“Research” shows that smacking is good for kids?

January 8, 2010

Recently there have been reports in the media in New Zealand and internationally drawing attention to an unpublished study by Marjorie Gunnoe at Calvin College in Michigan USA that purports to have found that children who are smacked occasionally do better at school than children who are never smacked. These findings are, of course, being made much of by proponents of physical discipline – including those who would like to see New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law overturned.

It needs to be said at the outset that the case for bringing children into line with all other citizens in regard to their rights to protection from assaults does not primarily rest on whether or not smacking is effective or good (or bad) for children. We do not ask the same questions in regard to whether or not assaults might be effective in controlling other groups of citizens whose reasoning is sometimes less developed than other adults – the aged, the mentally ill and those with intellectual disabilities, for example. Removing the legal justification for assaults on children is fundamentally an issue of human rights to full protection from attacks on bodily integrity.

However, that aside, there is now a huge volume of credible research internationally that shows consistently that children who are physically hurt in the course of discipline often have poor relationships with their parents and are more likely to have poor developmental outcomes including emotional problems. Physical punishment is also consistently shown to be a risk factor for child abuse ie children who are physically punished are more likely to be hit hard and suffer injuries than those that are never hit or smacked. Children who experience and witness violence in their own homes can come to regard hitting another person as an acceptable way of behaving.

The following points are relevant when considering the media coverage of Gunnoe’s study:

1. The institution which undertook the research is an avowed sponsor of ‘faith-based inquiry’ not open scientific inquiry. Their stated vision is: “Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”

2. The lead researcher has published work which seems designed to confirm established beliefs of some conservative Christian communities.

3. She is not a recognised contributor to the scientific literature in this field.

4. The report of the study findings has not been published in a recognised scientific journal and so has not been subject to the scientific scrutiny associated with such publication.

5. The media reports are second or third hand and subject to the accompanying distortions.

6. The methodology of the research is unknown. Important points that bear on the validity of its reported conclusions are:

  • Were the smacking and non-smacking groups selected and matched so as isolate smacking and non-smacking as the only significant variables upon which the conclusions were based?
  • How were smacking and non-smacking defined? Was there a severity scale?
  • What were the outcome measures that purportedly distinguished between children who were and were not smacked? Were they chosen so as to be reliably and consistently measurable and were they important? Was the difference statistically significant?

7. If the reported conclusions are legitimate, they require support from repeated studies if they are to have any credibility, i.e. they could be unrepresentative results.

8. Calling an investigation ‘research’ can be aimed at investing it with a respectability that it does not deserve.

Beth Wood and Ian Hassall

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.

Free Booklet: A Theology of Children

November 23, 2009

theology-of-children1A Theology of Children is a new 24-page booklet aimed at supporting and strengthening parents, grandparents, and caregivers with strategies for non-physical discipline of children within a theological context.  You can download A Theology of Children for free.

A Theology of Children was produced with the support of the Ministry of Social Development initiative SKIP (Strategies with Kids/ Information for Parents), and written by Reverend Nove Vailaau, who is very passionate about clarifying the issue of physical discipline in Christian theology. It also has an forward by Bishop Richard Randerson and a summary by Dr Elizabeth Clements.

The booklet has a broad perspective, but also focuses on the Pacific peoples of New Zealand. It provides an opportunity for discussion about parenting practices in Pacific communities and within New Zealand in general.

A Theology of Children aims to help guide parents and caregivers through the six principles of effective discipline: love and warmth, talking and listening, guidance and understanding, limits and boundaries, consistency and consequences, and a structured and secure world.

Download A Theology of Children.

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.

Physical punishment of children and the Child Discipline Law

November 16, 2009

Support for the 2007 law remains strong among those that understand how well children in New Zealand will be served in the long term by the repeal of the old section 59 Crimes Act 1961.  As the recent report from the Ministry of Social Development has shown there has been no increase in prosecutions for minor assaults on children since the law change but there seems an increased willingness to report more serious assaults on children.

It is also likely that the law is already contributing (along with information about positive parenting) to a social change away from use of smacking and hitting,    International evidence against the use of physical punishment continues to grow.   Calls from activities opposed to the 2007 law change do not reflect such evidence and the “March for Democracy” is their latest expensive move to apply pressure on politicians to turn back clock and send a message intentionally or unintentionally that physical punishment is a acceptable form of child discipline.

EPOCH NZ have produced a paper reviewing the law in light of recent research and the referendum.

The paper asks:

  • what is the evidence against use of physical punishment?
  • how is the 2007 law working?
  • who supports the 2007 law and who opposes it?
  • how will the safety and wellbeing of New Zealand children be best served now?

The answers to these questions form the basis for the following recommendations:

1.    Keep the law as it is: Children in New Zealand will be very well served over time if the Government stays strong in its resolve not to re-introduce a statutory defence into section 59 Crimes Act 1961.

2.    Provide information about the law and positive, non-violent discipline of children: There is an ongoing need for the dissemination of well-researched and supportive information about:

  • the law and its value
  • how the law is working in practice
  • positive non-physical discipline of children.

