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NAPIER MAIL, MAY 25, 2011
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coalface of child abuse battle
Making a difference: Russell Wills
says one of the first messages he
wants to spread is the advance that
health carers and CYF workers have
made in the battle against child
FROM Page 4
down to at least those of other
countries, Dr Wills says.
We should be shocked when we
hear of these shocking deaths.
You've got to be angry about that.
We're not going to say it's not
happening any more, but we will
say what we are doing is work-
Whakaruru was seen by 42 health
professionals before he died.
Nowadays it's much harder for
that to happen. There are just
fewer gaps to fall through. There
will still be gaps, there will still be
practice failures and there will
still be families who avoid contact
with health and social services.''
He says the emphasis of his pre-
decessor, John Angus, was on
improving care for CYF children
Dr Wills' emphasis during his
five-year tenure will be on policy
His first job is on what he
believes is probably the country's
most significant study of child
welfare -- Social Development
Minister Paula's Bennett's
Children's Action Plan. The first
step in developing the plan is a
Green Paper dealing with the
broad question of how New Zea-
land society can be transformed to
achieve better lives and better
outcomes for our children''.
The plan was announced at the
start of this month and the Green
Paper, involving Dr Wills in a cen-
tral role, is to be issued by the end
The Green Paper is an early
discussion about what could hap-
pen, what we could do. It's
deliberately broad, a brain-
We all know budgets are tight
so the first thing to do is look at
what you are doing now and see-
ing if the current resources are
being used well. I think there are
things we could improve.''
Cynicism about reports, policies
and strategies adding to an
already exhaustive pile that
makes little real difference for
their subjects gets short shrift
from Dr Wills. He sees first-hand
the positive effect of policy change
from matters such as convincing
Pharmac to fund palatable
children's medicine, to the contro-
versial repeal of Section 59 of the
Crimes Act -- for which the
Children's Commission and Dr
Wills were outspoken advocates.
Hitting people is wrong. Chil-
dren are people. Hitting children
is wrong. Straightforward, I think
What I see now is parents
seeking support from their GPs
and their Plunket nurses because
they hit their kids and they want
to stop but don't know how.''
That happened very rarely
before the law change, he says.
Advocacy can lead to very practi-
cal change that makes a differ-
ence to children . . . If I didn't
believe that, I wouldn't be doing
The question is how do you
turn a really well-written report
into change? What I do here is
form a coalition. You get a bunch
of people together on a topic -- be
it family violence, improving
children's readiness for school,
reducing sudden unexplained
death in infancy -- you form the
group, establish whether there's
If there's no interest, there's no
point starting. Then you do a liter-
acy review. You see what works
and compare that to what we're
doing now. The really important
bit is getting consensus on what
we should do. That is the skill of
advocacy. That's what we did with
Section 59. We were able to form a
huge national consensus that Sec-
tion 59 needed to be repealed, and
it was. The key is forming the
coalition of people who agree. And
you need a real debate.
Leadership in the end is about
what you can persuade people to
give up to achieve something. In
this case it was the perceived
right of a parent.''
Other strategies making a tan-
gible difference include the
B4School check, a voluntary
screening of four-year-olds started
in 2008. By last October more
than 61,000 children had been
screened nationally, with those
requiring help for health, dental
or social problems being referred
Dr Wills led a clinical advisory
group that trained more than 100
health workers to run the pro-
gramme in Hawke's Bay. It is now
reaching 80 per cent of the
region's poorest children.
Another successful programme
in Hawke's Bay that evolved from
similar strategic policy beginnings
is the district health board's
Fostering Security programme
aimed at tackling the failure of
placement of troubled children.
Children in CYF care are the
most vulnerable. We know that of
the children taken into care some-
thing like 80 per cent have
psychological or untreated health
problems. They burn out their
carer, move on to another carer
. . . and they burn out too. Each
one of those is incredibly damag-
ing to that child.
What we know is that if you
support the first carer really,
really well, with intensive edu-
cation about why a kid behaved
the way they did and how it can be
managed, and intensive support
to look after them and regular res-
pite--thenthekids. . .ybecome
less work and you can maintain
A large part of Dr Wills' role at
the hospital is in child protection,
and usually involves dealing with
the most disturbed children.
This is my specialty. It is some-
thing I'm good at. I find it interes-
ting and I like seeing kids get bet-
ter, and they do. If we do it well,
they get better.''
Since the announcement of his
appointment, Dr Wills had
received more than 200 emails
The ones from paediatricians
said without exception that it was
great I was remaining part-time
clinical because it would keep me
grounded and we think you can
make a difference'.''
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