The rate at which children have died of alleged child abuse during January has set a tragic start to the year, says national child abuse advocacy group, Child Matters.
A four-month-old baby is the latest child to succumb to their non-accidental injuries this month after being taken to Invercargill Hospital on Saturday morning in a critical condition.
The infant died at Starship Hospital last night and police have launched a homicide inquiry.
Last year, one child died every five weeks as a result of alleged abuse in New Zealand.
Already this year, one child has died almost every week.
Child Matters chief executive Jane Searle believes New Zealand is failing in its duty to protect its most vulnerable tamariki and unless the government gets serious about the issue, our precious children will keep dying at an increasing rate.
"It is not enough to talk about how horrified we are at the senseless loss of a precious life, we need to make actual change at the frontline in order to have an impact. The longer we wait the more children we will lose," she said.
Searle said she recognises that solutions take time to implement, however, it is clear that fixing New Zealand's child abuse rates is not a big enough priority for the government and community leaders.
"In a system that is clearly broken, we desperately need more resources, training and a cohesive plan that focuses on the details of how we are going to give support to our most at-risk families and act to protect our children," Searle said.
"The time has passed for high-level discussions, we need to start implementing tangible solutions now. New Zealand's child abuse rate is atrocious and 2022 needs to be the year we start turning that around."
Searle believes that increasing community capability to support families, so intervention happens earlier, is essential, while mandatory child protection training for professionals that work with children and young people urgently needs to be initiated.
"We all have a role to play, whether that's knowing what to do if we have concerns about the welfare of a child (and acting on it), being vigilant regarding child safety in our work and personal capacity, being willing to speak up when there is a safety concern, or holding our politicians and community leaders to account on these issues," she added.
Unlike many other countries, child protection training is not mandatory in New Zealand for professionals or volunteers who work with children and young people. It means teachers, sports coaches and even social workers may have never received training relating to child abuse and neglect, meaning they don't know how to recognise the signs of abuse, nor how to best respond if risk is identified.
Police have launched a homicide investigation into the death of the four-month-old and are speaking with the residents of the Southland property.
The child's death follows two others in the last few weeks – a three-month-old from Christchurch who died on January 2 and a 19-month-old toddler from Gisborne who died on January 10. A 3-month-old was also admitted to Gisborne Hospital with critical injuries on New Year's Eve.
- by Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald