Poverty link to risk of child abuse cannot be ignored


Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) supports and endorses the open letter by the Human Rights Commission calling on the Prime Minister to initiate an independent inquiry into the abuse of people held in State care, in order to “identify the systemic issues that permitted this to occur and the broader impact of these events on our communities.”

The open letter specifically calls for the Government to:

  • Publicly apologise to those who were affected, including those who were abused, their families and whanau.

  • take other appropriate steps to acknowledge the harm that has been caused to the victims and to provide them with appropriate redress and rehabilitation; and

  • Take action to ensure this never happens again.

CPAG agrees that the inquiry is indeed the “right thing to do”. It is appalling that the victims of such grievous harm have never been provided a proper chance to recover from the treatment they suffered at the hands of state-provided caregivers, and that their abusers have never been held accountable for the crimes they committed.

We need an absolute assurance that this kind of abuse will never occur again for children who are placed into care situations. With the child welfare system reforms in progress, all care must be taken to ensure that the problems of the past are not repeated and that all children are protected.

CPAG has submitted this week on the Oranga Tamariki Legislation Bill. This is the second phase of the Bill, of which the first was passed in 2016. In its 2016 submission CPAG urged the Select Committee to recognise the causative link between deprivation (poverty) and child risk and recommended that Government take a preventative approach by ensuring all families with children have incomes adequate to meet their basic needs and that measures be provided to ensure that abuses of children in state care do not occur.  

In this latest submission CPAG said that the well-being and best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration and considers that the removal of the whanau first clause is a direct opposition to the child’s well-being.

CPAG does not consider that the “further specific steps in relation to improving outcomes for Māori children” in Clause 12 of the Bill are meaningful provisions, given that many Māori are opposed to the removal of “whānau first,” and the evidence is that taking children away from their whānau and cutting them off from their culture is overwhelmingly detrimental to them in the long term.

“A better way of ensuring more positive outcomes for Māori children would be to restore whānau first and acknowledge the role poverty plays in poor outcomes for children and take steps to address that,”  says Associate Professor Mike O’Brien, social security spokesperson for CPAG.

Until Government acknowledges the role of poverty in poor outcomes for children and takes steps to address it, its actions will be ineffective in achieving significant change.

See CPAG’s submission here, and visit to sign the Human Rights Commission’s open letter.