Child Protection White Paper: nurses and resources missing in action

1 November 2012

Nursing leaders are concerned at the failure to mention nursing or to address poverty and resource issues in the Government’s new Children’s Action Plan.

The action plan for child protection was released in mid-October as part of the White Paper for Vulnerable Children.

Both the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and College of Nurses expressed concern that nursing’s role with vulnerable children fails to get a mention. The plan also only highlights doctors and teachers as examples of frontline staff requiring training in recognising child abuse by the end of 2015.

“This is a serious omission and undermines the work that the nursing profession, particularly child health nurses and nurses in primary health care such as Plunket and Tamariki Ora, are doing on a daily basis,” said NZNO policy advisor Jill Clendon.

This concern was echoed by College of Nurses executive director, Jenny Carryer, who said a “charitable” view would be that politicians assume when they say doctors, they actually mean doctors and nurses.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett’s response was that the White Paper does mention health professionals, and this “of course includes nurses” who “play a vital role” and are an “important link in the chain of professionals who come into contact” with vulnerable children.

“As work to implement the White Paper progresses, it is important that nurses are actively involved in informing how measures will work best on the ground, and I ask them for their help in this,” said Bennett.

Angela Bates, a family nurse practitioner, described the White Paper and action plan as an “ambitious document” requiring additional resources and staff but failing to state where those resources and staff are going to come from.

She said positive aspects of the White Paper included making all agencies working with children have compulsory policies on child abuse plus the code of practice making it clear that everyone working with children has a responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect.

Carryer noted that the Government had listened to health professional organisation submissions and had not supported mandatory reporting. But she said another contributing factor for not introducing mandatory reporting was concern that Child, Youth and Family (CYF) could not cope. Bates echoed this, saying CYF were already overwhelmed at the moment “and there was nothing in the document that will address that”.

Clendon said along with making nurses’ work invisible, the White Paper only mentions child poverty as a contributor to child vulnerability but “passes the buck” when it comes to the issue of preventing poverty.

Helen Connors, Plunket’s service development general manager, welcomed the White Paper's release and said the challenge now was to ensure effective implementation. “Now we’ve got the ‘what’, we need to focus on the ‘how’. How it is going to work in practice.”

Some White Paper highlights

• No mandatory reporting of child abuse.

• BUT legislation introducing compulsory child protection policies for agencies working with children.

• All frontline people working with children trained to recognise child abuse signs (by end of 2015).

• Setting up of Children’s Teams (Rotorua a trial site in 2013).

• Setting up of Vulnerable Kids Information System (ViKI)

Full White Paper details can be found at: www.childrensactionplan.govt.nz