Neglect of children 'real issue', lawyer says

Neglect is the real issue, not the headline-grabbing abuse cases the Government is trying to address through its white paper proposals, a Dunedin family lawyer says.

Dunedin list MP Michael Woodhouse held a public meeting in Dunedin last night to discuss the Government's white paper proposals launched last month.

About 20 people attended the meeting to discuss the paper's 30 proposals, which Mr Woodhouse said aimed to target the 20,000 to 30,000 most vulnerable children, identifying them through various measures including a child protection line, risk predictors, new screening processes and the development of a vulnerable kids information system.

Family lawyer David Polson told the meeting the Government was "starting from the wrong end" and not attacking the real issues.

"The real issue is neglect and we need to get our heads around that."

Removing children from their homes and putting them in state care in nearly every case resulted in disaster for the child, he said.

Underfunding of Child Youth and Family meant a child had to be at very high risk before the agency acted.

"It's all very well to get reporting, its all very well to collect information but if nothing is done with the information collected ..."

The non-governmental agencies involved in these cases were also underfunded to assist and changes to the family court were eroding its protective role for women and children, he said.

The audience had mixed views on the Government deciding not to require mandatory reporting of child abuse.

Mike Lord said he supported mandatory reporting if it meant there was more chance to put "all the links together" to identify an at-risk child.

Anything that significantly reduced the numbers of children being abused was worth funding, he said.

"As a taxpayer, I'd support that."

Mr Woodhouse said he would report to Social Development Minister Paula Bennett feedback from the meeting.

rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz

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