Goff, Key stand firm on section 59

September 21, 2009

The Herald reports that organisers of the recent referendum on the smacking law confronted the leaders of both major parties yesterday – but failed to win a single concession to review the law. Furthermore, questions from smacking supporters actually pushed Mr Key into a stronger defence of the law than he has given before, saying the 2007 ban on any use of force against children for “correction” was important to “send a message” that violence against children was unacceptable.

Read the full article at The Herald.

Research: Smacking makes children naughtier

September 17, 2009

The Telegraph reports on new research showing that children who are smacked are more aggressive and have poorer mental development than those who are verbally castigated.

Research on toddlers and other studies following children into adolescence found physical punishment was bad for children and made them more likely to show anti-social behaviour.

The children who were smacked at age one were more aggressive and had not developed cognitive skills as well as those punished verbally.

In a separate study children aged between five and 16 found that children who were spanked often were two to three times more likely to show anti-social behaviour than those not punished physically.

Read the article at The Telegraph

John Key announces Section 59 review terms of reference

September 7, 2009

Prime Minister John Key today released Terms of Reference for a review of policies and procedures used by the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family around the issue of smacking.

The review stems from Cabinet decisions a fortnight ago introducing safeguards to give parents comfort they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children.

“This review will look at the policies and procedures of the Police and CYF, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes needed to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended,” Mr Key says.

“The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and the recent referendum reinforces that New Zealanders don’t either.

“I believe the law is working as intended but I can assure parents the National-led Government will continue to monitor the way the law is being implemented.”

The review will be conducted by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Peter Hughes, the Commissioner of Police Howard Broad, and well known clinical psychologist Nigel Latta.

Mr Latta has significant experience working with young people and their families and Mr Key says his independent perspective will be useful.

“I am pleased that Nigel has agreed to take part in the review and I’m sure he will bring a direct and honest approach to the table,” Mr Key says.

“The reviewers will be able to make recommendations and consider any other matters they think will help to ensure that parents are treated as Parliament intended.”

The review team will report to the Prime Minister, Minister of Police and Minister of Social Development by December 1.

Introduction

A citizens-initiated referendum was held between 31 July and 21 August 2009 on the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Eighty-seven per cent of those who voted, responded ‘no’ to this question.

The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and does not believe the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 intends for this to occur. It wants safeguards to be put in place to give parents comfort that this will not happen. Cabinet [CAB Min (09) 30/23] has agreed to a number of measures to provide such safeguards. These include this review of New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures.

Terms of Reference

To review New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, in order to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable in the interest of ensuring that:

1. good parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007

2. provisions of the law (both criminal and under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989) are applied to those who abuse children.

To consider any other matters which, in the reviewers’ opinion, will assist in ensuring that parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007.

To make recommendations concerning these matters.

Reviewers
Peter Hughes, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development
Howard Broad, Commissioner of Police
Nigel Latta, Clinical Psychologist.

Timing

The reviewers will provide a report and make recommendations to the Prime Minister and Ministers of Police and Social Development and Employment by 1 December 2009.

Nigel Latta says in a press release,

I have been approached by the Prime Minister and asked if I would consider participating in a review of the Police and CYF processes around S 59 to see if the law is working as intended. I have agreed to participate in this review on the basis that it was understood that my role was independent and that I was able to speak freely about both the process of the review, and my opinions regarding its findings.

For the record, and this is something I have commented on publically in a number of contexts, my personal view on S59 is that I did not agree with the original law change. I also voted no in the referendum. I do not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the ‘common sense’ understanding of what that means, should be subject to criminal prosecution or investigation. It would be my view that the “anti-smacking debate” has become needlessly polarised from the very beginning into a position whereby you are either “for child abuse”, or you are “against child abuse”. This tendency of both sides of the debate to reduce a complex social/moral issue into rather simplistic extremes has resulted in our being plunged into an argument that has consumed a great deal of time, energy, and money, when ultimately everyone agrees with that we need to do more to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The terms of reference for this review are very clear. I see my role as first and foremost to look at the evidence and to ensure that the law does not result in good parents either being criminalised, or being needlessly subjected to investigations that are intrusive and/or traumatic. This is a responsibility I hold directly to the everyday mums and dads of New Zealand, and one that I take very seriously.

Because this issue has been dealt with to date in largely emotive and ideological rhetoric, I am interested solely in looking at the data, and in forming an opinion on the actual impact of the law change on that basis. For that reason I will not be meeting with, corresponding with, or entering into discussions with, any lobby groups from either end of the debate.

I will also not be engaging in any media interviews on this matter until after the review process has been completed. At that time the findings will be presented to the public in as transparent a manner as possible so that the Kiwi parents can make up their own minds based on the actual data.

Russell Brown: The son that got away

September 3, 2009

Russell Brown has been in contact with the son of the “riding crop lady”, and posted some of the conversation on Public Address:

There’s a good deal that can’t be said about the so-called “Timaru Lady”, whose Section 59 acquittal on charges of assaulting her son with a riding crop and a cane really began the recent smacking madness. The permanent suppression order the followed her acquittal has seen to that.

But I can say that she has an older son in Auckland, with whom I have occasionally been in contact. His first email to me, last year, included this passage:

Let me start by firstly saying I left home during high school because of the physical abuse and have nothing further to do with my mother other than through countless family court hearings with me trying to get my brothers and sisters removed from her care.

Anyway the point of my email is that I talked to Family First several times years ago and they were aware of [redacted]’s past and I even gave them more informed details but they were more than happy just to brush it over and use her as a political catalyst. It makes me really angry and I did fire back at them at the time they were supporting violence against our children. But however. You will find a couple more organisations such as Anti-Cyfs organisations …. that fully support her. I really think someone should bring this to light.

For more, see the full post at Public Address.

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.

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

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