We should start pursuing parental neglect as a serious crime

Who is looking after the children?

In many cases where the answer is “not their parents”, safe and sensible alternatives will have been put in place by Child Youth and Family (CYF). But given news of the awful neglect of two young children in Christchurch, it would appear CYF intervention may not always be for the better.

The case exposed this week makes for shocking reading. An 8-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother are the victims of serious neglect, suffering from appalling health issues which are entirely preventable and treatable. They have been cared for by a grandparent since they were babies.

Last month, the children’s carer rang the home of a family friend to ask if she could pick them up from school. The friend was subsequently horrified to discover how their health had suffered since the last time she cared for them, about a year earlier.

The girl had psoriasis, a boil caused by malnutrition and the worst case of head lice their doctor said she had seen in a decade. The boy was seriously underweight at just 18kg and had impetigo on his chest, which had been covered over with two dressings. Both were sick when they were fed by the friend.

After taking the children to CYF the following day, she kept them at her two-bedroom flat for another night before visiting the doctor and returning them to their mother, because she feared she would be reported for “kidnapping them” if they stayed with her. The children have since gone back to their carer’s home.

There truly are people who have become a parent due to natural forces, but have absolutely no skills to feed, clothe, educate and keep their own children healthy.

The level of neglect in this case is extremely disturbing. What seems particularly startling is how those who have had close contact with the children during the past year have either failed to notice their deteriorating health, or have noticed but done nothing about it. Or, perhaps they have tried to do something about it but the system has blocked or rebuffed their efforts.

This is indeed the problem. ?And it is similar to other areas of our society, such as pedo teachers being able to continue for years when concerns have been raised left, right and centre.

New Zealand culture is to not get involved, especially in other people’s lives. ?We let men beat their women, we let kids be neglected, we let adults in power positions take advantage of children. ?And if that makes you bristle and think “no we don’t!!!”, the evidence says otherwise.

Far be it for me to suggest we get the state to peek into every bit of our lives, but the balance is clearly in favour of adults who require intervention – be that societal or through the justice system.

We continue to put this into the too hard basket.

And our children continue to die and suffer.

CYF is facing a major review. ? Can we get it right this time?


– Stuff