Many thanks to Sharon Stone for the transcript

New Zealand Herald

17 March 2001

lucy01.jpg (7618 bytes)The $175,000 raised in response to public concern about child abuse last year is sitting idle because the Government and local backers cannot agree on its use.

The money collected by the Safe and Sound Appeal, featuring Lucy Lawless, star of Xena: Warrior Princess, was to help set up specialised centres to bring together all the agencies fighting child abuse.

The backers are struggling to get the multi-agency idea off the ground because the Government will not contribute the rest of the $1.15 million set-up and running costs for the first year.

Planning has been going on for more than two years to set up the multi-agency centres, one near the Starship children's hospital in central Auckland and another in South Auckland.

Government agencies did not favour allocating new money to the project and instead want a "pilot" centre set up, financed from existing local budgets.

Social Services Minister Steve Maharey declined to be interviewed, but a spokesman said the minister was keen on the idea of the centres.

They are designed to bring together specialist doctors, nurses, a police child-abuse investigation team, social workers, therapists and the unit that videotapes children's evidence for court cases. Centres would also be contact points for community agencies and family doctors.

The appeal galvanised public outrage at child abuse amid a string of cases in which children had been horrifically beaten,

It followed the damning report by Children's Commissioner Roger McClay, who found that lack of communication between health and welfare agencies contributed to the death of 4-year-old James Whakaruru, beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend.

Another horrific case was Sade Patricia Trembath, a toddler burned on the head with cigarettes and left brain-damaged after a beating by her Whangarei grandmother.

The cases also generated the ill-fated Children First Foundation advertisement involving newsreader Liz Gunn and fronted by Rangi Whakaruru, James' uncle.

TVNZ pulled the ad after it was revealed that Mr Whakaruru had a history of family violence.

The head of the Starship's child abuse unit, Dr Patrick Kelly, told the Auckland District Health Board chairman, Richard Waddel, in January: "This proposal received considerable publicity during the Safe and Sound appeal in Auckland last year, but at present has no assured funding and may well not proceed."

Dr Kelly told the Weekend Herald the approach to the board was made because of the Government response.

The Starship management has agreed to take on a building for the central Auckland centre and to pay the health service relocation costs. But Dr Kelly believes there is still a big chance the board will knock back the scheme.

The plan is now for a slimmed-down centre, lacking some services such as crisis therapy.

But Dr Kelly said the most effective time for counselling and support of children and their families was as soon as possible after the abuse.

He said the police, video unit and Child, Youth and Family Services had agreed to shift staff into the centre.

Dr Kelly said the report on welfare agencies by former Principal Youth Court Judge Mick Brown had commended the multi-agency concept, "but he did not include it as one of his key recommendations."

"We are not at the front of the queue."

Starship Foundation spokesman Andrew Young said the foundation would consider a new fundraising drive if money was still needed to meet the revised budget for the centres.

Lucy Lawless did not return the Weekend Herald's call yesterday.

Children's Agenda chairman Dr Ian Hassall urged the Government to find new money for the centres.

"Are we serious about preventing child abuse in New Zealand or not?" he asked.

Children's Commissioner Mr McClay said: "I think it's time children were our priority. We can find funds for other things."

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