Recap: Faces of Innocents

New Zealand remains one of the most dangerous countries in the developed world in which to grow up, despite efforts from successive governments.

Thirteen Kiwi kids have died in suspicious circumstances so far this year – one of the worst years on record and much higher than the annual average of nine.

The project began years before it was published. The notes, which landed on my desk at the end of 2013, languished for months in my locker.

Whenever it was reported a child had died in suspicious circumstances, I added another line to the spreadsheet.

There was little real progress until Blair Ensor got involved. Management then shoulder-tapped other top journalists around the country and it was all go from July 2015.

Every second day, a child is admitted to hospital suffering from inflicted injuries, including burns, broken bones and head wounds – with Starship children’s hospital in Auckland seeing more cases of serious abuse than ever before.

It was one of the project’s original aims to assemble the first and only known database of each child to have died because of neglect, abuse, or maltreatment in New Zealand since 1992.

Many people older, smarter, and more experienced than I, said the task was simply too complex.

One source told me: “There is no one who is going to be able to help you. You are basically creating something that no one has succeeded in creating.”

Most commonly, they died at the hands of men. Almost three quarters of the killers were family members.

The killers were almost equally likely to be mothers or fathers, accounting for 31 per cent and 29 per cent of cases respectively, where the victim’s relationship with the killer was known. 

The benefit of collaboration, aside from engaging a diverse skill set and geographic spread, is that people outdo themselves to keep up with and push each other.

Digital tools and platforms have made it easier than ever for staff to work across newsrooms. It didn’t matter we were never in the same room. We kept in touch over Slack, Google Hangouts, Facebook, and, of course, phone and email.

Over the years, Stuff and Fairfax newspapers have covered almost all cases of child homicide in New Zealand. These stories are the most comprehensive source of information on the subject.

Police, victims’ families and friends, children’s advocates, the courts, academics, researchers, and other reporters, all contributed additional knowledge, for which we are very grateful.

We were stoked to see other media pick up on the content, Radio New Zealand in particular gave it a good run.

With the help of Fairfax journalists around the country, the project is ongoing.

Faces of Innocents is led by reporters Katie Kenny, Blair Ensor and project editor John Hartevelt. The team also featured developer John Harford, reporters Talia Shadwell, Florence Kerr, Sam Boyer, Stacey Kirk, and Andy Fyers, and visual journalists Mike Scott, Lawrence Smith and David Walker.

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