Archive for the opinion Category

Yet another review shows Family First has been misleading the NZ public

December 8, 2009

Update: You can now download the full report.

After the 2009 referendum Prime Minister announced their would be a review of CYF and Police procedures and cases to assess whether the Government child protection agencies were responding appropriately to cases of light “smacking” referred to them and to cases where children were being exposed to heavy handed assaults.

Child Psychologist Nigel Latta, appointed as an independent reviewer, confirmed that the law is being applied appropriately and that the cases referred to by the pro-smacking lobby as inappropriate referrals to the Police or CYF were not in fact inappropriate on closer examination. The Prime Minister, John Key, has re-affirmed his view that there is no need to change to the law.

Further reassurance for parents is being provided in the form of a toll free line that can be used by parents who want to know their rights and further guidelines will be provided to social workers about management of “smacking cases” referred to them.

Bob McCoskrie, of Family First, has said that the new provisions are a waste of time and that what is needed is certainty in the law. Really?  Surely what Mr McCoskrie actually wants in the law is permission to smack children – perhaps a message that its ok – even desirable. Providing protection to parents from prosecutions (in the form of guidance to authorities outside the law) in cases of occasional and minor smacking makes good sense – prosecution is likely to be counter productive and unhelpful in such cases where support and information is what is needed. However giving permission, even encouragement in law, to use physical discipline gives messages that run counter to all we know about good parenting and all that research tells us about the effects of physical discipline on children.

In a recent article in the Herald, Latta highlights the details of some of the cases, which leads Russell Brown to conclude that “the case notes provided by Family First to the inquiry vary markedly from the accounts it touted in newspaper ads and shopped to journalists; the CYF notes even more so.. None of this is going to move the zealots. But Latta has demonstrated to himself what he perhaps ought to have known already – that self-serving testimony in cases of family violence is often not to be trusted. And neither, frankly, is Family First.”

Some of the case details as outlined in the Herald:

Father charged for shoulder shake of defiant daughter refusing to get out of bed.

What was reported by Family First: Father had been having problems with 15-year-old girl stealing money, sneaking out and coming home late. One morning after coming home at 4am shouting match took place when father tried to wake her up at 6am. Father shook her, she alleged father punched her at least three times. No medical treatment was needed, but father was taken away in handcuffs and eventually convicted and discharged on condition of counselling.

Agency information: Police called by daughter who accused father of punching her. Police attended and took father to station. CYF investigation identified breakdown in relationships within the family and the daughter was seriously challenging her parents.

Parents did not want support and said they would handle the situation by laying down clear boundaries. CYF took no further action, but advised daughter on what action to take if there was another incident.

Father was dealt with by the courts.

*Step-father charged for smacks

What was reported by Family First: A mother and step-father were having problems with 14-year-old and secretive behaviour with boyfriend. When the step-father tried to confiscate ring, she started to scratch and he had to physically restrain her and gave her three smacks on the bottom. Daughter complained to teacher she had been put in a headlock, tied to a post with a dog lead and hit with an electric fence pole. Step-father was advised to plead guilty to smacks and other charges were dropped.

Agency information:Police received complaint that 14-year-old had been beaten up by step-father, put in a strangle hold and tied up with a dog lead. Step-father admitted attempting to tie girl up and hitting her on the bottom. Step-father charged with assault and discharged without conviction.

CYF investigation identified significant concerns about the safety of the girl and she was removed from her mother’s and step-father’s care.

* Grandfather charged and convicted for tipping child out of a chair to get a “move on”.

What was reported by Family First: A grandfather was convicted of assault after tipping his grandson out of a bean bag after the 11-year-old refused to turn the TV down. The boy called 111 and despite protestations from the grandson and grandmother the grandfather was arrested and held in cells for two nights. The man was advised to plead guilty to avoid cost and hassle by lawyer.

Agency information: Police called over alleged assault by grandfather after he acted aggressively and tipped boy off chair causing him to heavily strike his head on a metal pole.

It was also alleged that the grandparents argued and he hit her with a pair of trousers. The grandmother feared for her safety and that of her grandchild.

The grandfather was removed from house and charged with assault and convicted.

CYF said there had been previous involvement with the family, but there were no ongoing concerns for the boy’s safety.

The behaviour that stands out in the case examples is the inappropriate adult responses to children and young peoples’ problem behaviour. Each of the children and young persons referred to in these cases learnt nothing positive from the humiliating and violent attacks they suffered (however mild) and the adult attitudes reflected by the behaviour were illustrative of why we have such a problem with family violence in New Zealand.

Sadly it is unlikely that Mr McCoskrie will let go his campaign to undermine the law – despite constant calls for him and others to move on.

Brian Rudman: Mob rule no substitute for democracy

November 18, 2009

Brian Rudman worries about the so-called “March for Democracy” in the NZ Herald today.

