Opening a database of New Zealand's most vulnerable children and families needs to be approached with caution, warns a Hawke's Bay principal.
"We don't want to be too intrusive," William Colenso College principal Daniel Murfitt said.
Mr Murfitt was referring to one of the key initiatives announced in the Government's White Paper on vulnerable children, published last week.
The database, which will register between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals, is designed to identify the country's most vulnerable children and families.
Community organisations, teachers, doctors and Child, Youth and Family workers will have access to it. They will be able to view a child's case and compare their own notes to those of other professionals working with that child.
"The reality is there is a lot of vulnerable people and vulnerable children," Mr Murfitt said.
"Any improvement in communication and co-ordination between agencies will improve the situation."
However, strict protocols around who can access the database needed to be established, Mr Murfitt said.
"We can't just rush into things because they're great ideas.
"We need to ask: 'What are the negatives of too many people having access to that information' and, 'Is that information going to be used in a harmful way?"'
The database is part of a raft of legal reforms planned to tackle child cruelty over the next five years. It was developed by the University of Auckland, which assessed 52,000 children over a five-year period whose parent or parents were on a benefit.
New Zealand Medical Association chair Dr Paul Ockelford said the information sharing system was a step in the right direction. "One of the things we submitted was to have a much closer involvement of the at-risk child with what we call the medical home - multi-disciplinary general practice. "I think we see the focus on better information sharing ... to capture information on neglected, abused, at-risk children as a real positive," he said.
"It should provide an early alert system to be able to detect those who are most at risk."
Plans to red-flag child abusers were included in the paper. Measures such as protection orders for potential abusers and alerts for high-risk adults who move into homes with children were outlined.
However, the initiatives stopped short of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse cases.
Progress checks on the new database and information sharing system would be crucial to measuring its success, he said.
Use of the database will be strictly monitored, with penalties for any inappropriate use. "There's no concern from medical practitioners regarding that because that's something we work with every day in terms of confidential information," Dr Ockelford said.
'White Paper' plan
- Database of 30,000 vulnerable children and families.
- Available to teachers, social workers and health workers.
- Child abusers: protection orders preventing them from accessing children.
- Alerts across agencies if potential abusers move into a home with a child.
- Local children's teams which can award contracts for services targeting children.
- Extra training for people working with children to assist in identifying vulnerable children.
- Legislation formalising screening process of people who work with children.
- Register of pre-approved iwi caregivers who can take in children of the same tribe removed from their homes.
Added financial assistance for grandparents raising mokopuna and other next-of-kin carers.