Press Release – Office of the Children’s Commissioner
Mel Smith’s report on the abuse of a nine-year-old girl is distressing reading but has been a catalyst for changes to the way we protect our children, Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills said today.21 December 2011
Report into abuse of nine-year-old girl
Mel Smith’s report on the abuse of a nine-year-old girl is distressing reading but has been a catalyst for changes to the way we protect our children, Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills said today.
“It’s been just over one year since the discovery of the horrific abuse – and time has not faded the shocking details of this case.
“I hope she is now on a steady path to recovery and beginning to experience the childhood she deserves. I also hope the media will continue to respect her privacy and let her grow up free from public scrutiny,” he said.
“It’s fair to say this young girl was let down by professionals who lacked the skills and support needed to intervene. But ultimately the accountability for this horrific abuse lies with her parents. That should not be forgotten in all of this.”
The Commissioner said the report is well-written, thorough and makes excellent recommendations for improving our child protection systems. Many of these have been incorporated in the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children.
“The report identifies some clear gaps in child protection practice and policy in New Zealand; gaps in professional supervision, gaps in training of professionals and a lack of information sharing.
“We should be angry about cases like this. We should be disappointed. But there are things we can do to reduce the chances of a case like this in the future. There are no guarantees but there are things we can do as a society to better protect our children.
“It should be much easier to share information between services when they have concerns about the safety of a child. This case demonstrates how easily things can go wrong when people within services are not talking to each other or sharing what they know about a family.
“People working in professions involved with children should be taught core skills in identifying, assessing and referring child abuse. There are real risks when people don’t have the skills or confidence to ask the right questions,” he said.
The Commissioner said the case ultimately demonstrates the importance of having a child-centred approach.
“All these issues have been raised in the Green Paper on Vulnerable Children. This Paper is the best opportunity we have to make tangible changes to the way we protect our children.
“We owe it to all victims of abuse to reduce the chances of this ever happening again and to think differently about the way we treat and value our children.”
The Children’s Commissioner strongly urges all media to respect the privacy of the young girl at the centre of this case.
She has clearly experienced significant trauma and been let down by people she should have been able to trust. So far, the media have been responsible and reported on this case without attempting to identify her or contact her. It is imperative to the recovery of this young girl that this continues.