Cut super to save at-risk kids plea

Two of New Zealand's top children's doctors are proposing an increase in the state pension age to pay for more services to stop child abuse.

Paediatric Society president Dr Rosemary Marks and Starship hospital child protection clinical director Dr Patrick Kelly say raising the pension age could fund measures to tackle child poverty and improve health and education services for our youngest children, who are most at risk of abuse.

Dr Kelly's proposal in a submission, and Dr Marks' comments in an interview yesterday, come on the eve of the release tomorrow of a long-awaited Government white paper on vulnerable children.

The document is expected to signal moves to bring doctors, nurses and teachers formally into the child protection system, enabling and possibly mandating more information sharing and co-operation with police and Child, Youth and Family Services.

A green paper issued last year proposed targeting more services to the youngest, most vulnerable children, and asked for feedback on what other spending could be cut to pay for this.

Dr Kelly wrote in his submission: "I would suggest national superannuation would be the first target. We can no longer afford to subsidise the top of the population pyramid at the expense of the base."

Dr Kelly and Dr Marks were in an eight-member expert group convened by former Children's Commissioner Dr John Angus in 2009 that started the policy process leading to the white paper. The group recommended bringing health and education into the child protection net, enrolling babies in Well Child programmes before birth, and giving more intensive education and support to the roughly 15 per cent of families in most need.

Dr Marks said some improvements had been made since then by training health services to look for signs of family violence and educating parents about never shaking their babies.

The Paediatric Society advocated mandating health and education professionals to report possible abuse, giving them more training on how to spot it and act on it, and developing a mix of universal services for all children and more intensive services for those in most need.

It has also called for a children's action plan including measures to reduce child poverty, such as recognising "the need for benefit levels to be adequate to provide a healthy life for children".

"If we invest in our under-2s and our under-5s, then we will save money in the long term," Dr Marks said.

"My personal view, and this is my personal view and not the view of the Paediatric Society, is that I would raise the age at which people get national super, because life expectancy has changed hugely since about 1905 when national super was introduced and there are many healthy, active people in their late sixties who ... do not need financial support from the Government.

"If those who are middle-aged now want to be supported in their old age, they will be voting for a Government that spends money on the children of today."

Last year's green paper noted that "living in poverty during childhood can interfere with a child's cognitive and behavioural development and readiness to learn at school", and Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills has proposed that addressing child poverty should be the first goal of a children's action plan. But it is unclear whether the white paper will tackle the issue. On the web

Child abuse white paper

Expected moves

More information sharing among health, education, police and CYFS.

More integrated social services, e.g. at schools and doctors' clinics.

Priority services for youngest and most vulnerable children.

Question marks

Will health and education workers be mandated to report possible abuse?

What will be cut to fund services for the most vulnerable?

Will anything be done about child poverty?

- Simon Collins of the NZ Herald

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