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.
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.
There was a nice piece in yesterday’s Herald by John Roughan: Sinister undertones to referendum instigators, in which John rightly brings into question what Bob McCoskrie and friends mean by “correction”. He concludes that what the instigators of this referendum are really after is the restoration of their right to give their kids a good hiding.
There is something very creepy about this smacking referendum now arriving in the mail. What exactly do the citizens behind this initiative, men like Bob McCoskrie, mean by “good parental correction”?
Their publicity pretends they mean nothing more than the smack that an anxious or annoyed parent might use to stop or prevent dangerous or offensive behaviour. But that can’t be all they want because the law now expressly permits the use of parental force for exactly those purposes.
Roughan lays out a detailed analysis of why the existing Child Discipline Law allows “good parental correction”, and concludes:
Those who initiated the referendum know what the new law says. They know it permits reasonable force for all the preventive situations they are fond of citing.
They pretend it does not because they could not attract majority support for the restoration of the right to flog children. Don’t be deceived by them. Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand? Absolutely.
Promoters of the child discipline referendum are increasingly damaging their own cause by failing to take the opportunity to call it off.
“With just three days left until the Governor-General issues a writ for the referendum, its organisers are coming off as arrogant, inflexible and unconcerned at the massive and unnecessary expense they are responsible for,” said Yes Vote spokesperson, Deborah Morris-Travers.
“Even among those who support their question, there is an overwhelming belief that the whole exercise is a terrible waste of money.
“Demanding an amendment to the child discipline law in return for calling off the referendum is outrageous. The law grants children the same legal protections as all other citizens have. This is fair and reasonable, especially when law is being administered sensibly and sensitively.
“By trying to place responsibility for the referendum’s cancellation in anyone’s hands other than their own, its promoters are dodging their responsibilities as its creators. Sheryl Saville, Larry Baldock and Bob McCoskrie started this farce and they are the only people with the power to withdraw it.
“The leaders of the two main parties have shown remarkable courage as leaders in standing by the current child discipline.
“They are not doing so to be popular, but because they know from their constant exposure to the reality of New Zealand’s high rates of family violence that this law is an important step towards creating safe, loving environments for our children to grow up in the 21st century.
“The Yes Vote coalition repeats its call for the referendum organisers to do the right thing, call off the poll before this Friday, and save the country at least $6 million,” concluded Ms Morris-Travers.
If the instigators of the citizens initiated referendum are serious about making life better for children in New Zealand, they should exercise their ability to stop the referendum and save some of the $9 million committed to this futile PR stunt. This is money that could be applied to making a real difference for New Zealand’s children and their families.
“The promoters of the petition forcing the referendum, Sheryl Saville, Larry Baldock and Bob McCoskrie, have a short window of time in which they could demonstrate some common sense and commitment to New Zealand families in these hard economic times, by withdrawing their petition,” said Yes Vote spokesperson Deborah Morris-Travers.
Legally, the petition can be withdrawn by its promoters before the Governor-General issues the writ for the referendum, which must be done by Friday 3 July 2009.
The Yes Vote coalition is calling upon them to act responsibly in this matter. It is clear from the referendum debate over the last two weeks that the question is misleading, many people remain confused about the application of the law, and there is no political will to change the law when it is working effectively. The outcome from the referendum therefore will be of little value.
The Yes Vote Coalition represents the major agencies working with communities to support parents and families. We support the child discipline law and we support parents. We see and understand the challenges faced by families throughout New Zealand and we know those families don’t want precious government resources being wasted on a referendum that will add little to the future well-being of their children.
“We call on the petition promoters to withdraw their petition while it is still possible to do so,” concluded Ms Morris-Travers.
Kathryn Ryan interviews Prof Anne Smith, Murray Edridge, and Bob McCoskrie on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme this morning.
Anne Smith is Professor Emeritus at Otago University’s College of Education, and discusses her research on child discipline that shows that less than 10% of parents feel that smacking is effective; she says that most of the parents involved in her study that smacked their children regretted it afterwards, and that the smacking had more to do with the parents’ state of mind, tiredness, etc than the child’s behaviour.
She also discusses parents’ reaction the current law. In her study, 47% supported the current Child Discipline Law, 27% were against it, with the rest undecided.
Prof Smith said that only a tiny minority of experts believe that smacking is effective, and that the present law is working well.
Murray Edridge (CEO Barnardos) and Bob McCoskrie (Family First) comment on the research and the referendum.
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.
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.
If you are going to use or distribute material from our campaign in any way, eg remixed or mashed up, please ensure that your actions are compliant with the relevant legislation, as the Yes Vote Coalition cannot take responsibility for actions beyond our control or knowledge.
The bottom line is that we want to play by the rules. We appreciate your support, but please act ethically, thoughtfully, and within the law.