June 12, 2009
In a feature article in today’s DomPost entitled The smacking debate needs some correction Bob McCoskrie of Family First makes a number of claims that warrant comment.
This is a continuation to our previous article on misleading claims.
Misleading claim 10: Mild physical punishment does no harm.
Our response: Physical punishment can be harmful, and is at best ineffective in modifying children’s behaviour.
Whether or not mild physical punishment harms is likely to depend on the circumstances it is administered in. The relevant question is does physical punishment do any good? Research indicates that it does not. People continue to strike their children in the name of behaviour correction for historical reasons. It’s time to pay attention to the relevant research and move on to more effective parenting techiques.
The fact that there may be little evidence that minor forms of physical discipline harm children in no way justifies the use of physical discipline. Does punishment, the infliction of pain and retribution really contribute positively to human development and shape behaviour constructively?
A smack is a violent act. If someone smacks an adult woman, do we ask “Does it do her any harm?” Of course not. We assume that to some degree it is harmful emotionally and harmful of her relationship with the person hitting her. It is also an affront to the woman’s integrity. Yet this very question, “Does it do them any harm?” is frequently asked in relation to hitting children.
Misleading claim 11: There has been an increase in child abuse in Sweden since physical punishment was banned there.
Our response: Sweden has been very successful in reducing child physical abuse. Raising awareness of the issue and mandatory reporting have caused reported rates to rise.
In fact there has been a steady decrease in assaults on children since the law changed in Sweden. In Sweden as in other countries increases in notifications for child abuse indicate an increased willingness on the part of the community to take action and report assaults on children rather than an increase in abuse.
Misleading claim 12: Huge increases in notifications to CYF since the law change are in some way connected to the new law.
Our response: The increases are in fact largely due to increases in the number of children referred to CYF by the Police because the children have been present at incidents of domestic violence.
See the Briefing to the Incoming Minister for more information.
Misleading claim 13: The Police have discretion not to investigate cases brought to their attention but CYF do not have discretion.
Our response: Both agencies are required to investigate complaints.
In fact both the Police and CYF are required to investigate cases of assault on children brought to their attention. So they should. The nature of the investigation depends on the information they are given by the person making the complaint.
The Police have discretion not to prosecute which is different from discretion not to investigate. CYF do not prosecute because it is not their function. If they believe prosecution is warranted they refer the case to the Police. In a large proportion of cases CYF take no further formal action following initial investigation, not because there has been no substance to the referral, but because there is thought to be no risk of serious abuse the child. This does not mean all is well in the family, rather that a more supportive and informal solution is indicated eg. referral to a family support agency.