New Zealand is named in a major international study involving the University of Otago as one of six states and countries which have no clear evidence of a decrease in child maltreatment over the past two decades.
Led by Professor Ruth Gilbert, University College London Institute of Child Health (ICH), the study, just published in the Lancet, concludes that despite numerous government policy initiatives designed to achieve a reduction in child maltreatment, no change was apparent.
The study used three types of child maltreatment indicators; violent deaths in children, hospitalised injuries related to maltreatment, and involvement with child protection agencies.
The indicators were gathered from health and child protection agencies, and compared trends in children under 11 across six states and countries, England, Sweden, New Zealand, Western Australia, Manitoba (Canada) and the USA.
The study found large variations between the countries and states in the frequency of involvement with child protection agencies, but little difference between the rates of maltreatment-related injury or violent death.
Contributing author and University of Otago Department of Preventive and Social Medicine Research Fellow, Dr Pauline Gulliver, says that although the findings should be treated with caution as it is possible that small changes could not be detected, it is concerning that there has been no apparent change in child maltreatment rates in New Zealand.
“There is a strong argument for population based data to inform policy development and monitor trends in New Zealand, such as what could be produced by linking health and social services records” Dr Gulliver says.
“Western Australia and Canada are two countries which are able to link this type of data. The resultant information is currently being used in child protection policy development in those places.”
In the overall study results published in the Lancet, trends reflecting low levels of maltreatment in Sweden and high levels in the USA are consistent with lower rates of risk factors, such as child poverty, in Sweden compared with the USA. There is also better provision for parenting support in Sweden, compared with the States.
Professor Ruth Gilbert, professor of clinical epidemiology, ICH said: “Our results suggest the need to focus on preventing factors that contribute to child maltreatment, in order to substantially reduce rates of child maltreatment in the future.
“For too long, policy has been driven by high profile deaths of individual children. We need to invest in population-based data to inform policy and to monitor trends. We also need to be able to link health and social care data to understand which professionals are seeing these children. Such linkage is done in Western Australia and Manitoba, where it is proving to be an important tool in the formulation of child health policy.