Challenging Child Abuse Statistics

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A new Child Poverty Action Group report has ranked the regions around the country on their child abuse statistics While Tairāwhiti is not amongst the highest areas we’re not near the bottom either. Being somewhere in the middle is positive considering our high proportion of young people and low socioeconomic status.

The data presented in the paper suggests that higher rates of child abuse are associated with socioeconomic deprivation rather than what age or ethnic group you belong to.

We will be contacting the authors to understand more about how they defined ‘substantiated’ as there a number of levels within the CYF system that could have been used as the measure.

I agree with the authors when they suggest even a cursory examination of the New Zealand data such as that presented in the report 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. While the Government’s White Paper identified deprivation as a risk factor in child abuse, it failed to propose any measures to address it – on the contrary it sought to trivialise the role of income poverty by introducing “different sort[s] of poverty – poverty of affection, poverty of protection, poverty of expectation, poverty of educational stimulation, poverty of positive role models” (p.26). The White Paper focused on ‘benefit dependency’ as a risk factor for ‘vulnerable children’, however the analysis in the CPAG report suggests that may not be a useful approach.

And basically they are saying it’s not because a child is Māori or Pasifika that makes them more likely to be abused or neglected, it’s to do with socio-economic deprivation and ‘ethnic clustering’ in the social stratifications: “It is clear from the census data that low incomes and the effects of poverty tend to be clustered in certain areas and that Māori and Pacific people are disproportionately over-represented in these areas.”

Ethnic stratification exists in New Zealand, and while for Māori and Asian communities it is static or improving, for Pacific peoples it is getting worse.

The report says “There has been extensive research on the impact of ethnic segregation overseas but almost nothing in New Zealand. Ethnic stratification and ethnic clustering have not officially been identified as issues requiring attention in New Zealand and so are not measured by any central or local government agency. Yet the disproportionately high rates of child abuse among Māori across the country suggest that this aspect needs to be considered, especially as ethnic clustering is so closely associated with socioeconomic deprivation.”

It is impossible to disentangle ethnicity, poverty, poor health, overcrowded housing, and lack of access to employment and services from one another.

I have been asking for Council to report on these inequality issues within our region and it is on the staff work programme to do so. These are the kinds of things we can do something about locally instead of just saying it is a central government responsibility. Central government is part of the problem and locally we can do much more to address these issues than big bureaucracies can.

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One thought on “Challenging Child Abuse Statistics

  1. It would be nice if the study looked into marital status. Just because poorer families have higher rates of child abuse does not prove cause and effect any more than race does.

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