Event reacp: Inspire with Jane Searle

May's Inspire was a chat with Jane Searle, CEO of Child Matters

We are grateful for the sponsorship of our Inspire series by Vision Complete Earthworks and the hosting by Ryan Hamilton.

Watch a replay of the full interview with Jane on our video platform, or read a summary of the interview below.

It's an incredibly sobering fact, but a child dies from abuse every five weeks on average in New Zealand – one of the highest rates in the OECD.

This was one of the many insights Jane provided to the audience on the state of child abuse and protection in Aotearoa. Despite the heavy topic, Jane ensured the audience came away with some optimism that the issue, which has been created over generations, can be addressed by taking small steps and "winning by degrees."

Jane started her career as a barrister and solicitor, before joining the New Zealand Police. After qualifying as a detective, she worked on the Child Abuse Team. It was here where she saw first-hand how those on the front lines of encountering children – teachers, social workers, police, medical professionals – generally don't receive training on child protection.

She believes that all these groups, and even the likes of dentists, should receive at least one day of training in child protection, and that a country-wide mandatory reporting system should be in place. These are standard in many other countries around the world.

Jane explained that customs are finally providing training for their staff around identifying human trafficking, but there is little training provided for police, and Child Matters have had to provide free training for Oranga Tamariki staff due to a lack of funding, even for something as important as this.  

Host Ryan Hamilton asked Jane why this hasn't been adequately resourced by successive governments. "Child abuse sits within a number of other issues, such as poverty, drug use," Jane explained. "These are all issues that aren't discussed much leading into an election. At-risk children are voiceless victims, there's no one in their corner."

There have been 33 reviews on child abuse cases to date, Jane explained, "with very little implementation of the findings" of these reports. According to Jane, there isn't enough financial investment in the issue, with "under-resourced and overworked social workers."

Jane was asked by an audience member what can be done to make progress on the issue. "We need courageous leadership in Wellington. We should be leading the world in this, but we are so far behind other Western countries."

Many teachers, sports coaches and even social workers may never have received training relating to child abuse and neglect, how to recognise the signs of abuse, and how to respond if risk is identified.

This is the reason Child Matters has existed since 1994 – to upskill those working and interacting with children, young people and their families and whānau so they are able to identify risks concerning vulnerability and abuse and have the knowledge and confidence to take appropriate action.

Child Matters works with all sectors including professionals, community organisations, families and whānau, to deliver training, provide advice regarding policy and procedures, and recommend resources regarding child protection issues. Education of all sectors of our community is essential in reducing abuse and neglect in New Zealand.

In the last three years, the needs of the social sector have increased exponentially. Rather than Child Matters becoming a statistic of the pandemic, the organisation flourished under Jane's leadership. Child Matters became agile in its delivery launching online training courses, school child protection audits and introduced training that focuses on trauma and the wellbeing of staff.

To find out more about what they do and to support them, visit their website: www.childmatters.org.nz


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