs of injury and death, 40 per cent was the long-term cost of resulting mental disorder and criminal offending, 37 per cent was the cost of state interventions such as Child, Youth and Family, and 2 per cent was the cost borne by community social agencies.

Technorati tags:
,, , ,
, , , ,, , , , , ,

No comments: