Anne Tolley halts study that could turn children into ‘lab rats’

By | July 30, 2015

Social Development Minister Anne Tolly has blocked a study that could potentially allow young children to be abused.

Ms Tolly said that she will not let the infants be be treated as “lab rats.”

The observational study will see if children assessed as at-risk will go on to be abused. It was laid out to identify the country’s most vulnerable children and then target services for them.

In 2012, the Ministry of Social Development commissioned to develop a new predictive risk modelling tool that will try to identify–without intervention–if kids were at risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse before they reach the age of two.

Ms Tolley said that there was no way such trial could push through. See her actual notes published by Stuff here.

“There was no way that we were going to do a trial like this and stand back and watch children being abused or neglected just to complete an observational study,” she said.

“You can only hope that the ethics committee would have been the same as me and said, no way, you have got to be kidding. But I didn’t even allow that proposal to go any further. I was absolutely adamant,” she added.

The ethics proposal has already been withdrawn.

She told reporters that they are currently testing using historical research data. “There’s small steps that we have to take with this because as I keep saying, these are children we are dealing with, this is not a paper-based exercise,” she said.

Ms Tolley said that the people heading the project were well-meaning and enthusiastic, but were not able to differentiate between an academic study and real life.

Dorothy Adams, MSD deputy chief executive for organisational solutions, said that while predictive modeling is promising based on preliminary research, “it was at that time untried in the context of child maltreatment, carried ethical risks, and warranted careful, staged, development.”