How humiliating to live in a country where $500,000 is being spent encouraging people to march up the main street of our biggest city demanding the right to beat their kids.

It could only happen in a country with one of the worst child murder rates in the developed world.

Read the full article.

A personal tribute to Sue Bradford

November 2, 2009

Last week, Sue Bradford left Parliament. I view her departure with mixed feelings. There is much sadness and regret that she is going, but at the same time I know that she has accomplished more than many MPs ever do and that that she is doing what she feels is right for herself at this time. I speak for many colleagues who wish her well in her new directions. We are confident that Sue will continue to make difference to the lives of New Zealanders in many ways by continuing to champion social justice causes.

I first met Sue soon after she was a new MP. I must have been lobbying her for the repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961. She understood the issue and its importance – as a mother, from a social justice perspective and as someone with a deep interest in positive outcomes for New Zealand children. Small wonder then that Sue placed a bill for the repeal of section 59 Crimes Act 1961 in the ballot.

In 2005 her bill was drawn – details about the years of public debate on physical punishment of children and the law that have followed are well known. Sue steadfastly retained her principles on this matter – refusing to agree to compromises that would give children a lesser status than adults in the law. An amended version of her original bill became law in 2007 – with support from most MPs.

Sue has been an inspiring leader on the child discipline law. There have been costs for her particularly living with years of emotionally violent written and verbal attacks from some opponents, resentful of her efforts to reduce violence in the family. Sue, I hope the messages of support, respect and admiration your many NGO colleagues and others have expressed have made up for that pain a little.

Sue has received many accolades for her work on section 59 and promotion of positive forms of discipline. There have been awards from colleagues including Childspace Institute and the Psychological Society.

Internationally the movement to end corporal punishment of children around the world is growing – 24 countries have now taken legal measures to end physical punishment of children. Sue is held in high regard by activists in this movement – some friends have sent messages of appreciation at the time of Sue’s retirement from Parliament.

In her time in Parliament Sue has successfully introduced three member’s bills in the House. Significantly all of these benefit young people – lifting the youth minimum wage to adult rates, extending the length of time some mothers in prison can keep their babies with them and, of course, repealing section 59 Crimes Act 1961.

Sue’s name and reputation as a MP who bravely and energetically promoted the interests of children will remain prominent in New Zealand’s history. Just as in 10 years time most New Zealanders will be proud of the section 59 law change so they will remember Sue’s name and feel grateful for what she achieved.

Go well Sue.

Beth Wood (For EPOCH New Zealand)

Note: For a summary of her career in her own words, you can read Sue’s inspirational valedictory speech.


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.

Tapu Misa: John Key must hold the line

August 24, 2009

In an opinion piece in today’s Herald, Tapu Misa says that despite the referendum result, John Key must hold the line:

If the purpose of the referendum was to stop good parents being criminalised for “light” smacking, we don’t have a problem. So far no parent has been prosecuted successfully for that. The law allows “inconsequential” physical force – such as a light smack – in several circumstances, including stopping a child harming themselves or others.

But it rightly rules out the kind of parental correction that began with smacking and led to James Whakaruru’s stepfather beating the 4-year-old to death for bedwetting.

That’s an extreme example. Some people don’t recognise child abuse unless it involves a maimed or dead baby, but those who work with children know that the abuse continuum is less clear-cut. Hundreds of damaged children never end up in the public eye.

Read the full article at the Herald.

Womens Refuge: Predictable referendum result on a stupid question

August 22, 2009

Women’s Refuge says the result of the referendum was a predictable outcome due to the phrasing of the question, “Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

Heather Henare, Chief Executive for the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges, says “The result is disappointing, but not a great surprise. The question was framed from the outset to capture a “no” vote.

“Most people believe that firm boundaries for children are necessary and many do not see a smack as a problem. Of course they don’t want to see parents criminalised over this issue.”

“What is being missed is the fact that good parents are not being criminalised under the amended law at all.”

“The referendum question assumes that smacking can be part of good parental correction. In fact, any degree of physical hitting sends a message to children that violence is acceptable. In almost every case, there will be times when those slaps or blows will be harder than they should have been, when anger becomes part of the equation.”

Ms Henare says, “Women’s Refuge supports non-violent, positive parenting. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean an absence of boundaries or parental responsibility. There are honest, sensible ways to establish clear boundaries for children that do not involve smacking.”

“We believe the existing child discipline law is an important step towards changing attitudes towards family violence. It would be a great shame if this country were to take a step backwards in that respect and change the law back to allow the physical punishment of children.”

“I have personally spoken with families who have had issues with violence for generations. They have said the law was one of the things that supported their decision to make their home violence-free. They talk of the freedom of knowing that violence towards their children is no longer an option.”

Ms Henare says, “We are calling on the government to retain the current child discipline law.”

