Posts Tagged child abuse

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.

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.

Time for real action on child abuse

August 23, 2009

Whatever proposals the Cabinet considers this week, they must focus on the need for real action on New Zealand’s shameful levels of serious child abuse.

“It is time to stop squabbling about the right to smack children and get down to serious action to stop child abuse,” says the Yes Vote coalition spokesperson Deborah Morris-Travers.

“On this, there is no disagreement between Yes and No voters.

“We have the world’s worst child death by maltreatment rate, and the consequences of child maltreatment and are costing all New Zealanders $2 billion a year in social welfare, legal, prison system and other costs, let alone the community and social costs.”

That cost is the conclusion of an Infometrics report prepared for Every Child Counts, which counts many Yes vote supporter organisations among its members.

“The Prime Minister is to be applauded for sticking by the law as it stands, and for seeking non-legislative responses which can give people comfort on the issues that clearly concern many.

“We hope that the Government will now seize an opportunity to take serious action on the real problem that distresses us all: the huge cost to individuals, society, and the economy of child abuse.”

“Since before its passage in 2007, member organisations of the Yes Vote coalition have advocated active communication with the public about what the law means and how it is intended to operate to contribute to lowering child abuse rates in New Zealand.

“If such action is part of the Government response, we will support that wholeheartedly. Such an approach would hasten the change in social attitudes to physical punishment which is already occurring, and which is a fundamental part of stopping child abuse.

Nurses say that the Child Discipline Law is working and must be retained

August 2, 2009

nznoThe New Zealand Nurses’ Organisation (NZNO) is supportive of the current child protection legislation.

Chief executive officer, Geoff Annals, is frustrated by the referendum question. “There can be little doubt that a better worded question could have been asked. The issue is whether it should be lawful to use violence against children.”

“As an organisation of 43,000 health professionals and carers we are clear that any steps that can be taken to protect our children from violence should be. The evidence shows this is a law that is working and must be retained,” Annals said.

“New Zealand has a shameful record on child abuse. Clearly our culture needs to change to view violence, in any form, as unacceptable,” Annals said.

Making sense of police statistics

July 18, 2009

On 10 July 2009 the Police released their 4th six-monthly report on Police activity since the statutory defence for assault on a child was removed from the Crimes Act 1961.

In an article printed in the New Zealand Herald [11 July] –  “Big jump in child assaults reports” by  Simon Collins claims that the number of minor assaults reported to the police has jumped 40% since the three month period before the law change.  Taken at face value this could be interpreted as the 2007 law leading to a huge increase in the number of “good” parents being referred to the Police for correcting their children by simply smacking them. This is not the case.

To understand why, it’s important to knowhow the Police categorise the cases they report on.  Police do not spell out the nature of the events involved in the cases they report but only say that, The terms “smacking”, “minor acts of physical discipline” and “other child assaults” are terms created for monitoring purposes so that the reviews accurately reflect the complex nature and context of each case.  But in fact they represent a hierarchy with “other child assaults” being the heavier end of physical punishment.

By putting the categories together, looking at monthly averages and coming up with the 40% figure Simon creates a misleading impression.

If we use Simon’s average per month approach separately for each category we find that where “smacking” is concerned there is less than a 1% increase between the three month period before the law change and the figures reported in the last Police review.  But in fact the numbers reported are so small that it is nonsense to talk percentages at all. About 1 case a month in the three month before law change and about 1.03 in the last review period is not a statistically significant change.

Looking at the “minor acts of physical discipline category” we find that there has been a 100% increase between the three month period before law reform and the last set of figures.  But in fact we are talking about the difference between say 3 cases a month and 6 cases a month – again too small a number to be meaningful.

In the third category “Other Child Assault” we are looking at a rise from about 27 cases a month to 34 cases a month in the relevant periods – a little over 25% increase – but again 7 cases is not a statistically significant change.

The slight increase in reporting at the heavier ends of physical punishment should be interpreted positively – as demonstrating a greater willingness on the part of the public to report concerns about the way a child is treated – and as making more opportunities for parents to be given support and guidance to manage their children’s behaviour in more positive ways.