3.    Monitor the law and research its effects: The application of the child discipline law should continue to be monitored both to ensure that parents are not investigated and/or prosecuted when these actions are unhelpful and to track attitudinal and behavioural changes and the safety and wellbeing of children over time.

4.    Deal with any changes needed through policy and procedures: If inadequacies are found in the way the law is being applied then further protections should be developed without changing the law.  Such protections should support family functioning but at the same time not encourage the use of physical discipline by implying that it is okay.

Download the paper, Physical Punishment of Children and the Child Discipline Law.

Latest Section 59 review says the law is working well

November 11, 2009

Yet another review of the Child Discipline Law confirms that the law is working well.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennet says in her media release:

“The review has found no evidence to show that parents are being subject to unnecessary state intervention for occasionally lightly smacking their children.
“I think this review goes some way to comforting parents that the law is being interpreted in the way it was intended.”

So if report after monotonous report confirms that the Child Discipline Law is working to protect children without putting parents at risk, one might ask some hard questions about the true agenda of the Orwellianly-named “March for Democracy” as they march by this weekend.

Read the full MSD report.

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.

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Kiwi families using positive discipline because it works

October 18, 2009

Kiwi families say they are increasingly using positive parenting techniques because they work, according to 100 ordinary families’ descriptions of their own parenting methods.

Interviews were conducted with 117 parents from 100 families as part of a Families Commission Blue Skies funded project that investigated what kind of discipline strategies are used by today’s families with their pre-school children. Researchers Julie Lawrence and Anne B Smith also asked families to record their discipline practices in parenting diaries.

Download the report.

Professor James Ritchie 1930 – 2009

September 25, 2009

James Ritchie died on Thursday morning. He was the father of the movement to end violence toward children in New Zealand. His public advocacy for repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 stretches back through the years to the submission he and Jane Ritchie made to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Violent Offending in 1978 and forward to their contribution to the campaign for the Bill that eventually changed the law in 2007.

James and Jane were pioneer researchers of the lives of families and children in Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific. Their books, “Child-rearing patterns in New Zealand”, “Growing up in New Zealand” and “Growing up in Polynesia” published respectively in 1970, 1978 and 1979 are landmarks in both social science and popular literature.

Their sense of justice, their understanding of what makes healthy, successful societies and their compassion drove them to expose and repudiate the undercurrent of violence in the lives of New Zealanders that their research had revealed. Their 1981 book, “Spare the rod” was a rational and passionate argument for ending the physical punishment of children. This was a theme in their subsequent books, “Violence in New Zealand”, published in 1990 and “The next generation: child-rearing in New Zealand” published in 1997.

James Ritchie had an influential place in both Maori and Pakeha cultures. He was a respected advisor to Tainui and the Kahui Ariki and an academic leader at the University of Waikato. His experiences and his understanding were incorporated into his 1992 book, “Becoming bicultural”.

The Yes Vote coalition is relatively new but the movement against legalised violence to children is much older. Its values and its work owe a great deal to James and Jane.

E te rangatira
Haere, haere, haere

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Children’s Commisioner: Boscawen bill not in childrens’ interests

September 24, 2009

Children’s Commissioner Dr John Angus said today he hoped ACT MP John Boscawen’s private member’s bill did not pass its first reading.

Boscawen’s Crimes (Reasonable Parental Control and Correction) Amendment Bill will essentially put children in a worse position than before the 2007 law change, Dr Angus said. The Bill, if passed, will enshrine a parent or guardian’s right to correct their child’s behaviour in a manner that the parent or guardian considers to be reasonable under the circumstances. This may include inflicting pain on the child.

 “While the wording of this bill talks about the correction not being ‘cruel or degrading’ and says the effect of the hitting must be ‘no more than transitory or trifling’, it reinforces the old law that allowed parents to assault their children and claim a defense of reasonable force,” Dr Angus said.

“I don’t believe that finding ways to define when and how children might be hit, at what age and what with, for purposes of correction is in any way connected to the best interests of children.”

Dr Angus said that the young people he had sought advice from want the law to remain as it is.

“Children will be further confused, as they are by smacking itself. And the growing number of parents who are working hard to bring up their children in ways that do not involve hitting will feel sold out. Many New Zealanders will find the discussion distasteful.

“One thing is for sure: it will not end a debate that has already distracted us from some important issues about children’s wellbeing.

“I would rather see our time taken up with debating the nature of the relationships we have with children as parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers and community members. Those relationships shape our children’s futures. We should put our energy into how well we are bringing up our children, rather than into the rules around a very narrow and problematic behaviour – physical punishment.

“The changes to Section 59 in 2007 were a line in the sand, a signal that violence against children is not OK. When New Zealand changed the law we joined 25 countries across the world that have a legal ban on the use of physical punishment with children. Some of those countries banned hitting children more than 30 years ago and have very low rates of child abuse. We were the first English speaking country to pass such a law and reversing that would bring international incredulity.

“It is time to move on and engage in public debate about our attitudes towards children and young people, rather than how we can best punish them”

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

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