A review of the law is due to be completed later this year. Ms Henare says, “That is when we should be evaluating it. I sincerely hope the government will wait for the report and not support changes based on the outcome of this confusing referendum.”

Auckland Anglican Dean Ross Bay rejects claim To God-given right to smack children

August 22, 2009

The Dean of Auckland’s Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, The Very Reverend Ross Bay, has expressed concern at the attitude of some Christians that it is their God-given right to use corporal punishment in the discipline of their children.

Commenting in the light of the recent referendum on the use of smacking, Dean Bay says that the view of some Christians is based in an image of God that characterises God as ready to punish human beings for the slightest misdemeanour. “The Christian image of God is what we find in the New Testament of the Bible, and is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ,” says Dean Bay. “This is the God who does not wield power to force human beings to conform to divine purposes. What we see in Jesus is self-giving love poured out in a surrender to evil. The power of that divine love is what in turn overcomes evil.”

Dean Bay says that this activity of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus should always be the starting point for a Christian image of God that affects human behaviour. Jesus’ attitude to children is seen in his welcoming them for blessing when the adults around him are telling them and trying to send them away. Dean Bay says that it is unfortunate that these images are made secondary to an approach founded in the ancient proverb of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’.

“I am concerned that a particular stance on child discipline has too often been characterised as ‘the’ Christian view. Many Christians would think quite differently in relation to this matter”.

Nevertheless the Dean takes a realistic view about this issue. “The irony of the referendum is that people were being asked to affirm something for which the current law already makes provision. If there is an issue to be addressed it is around the interpretation and application of Section 59 by Police and CYFS. Hopefully the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday will offer some clear guidance in this regard”.

Meantime the Dean hopes that the image of the God of love and mercy revealed in Jesus Christ will be the image which characterises all human relationships, especially relationships where one person holds power over another.

Mary Willow: Children learn from non-verbal experience and immitation

August 19, 2009

Mary WillowThe current law (section 59 of the Crimes Act) not only gives children the right to protection from violence, but by removing violence as a ‘backstop option’ it paves the way for every parent to ‘think outside of the box’ and develop new parenting skills.

Mary Willow, a Wellington parent educator, recently gave 2 well-received seminars on Positive Parenting.

“Parents who use smacking say ‘you can talk till you’re blue in the face but they just don’t listen, so how are we supposed to discipline them?’ The pro-smackers have one thing right,” says Mary, “the child’s willpower and actions in the early years learn primarily through non-verbal experience. But what kind of experience is best?”

“As parenting expert Haim Ginnott once said: ‘We (parents) are the decisive element in the child’s life. It’s our personal approach that creates the climate, it’s our daily mood that makes the weather”.

Mary explains: “A large percentage of un-cooperative behaviour in children is created when we set them and ourselves up for failure. We do this through poor management of time, lack of rhythm, being distracted or overcommitted, having unrealistic expectations of tired, hungry, sick or over-stimulated children (or parents!), having inconsistent or non-existent boundaries, exhibiting poor self-control or being extreme in our reactions one way or another.”

“To add to the above, when children start to act up, we try to use reasoning (which they don’t yet have) and coercion (verbal or physical, which they imitate perfectly) to rein them in” says Mary. “The primary mode of learning in the early years is imitation. When we hit our children to discipline them, we create yet another generation of New Zealand parents lacking positive parenting skills.”

So what can we do?

“If we first work on adjusting the rhythm, environment and parental example to set both children and parents up for success, we can then focus on the small amount of ‘stuck’ behaviour that remains. This requires an understanding of how children learn at different stages and how to create successful, non-violent boundaries, both of which I teach in my seminars, playgroups, courses and counselling sessions”.

“The wonderful thing about struggling to become good parents is that it helps us to heal past wounds and move on to new levels of wisdom and creativity. You don’t wait till the last kid has left home to run off and get enlightened: if you focus and take positive parenting seriously you will be enlightened every single day!”

“My dream is that the courage of Sue Bradford to bring this law change into effect will ultimately breed a new kind of parenting in New Zealand where we help and support each other, and families grow together in joy and security.”

Video: Hana – A child’s eye view

August 19, 2009

Hana (age 9) comments on why it’s wrong to hit children. Following this, Hana gives a short speech in Maori on the same theme.

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Christopher Horan: Time to move past the smacking debate

August 17, 2009

Former probation officer Christopher Horan writes in today’s Otago Daily Times that people are sick of the debate and it’s time to move on, comparing the present situation to the debate around corporal punishment in schools.  We moved on, and few regret the move to more effective ways of disciplining children in schools.

I’m confident that most parents who oppose Sue Bradford’s child-discipline Act are caring and responsible parents. That’s why I’m also sure they will be uneasy in the knowledge that their view is shared by most wife beaters, sex offenders, child abusers and child killers.

These are the people who cling to a distorted sense of entitlement to control the lives of others.

Moving on would leave them behind.

Read the full article at the ODT.

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

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