The case of the Christchurch ‘ear-flick’ Dad who apparently punched his child on the face and was given an anger management sentence illustrates the point.

We must also keep in mind that the total number of prosecutions in the  “smacking” and minor acts of physical discipline categories has been vey small over the whole period.

Disciplining dad

July 3, 2009

Scott Kara’s (rough) guide to being a first-time dad on his New Zealand Herald blog

Most of the time, I’m a big softie. But this week, with Incredible Hulk-like tendencies, I turned into Super Domineering Dad by taking a stand and putting the little one into time out for the first time.

I thought I was looking out for her personal safety with my tough and loving stance. Crikey, she’d pulled herself up onto the cabinet in front of the TV, which is a fair-old fall to the wooden floor boards below, and was slapping the plasma screen with glee. It was the third time – in quick succession – she’d done it so what’s a dad to do?

While that might not sound like dastardly behaviour I couldn’t help but imagine that slab of electronic wizardry falling off the wall and squishing little honey lamb into a shrink-wrapped luncheon sausage.

It turns out, I think time out is a miserable failure and my wife and I don’t believe in it anymore. Not that it didn’t work, I just didn’t give it a chance. In fact, I was the miserable failure because my heart caved in to an uncontrollable longing to pick her up, hug her, and wipe those tears dry after shutting that door in her face.

So what do you do to stamp out wilful toddler tantrums and disobedience? Because, as Mr Ear Clip of Christchurch found out earlier this week, times have changed when it comes to discipline.

Gone are the days when mum cracked the wooden spoon on the bench as a threat – and boy, did my sister and I laugh when it broke on one occasion. Then there was the ultimate I-mean-business threat of dad – a far bigger softie than I am – pretending to take off his belt.

So instead of time out I’m resorting to either asking the little critter nicely to do something; praising her by way of coercion; ignoring her and hoping like hell she stops doing it eventually; or – and this is best of all – distracting her (which requires a ball, a puzzle, or, if I’m desperado, a TV show).

But hang on a minute, I thought I was meant to be a parent? I thought I was the one calling the shots?

Maybe I should harden up, stop being such a sook, and stick to my guns.

Then again, no matter what your approach, disciplining a toddler – and a teenager for that matter – is always going to be torture.

US report show clear connection between abuse and physical punishment

July 3, 2009

Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on children

An extensive report from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, USA on the effects of physical punishment on children clearly shows connections between physical abuse in later life and physical punishment as a child.

Published last year (2008) the main goal of the report is to provide a concise review of the empirical research to date on the effects physical punishment has on children. It was created for parents and others who care for children, professionals who provide services to them, those who develop policy and programmes that affect children and families, interested members of the public, and children themselves.

The report’s author, Elizabeth T Gershoff, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, received her doctoral degree in Child Development and worked for five years at the National Centre for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.

Her current research focuses on the impacts of parenting and violence exposure on child and youth development over time and within the contexts of families, schools, neighbourhoods and social policies.

The research supports several conclusions:

– There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.

– There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.

– There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.

– There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

It also reveals that mounting research evidence shows that physical punishment of children is an ineffective parenting practice comes at a time of decreasing support for physical punishment within the United States and around the world.

The majority of American adults are opposed to physical punishment by school personnel. An increasing number of Americans (now at 29 percent) are opposed to physical punishment by parents. At the same time, there is a growing momentum among other countries to enact legal bans on all forms of physical punishment, bolstered by the fact that the practice has come to be regarded as a violation of international human rights law.

The clear connections between physical abuse and physical punishment that have been made in empirical research and in the child abuse statutes of several states in the US suggest that reduction in parents’ use of physical punishment should be included as integral parts of state and federal child abuse prevention efforts.

Smacking never worked for me – why I’m voting Yes

July 2, 2009

Geoffrey, who would prefer to remain anonymous, recently wrote to all MPs about his experience growing up in a violent and insecure home. His story supports the Yes Vote campaigners’ contention that smacking can ever be said to be “good parental correction”.

He received replies from Jim Anderton, Catherine Delahunty and Peter Dunn.

Dear MP

I am appalled that there are adults who have no idea of an alternative to smacking a child.

I was born in 1960 and my parents were convinced that corporal punishment was the way to discipline us.

It didn’t work.

The violence escalated until I was insecure at home and at school (corporal punishment at school). In both cases, home and school, I felt I had no recourse and my behaviour got no better as a result of being assaulted by my parents and teachers.

My relationship with my parents was distrust and disrespect right up until I left home. I admit, that once I left home my relationship with my father was better, but there has always been an emotional distance that will never be bridged even though I am 49 and he is 82.

I was married 28 years ago and I have three adult children. These three children have never been hit by their parents and are kind considerate and caring adults, the youngest is 21. In contrast to my own relationship with my parents, they are close to us and seek us out for support and advice.

My oldest son entrusts us with the care of his four month old daughter every weekend, something I couldn’t trust my parents with for my children for fear of their corporal punishment ethic.

Home is a place where a child should feel safe and have no fear where they must feel protected and not threatened – even if they have no language yet.

Smacking is a reaction by a frustrated, brutish mentality in a stressed individual who has no idea of any other approach. To sanction this behaviour, as many religions do, is to allow the brute mentality to take what they feel is the most expedient course of action. Unfortunately, corporal punishment has the opposite effect.

In the 1960s it was considered right to discipline one’s wife with violence, a crime which the police could not take action against because an old law stated a man’s home was out of bounds in domestic incidents.

There were the same cries of outrage by what seems the same people when this exemption to the law was overturned.

My guess is that we don’t want a referendum on the law which criminalises the wife beater, nor should we in the case of the same conservatives who want to be able to hit children with immunity to prosecution.

Keep our children safe!

Prime Minister commits to action on child abuse

June 25, 2009

Media Release: UNICEF NZ (UN Children’s Fund)          24 June, 2009

The UN Children’s Fund in NZ is pleased that the Prime Minister has made an emphatic statement of the Government’s intent to do something about abused children.

“New Zealand’s grim record of child abuse is a national shame and needs urgent attention” says UNICEF NZ executive director, Dennis McKinlay.

“The Prime Minister has recognised this and it is heartening that he has shown leadership with his statement in the House yesterday that not enough has happened and that his government intends to do more.

“We need this commitment to support what communities and individuals are already doing. It is gratifying that he has acknowledged that it’s not enough and that more needs to happen.”

Mr McKinlay referred to the lack of public education following the amendment of S.59 of the Crimes Act in 2007 and believes that if New Zealanders had the opportunity to be well informed about the new legislation, there would be more understanding of and support for the amendment.

“Removing the defence of reasonable force is a step towards eliminating child abuse. Acts of abuse that were previously defended through the old legislation are no longer defensible.”

Mr McKinlay says that he will seek a meeting with the Prime Minister and offer UNICEF’s support in his efforts to deal with our unacceptably high level of child abuse.

“Our youngest citizens are at risk. Support for parents and education about constructive discipline need to be prioritised in the Government agenda to help eliminate child abuse.”

Note: Tuesday 23 June

Hon JOHN KEY: “I go back to the point I just made: members on this side of the House care about abused kids. We look in the hospitals of New Zealand and see thousands of abused kids, and Christine Rankin has spoken out about the damage that is happening to those kids. We are going to do something about abused kids, because not enough happened under the previous Labour Government.”

Referendum offers king hit to humanity

June 21, 2009

Deborah Coddington (New Zealand Herald, June 21, 09) decries the “dastardly” referendum in her regular column saying it was organised  “by grown men who should know better”.

She says there is no such thing as a “loving smack, just as there is no such thing as a hateful hug” adding that it was no wonder children were “not valued as individuals in this country, but instead as some sort of chattel belonging to adults”

“We do not own our children,” she says, “a fact that has yet to be driven home to those selfish individuals who fight their way through the Family Court over who has the offspring, ensuring any remaining family happiness is destroyed forever.”

She goes on to argue that she doesn’t see a future in NZ for treasured children nor respect for their presence.

She admits she gave little thought to the issue until 10 years ago when she wrote about the death of James Whakaruru and realised how “normal it was for discipline to include beating children”

She concludes asking how we would react if the question was: “Should forced sex, as part of a good marriage, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”

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

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