Help for at-risk children needed

Dr Nicola Atwool, a senior lecturer in social work at the University of Otago, reflects on planned child protection changes. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Dr Nicola Atwool, a senior lecturer in social work at the University of Otago, reflects on planned child protection changes. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Hundreds more children from vulnerable families are likely to be taken into care unless sufficient resources are provided to ensure that changes in child protection law are successful, Dr Nicola Atwool says.

She is a senior lecturer in the University of Otago department of sociology, gender and social work, and a former principal adviser in the Office of the Children's Commissioner.

Dr Atwool said that, despite several positive features, the proposed Vulnerable Children's Bill was likely to generate many extra costs, and failed to address wider poverty issues that were adversely affecting many children and their families.

If enough resources and time were provided, social workers could help transform the lives of affected families.

But ''insufficient funding'' was available, and it was hard to see how more could be achieved without further investment.

She was worried New Zealand did not have the funded services needed to engage in the ''long-term work'' some families needed if they were ''to make and sustain the changes required'' to ensure children's needs were met.

''Without these services, children will come into care because the change may not be able to be achieved without an intensive multi-agency strategy,'' she said in an interview.

In some quarters, the solution was seen to be ''moving children into permanent placements at a much earlier stage''. This helped children achieve ''greater stability'' in alternative care, but this outcome was not guaranteed and research had shown ''poor outcomes'' for many children raised in care.

Children who had experienced early trauma often had a ''challenging time'' in adolescence and some placements could end up as failures. The birth family remained significant for children, even if they had experienced earlier abuse within the family.

Where possible, it was preferable if change could be achieved within the family, and this also reduced the risk of subsequent children having to be removed at a later stage, she said.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz