In the last two years the number of suspected child abuse cases reported to Tauranga’s Child Youth and Family office from Tauranga Hospital has almost doubled.
More than 4000 suspected child abuse cases were reported to the office in the last 12 months with 10 per cent of those being referred from Tauranga Hospital.
According to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board the hospital referred 450 cases to CYFs in the last 12 months an increase from 274 in 2010 and 415 in 2011.
On average 10 of these children are so badly beaten or neglected they are admitted into hospital for treatment each year.
“Child abuse and neglect statistics for Tauranga Hospital over the last three years show we have approximately 10 children admitted into the hospital each year for child abuse related injuries or neglect,” says Tauranga Hospital community paediatrician Dr David Jones.
There are a number of factors contributing to child abuse and David says one of the major problems is domestic violence.
“For parents and caregivers, we know that domestic violence is a major problem. Where parents live in domestically violent relationships, the risk of physical abuse of children is greatly increased.
“Parents often think that their children don’t know what’s happening, the reality is they do.
The emotional impact of this can leave physiological scars that may affect their child for life.”
Other risk factors include parents who are socially isolated and have little support.
David says parents who have been abused as children themselves, or come from dysfunctional families, unfortunately have a higher risk of abusing their own children.
“While most abused children do not go on to be abusers as adults, the parenting style they experienced as children may be repeated on their own kids,” says David.
“Other important risk factors include parental mental health problems and parents who are very young. Alcohol and drug use can also be a problem.
“If a parent is struggling to have their own needs met, they may struggle to meet the needs of their child.”
He says poverty and other social stresses on parents such as poor housing, unemployment and large family size are also risk factors.
“It is important to remember in any discussion about risk factors is that whilst they increase the probability that abuse may occur, they do not mean abuse will occur.
“There are many families I know that live under the most difficult of circumstances, yet do a wonderful job raising their kids.”
David says as a society, we need to seriously examine what is driving child abuse.
“There is clearly no quick fix. Child abuse is not a problem that can be solved by the Government alone.
“It requires us all to play our part. Government policies can help, particularly those that improve the communication between agencies and support the needs of children and families who are struggling.”
He says addressing the risk factors highlighted above will require a concerted effort at multiple levels and by a wide variety of people and organisations.
“Breaking the cycle of violence is vital and recognition if a key first step.”