Seasons magazine column, April 2016
New Zealanders justifiably claim that ours is a wonderful country in which to live and raise a family. And most of us have special memories of favourite places; carefree, outdoor holidays; and happy times with extended family. Long may that continue.
However, it’s a sad and alarming reality that the childhoods of many young New Zealanders have been marred, even destroyed, by violence, abuse and neglect.
Recently-released statistics indicate that New Zealand has the fifth worst child abuse record in the OECD. On average, a child is killed here every five weeks.
That’s why I’ve been such a strong advocate for the Government’s Vulnerable Children initiatives, and the establishment last year of the multi-agency Hamilton Children’s Team.
It’s also why I’m a passionate supporter of Child Matters. Established in Hamilton in 1994, Child Matters operates nationally to raise awareness of child abuse in New Zealand, educate and train those who work with children in how to protect children from abuse, and ensure that all children have an opportunity to flourish. Hamilton’s Anthea Simcock was the founding Chief Executive and continues to lead the organisation today.
Anthea recognised that there was no consistent education of professionals to prevent child abuse, and that there was a significant gap in the training of the people who were supposed to be looking out for young people.
Since the delivery of the first programmes, Child Matters has continued to promote the need for all adults to take responsibility and acquire the knowledge to protect children. Child Matters remains the only national charity dedicated to the prevention of child abuse through education and advocacy.
Anthea remains as passionate in 2016 about the safety and well-being of children and the prevention of child abuse as she was in 1994, if not more. “Right from the beginning we were the thought leaders in this topic and it is probably one of our major continuing goals. 20 years ago we pushed for child protection training of staff, so they would be able to recognise children at risk, and we are seeing that come into being through the Safer Recruitment – Safer Children policy under the Children’s Action Plan,” she says. “We have lobbied for a multi-agency approach to child abuse prevention, and the importance of mandatory child protection training for anyone who works with children, and we are seeing that begin to come to fruition with the Vulnerable Children Act 2014 and the setting up of the Children’s Team in Hamilton.”
Training is at the core of what Child Matters does, educating people who work and volunteer with children to recognise the signs of child abuse and neglect and give them the skills and confidence to act further if needed. “People imagine an abused child is crying constantly and carrying on,” notes Anthea, “but that’s not necessarily correct. People need to look at the behaviour of the child - if they behave differently in different environments, are they aggressive? They need to look behind the smile and see what’s hidden.”
Child Matters provides training from introductory level half-day workshops through to a one-year NZQA-accredited Diploma course. Fees for these courses have been discounted thanks to the generosity of charitable trusts and there will be online options available later this year. There is still much work to do, with only a handful of the estimated 25,000 teachers in New Zealand’s 2,500 state and private schools receiving child protection training.
Child Matters provides advice, consultation and support to organisations and businesses to develop Child Protection policies and safe working practices.
For the past four years, ‘Buddy Day’ has successfully raised awareness about preventing child abuse and what Child Matters does in the community. I’ve been delighted by the impact and wide reach of that initiative which has encouraged all of us to initiate and engage in discussions about our shared responsibility to combat child abuse.
There are many resources available on the Child Matters website www.childmatters.org.nz. If you would like to support Child Matters through expertise, time or financial support, please make contact via the website or phone 07 838 3370.
“This is not just our problem, this is a problem that we all need to be investing in, for the future of our children and the future of our country,” says Anthea. “It’s easy to say it’s just CYFS, or it’s just the police, or the schools can deal with it, but actually the whole community needs to be thinking about preventing child abuse and what their role is in keeping our next generation safe.”