A child is admitted to a New Zealand hospital every second day with injuries arising from either assault, neglect or maltreatment, research says.
Nearly half of them are aged under five.
The figures, which are likely under reported, are contained in a 2012 report prepared for the Ministry of Health by the NZ Child and Youth Epidemiology Service.
Officials say child abuse remains a significant problem in New Zealand and a series of changes have been made to try and prevent it from occurring.
They say that there is now a greater emphasis on identifying at risk families before a child is born and putting support measures in place to help them cope.
However, much of the responsibility lies with the public who need to report any warning signs before they escalate.
“It’s very hard for outside agencies to pick up on these things. Close family won’t even know what’s going on,” Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald said.
“It’s about having the guts . . . to front people who aren’t coping and making sure we’re all responsible for looking after these kids.”
According to the report, which was cited by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, 843 children aged 0-14, were admitted to hospital from 2007 to 2011 with injuries arising from either assault, neglect or maltreatment.
Their injuries ranged from serious head trauma to broken legs.
Wills said the statistics were likely under reported because national guidelines meant officials had to be certain of an assault before it could be recorded.
Attitudes about violence towards women and children had to change, he said.
Every year an average of 10 to 14 children were victims of homicide, he said.
Long term trends showed the number of children admitted to hospital with assault-related injuries was slowly falling.
The likely reason was much better identification of at risk families and inter-agency information sharing, Wills said.
Staff at district health boards (DHBs) across the country were now trained to ask hard questions about domestic violence and child abuse.
Mike Doolan, who has researched child homicide, said children under the age of two were most vulnerable because they were totally reliant on their parents and unable to escape abuse.
Older children were able to run away and sound the alarm, he said.
Ministry of Social Development chief social worker Paul Nixon said child abuse in New Zealand was a “significant problem which people are working very hard to tackle”.
“Child abuse by its very nature is often hidden as adults try to conceal it. The raising of awareness and people’s sensitivity to the issues and to the risk factors become really important.”
The number of referrals to Child, Youth and Family about suspected child abuse had increased in recent years, Nixon said.
It was important people continued to raise concerns if they were worried about a child’s care.
“Picking up early on problems and intervening early will make a difference.”
According to the report, Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) had 138 admissions from 2007 to 2011 – more than any DHB. CDHB has the third largest child population in the country.
CDHB child and family safety services coordinator Susan Miles said key clinical staff received child protection and family violence training.
“Each year we get more and more cases that are identified so I guess there’s an indicaton that that training and awareness building is successful.”