Archive for August, 2009

Psychology Today: Physical punishment is a serious public health problem

August 31, 2009

Psychology Today‘s blog Great Kids Great Parents recently ran an article on Why Do We Still Spank (Hit) Children?

Why do we still spank children? The usual answer is to get them to do what we think is best for them – i.e., to obtain behavioral compliance. And, yet, the answer is much more complicated. Dealing with children can stir up very charged and old feelings. The arguments and screaming of a child can push the same buttons that one’s own parents or siblings pushed long ago. Or perhaps one does to one’s child what was done to oneself: “I was spanked as a child, and I turned out all right.” – Yes, but perhaps you turned out all right in spite of the spanking, not because of it… and perhaps things would have been even better if the effective alternatives to spanking which do exist had been utilized.

It turns out that physical punishment is a serious public health problem in the United States, and it profoundly affects the mental health of children and the society in which we live. Studies show that over 60% of families still use physical punishment to discipline children. Yet, the research shows that: physical punishment is associated with an increase in delinquency, antisocial behavior, and aggression in children; and physical punishment is associated with a decrease in the quality of the parent-child relationship, mental health, and the child’s capacity to internalize socially acceptable behavior. Adults who have been subject to physical punishment as children are more likely to abuse their own child or spouse and to manifest criminal behavior.

They conclude:

If we truly want a less violent society, not hitting our children is a good place to start.

Read the full article.

Boscawen’s bill drawn – and quartered

August 26, 2009

The Herald reports,

A bid by an Act Party MP to change the law that bans smacking is doomed because National will vote against the bill in Parliament.

John Boscawen drafted the member’s bill, which would make it legal for parents to lightly smack their children.

It has been in the ballot since March and was drawn today.

That means there will be a first reading debate on it, but that is as far as it will go.

John Key is showing remarkable courage by doing this.

You might like to drop him and his National Party cohorts a short email of support.

Report: Child abuse and neglect cost NZ $2 billion

August 25, 2009

Every Child Counts has just released a report written by Infometrics entitled The nature of economic costs of child abuse and neglect in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Government has substantially increased its investment into the prevention of child abuse and neglect in recent years.  In the 2004 Budget departmental appropriations for education and preventative services for children amounted to just $16.1m, or 3% of the Child, Youth and Family appropriation in 2004/05.  In the 2008 Budget this commitment had risen to $166m. 

However, adapting international cost estimates to the New Zealand situation suggests that every year child abuse and neglect generates a long term bill that is equivalent to around $NZ2bn (or over 1% of GDP).

Based on US studies, just 32% of this cost is likely to be the direct consequences of child abuse and neglect (eg health care, child welfare service, and justice system costs).  A further 36% of costs relate to ongoing health, education, and criminal consequences for child abuse victims in later life.  The final 32% of costs result from a decline in productivity as victims fail to meet their potential (Wang and Holton 2007).

The growing focus on prevention is a welcome development that reflects the current understanding of child development and the biological underpinning of this development process:

  • The architecture of the brain and the process of skill formation are both influenced by an inextricable interaction between genetics and individual experience.
  • Both the mastery of skills that are essential for economic success and the development of their underlying neural pathways follow hierarchical rules in a bottom-up sequence such that later attainment build on foundations that are laid down earlier.
  • Cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional competencies are interdependent, all are shaped powerfully by the experiences of the developing child, and all contribute to success in the work place
  • Although adaptation continues throughout life, human abilities are formed in a predictable sequence of sensitive periods, during which the development of specific neural circuits and the behaviours they mediate are more plastic and, therefore, optimally receptive to environmental influences.

Brain development is continuous over many years.  For children at unusually high risk, neuroscience provides a compelling argument for beginning intervention programmes at birth, if not prenatally.  Developmental research shows that children master different skills at different ages, which suggests that opportunities for a variety of effective interventions are present throughout early childhood.

Looking forward the critical issues that still need to be resolved are:

  • Is the current level of government spending on preventing child abuse and neglect sufficient?
  • How can one ensure that the appropriate level of resourcing is attained and maintained?
  • What institutional arrangements will encourage the delivery of effective preventative services?

Answering the first question will require further New Zealand specific research, and this will also contribute to debate about the level of public commitment to the issue.  Grunewald and Rolnick (2006) suggest an elegant approach to ensuring public commitment is maintained and which can foster innovation in the delivery of services aimed at reducing the incidence to child maltreatment: the creation of a public endowment.  Grunewald and Rolnick consider the benefits of such an approach are that:

  • It encourages private, innovative, and targeted provision of early childhood services (small scale, high quality interventions have demonstrated greater social returns than broad-based publicly provided schemes).
  • It represents a permanent commitment and allows leverage of resources from public and private stakeholders.
  • A permanent commitment sends a market signal to service providers that they can expect a consistent demand for their product.
  • By drawing up a business plan that demonstrates it can win service provision contracts, a prospective provider can leverage funds for capital expansions as lenders will be assured by the stability of the early childhood development endowment.

This report covers the consequences of child abuse and neglect,  the case for preventative intervention, and policy issues related to the promotion of a preventative approach to child abuse and neglect.

Download The nature of economic costs of child abuse in New Zealand.

The Press: Referendum vote a fiasco

August 25, 2009

The Christchurch Press‘s editorial yesterday discusses the referendum:

The question posed was flawed, the participation of voters low, the campaign unengaging, the cost of the exercise prohibitive and the results inconsequential. In short, the referendum was a fiasco…

Legal proceedings are costly and intrusive for a family; the cause of non-violent rearing is not advanced by a stream of parents being hauled into court.

The police realise this, and their administration of the legislation has been exemplary. They have initiated legal proceedings only for gross violations of the law and talked through other instances.

It is the fact that the law frowns on smacking that will encourage parents to rethink and change their behaviour towards their children such is the influence of formal sanctions in altering humans’ attitudes…

It is reform of the referendum legislation, rather than reform of the smacking law, that this latest referendum is likely to produce.

Read the full article.

Police publish two-year review of Section 59

August 25, 2009

NZ Police has published a summary of two years monitoring of relevant police activity since enactment of the Crimes (Substituted section 59) Amendment Act 2007.

This project began on 17th March 2007, three months prior to enactment. It ended on 22nd June 2009 two years after enactment.

Regular updates have been published since June 2007. This final report includes the 5th monitoring period (5th April 2009 to 22nd June 2009) not previously reported.

During the two years police brought one prosecution for smacking which was subsequently withdrawn. A further 13 prosecutions were brought for events classified as “minor acts of physical discipline”. These events may have included a smacking element plus other aggravating factors.

Of those 14 cases prosecuted sentences included diversion, discharge without conviction, conviction and discharged, and supervision.

Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Rob Pope says the monitoring shows police have consistently applied their discretion when dealing with child assault events.

“The amendment has had minimal impact on police activity and officers have continued to apply a commonsense approach”

“The monitoring has shown that practice guidelines issued by the Commissioner in June 2007 have been effective in guiding police when dealing with these difficult cases”

“Police has continued to apply its discretion and assess each incident on a case by case basis”

Notes:

(i) Two new reports are available on the police website at www.police.govt.nz/resources. These are the final 2 months of monitoring (5th review) plus the summary report of all reviews over the last two years.

(ii) The 1063 child assault events identified in this review period are not the total number of child assault events attended nationally by police during this time. These are events which, according to 7 offence codes, were most likely to identify incidents which might involve ‘smacking’. This is because ‘smacking’ in itself is not an offence.

The Police Family Violence Governance Group and the Ministry of Social Development agreed to examine the following seven offence types:

  • Assault Child (Manually)
  • Assault Child (Other Weapon)
  • Common Assault (Domestic)(Manually) Common Assault (Manually)
  • Other Assault on Child (Under 14 Years)
  • Common Assault Domestic (Other Weapon)
  • Other Common Assault

And based on this examination the events were allocated to one of each of the following categories: ‘smacking’, ‘minor acts of physical discipline’ and ‘other child assault’. The rationale used to allocate each event to a specific category involved consideration of the:

  • actual physical action used in the child assault; and
  • the context and the surrounding circumstances, as outlined in the Commissioners Circular.

(iv) The Commissioner’s Circular on this issue released in June 2007 can be found on the NZ Police website

Video: John Key’s press conference on the Child Discipline Law

August 24, 2009

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/kP2b3DFEFaE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Key points:

  • Parents will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children
  • Police and MSD Chief Execs will lead a review of policies to identify any changes necessary or desirable to ensure that good parents are treated as parliament intended, to report back by 1 December 2009.
  • The official review of the Child Discipline Law will be moved forward to late September or early October
  • Police will continue to report on the law for the next three years, and specifically include data on where the parents believed that the force used was reasonable in the circumstances.  If parents are truly being criminalised for lightly smacking their children, Parliament will have to look at changing the law.

Deborah Morris-Travers on the cost of child abuse on TVNZ Breakfast

August 24, 2009

Deborah Morris-Travers appeared on TVNZ Breakfast this morning to discuss new research that child abuse costs New Zealand over $2 billion per year.

Watch the video.

Protocols review timely and appropriate

August 24, 2009

Prime Minister John Key’s announcement today of a review of referral protocols between the Police and the Child Youth and Family services is a positive step to entrenching the child discipline law as it now stands.

“The first aim of those protocols should be to ensure that struggling parents are encouraged to get good help,” says Deborah Morris-Travers, spokesperson for the Yes Vote coalition, which supports the law as it stands.

“The Government has shown considerable political courage in standing up for New Zealand children by reacting as it has to the result of the referendum.

“Member organisations of the Yes Vote coalition look forward to being invited to work with the Police/CYFS review, especially to the extent that referral protocols also apply to non-government family help agencies,” Ms Morris-Travers says.

Protocols Review Timely and Appropriate

Prime Minister John Key’s announcement today of a review of referral protocols between the Police and the Child Youth and Family services is a positive step to entrenching the child discipline law as it now stands.

“The first aim of those protocols should be to ensure that struggling parents are encouraged to get good help,” says Deborah Morris-Travers, spokesperson for the Yes Vote coalition, which supports the law as it stands.

“The Government has shown considerable political courage in standing up for New Zealand children by reacting as it has to the result of the referendum.

“Member organisations of the Yes Vote coalition look forward to being invited to work with the Police/CYFS review, especially to the extent that referral protocols also apply to non-government family help agencies,” Ms Morris-Travers says.

Te Kahui Mana Ririki applauds parliamentary position on Child Discipline Law

August 24, 2009

Chair of Te Kahui Mana Ririki Dr Hone Kaa said today that he is delighted with the government’s response to the citizen’s initiated referendum on smacking.

“Prime Minister John Key has maintained his position – the current law is working well and at this stage he has no intention of changing it.

“I am delighted that New Zealand will retain a law which effectively makes the physical punishment of children illegal.”

“This is especially important for Maori because our child abuse rates are so high.

“We must continue to promote a policy of zero tolerance of violence towards our young ones.”

Maori participation in the referendum was low with around a third of Maori voters taking part. 11.2% of those Maori voters voted yes to the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand”, and 88.8% voted no.

“We have always argued that the question was misleading.

“The debate has really been about the rights of children to live in homes that are free from violence and that right has been upheld.”

Updated – John Key reiterates: No law change

August 24, 2009

The Herald reported John Key’s take on the referendum result today:

[John Key’s] own view was that the law was “working as it is now”.

But on Monday, he would take to the Cabinet “options which fall short of changing the law but will provide comfort for parents about this issue”.

Be staunch, John, the country’s children are depending on you.

Read the full article at the NZ Herald.

Update: TVNZ video report

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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