Posts Tagged child discipline law

The sixth police review: The Child Discipline Law is still working well

March 7, 2010

The New Zealand Police released their 6th review of the implementation Crimes (substituted section 59) Amendment Act 2007 on Friday 5th March 2010. It covered the six-month period from 24 June 2009 to December 22nd 2009.  You can read the Police media release, or download the full report.

The report  indicates that the number of complaints about smacking and minor acts of physical discipline have remained fairly constant since the law changed. In the recent six month period there were two prosecutions – one for smacking and one for a minor act of physical discipline. Both were resolved by way of Diversion. In the cases were there was no prosecution made many parents were given warnings and a significant number were referred to organisations that could provide or direct families to support and guidance.

There has been an increase in the number of complaints in the category “Other Child Assault” which refers to more heavy handed assaults on children. As the police say the increase is consistent with “reduced tolerance and increased reporting of child assault events”.

We do not know whether or not the law change has contributed to the welcome decrease in tolerance of violence to children or n fact reduced assaults on children – relevant baseline data does not exist.

The continual cry from pro-smackers that the law change has not reduced serious child abuse is a distraction aimed at undermining the law.  The Child Discipline Law is not a quick fix – this kind of change will take years, and results from a wide range of efforts. An independent group of experts convened by Social Development Minister Paula Benett last week recommended a multi-faceted approach.

The claim that the complaints made to the Police are a waste of precious Police resources is quite unfounded.

It is entirely appropriate that Police investigate all reports of violence to children – any physical discipline can be a precursor, or indicator of, more serious child abuse. It is also appropriate that most cases of minor assault do not end in prosecution – there are more constructive options for helping to change aggressive parental behaviour. Punishment of parents is not a primary objective of the law change. Social change is.

The child discipline law six months after the referendum

February 24, 2010

Six months have passed since the August 2009 postal referendum on “a smack”. The 2007 amendment to the Crimes Act 1961 that essentially bans the use of force for correction remains intact despite the referendum and extensive lobbying of politicians and the public by “pro-smacking” activists. Since the referendum two reviews have indicated that the law is being implemented sensibly:

Leading politicians have not wavered on their decision to not to reintroduce a statutory defence

However, it is possible that the public are confused about what the law actually means, because it is confusing, because of the emphasis there has been on protecting “good” parents from prosecution and a mixed message in the media about the acceptability of minor physical discipline .

The 2007 law means that if an adult hits a child hard enough to end up being prosecuted he or she will no longer have a statutory defence to call on. Technically any assault, however light, is against the law (just as a minor assault on an adult is) but the reviews indicate that minor assaults are not being prosecuted. This is not because mild physical punishment is good for children but rather because prosecution is not a constructive option in such cases. It would be unfortunate if the two reviews held since the law change and associated political reassurances are regarded as support for smacking or seen to imply that smacking is a necessary part of child discipline.

It is also clear from the second review that claims made by some parents that they are investigated inappropriately are one sided and short on detail.

New Zealand would be moving more rapidly towards becoming a place where everyone believed that it is not acceptable to smack and hit children if its leaders across many spheres were clear and consistent in their support for positive, non violent discipline. This is not the same as advocating that all parents who transgress the law are punished.

We don’t really know what proportion of the public wants to smack and hit children. The outcome of the referendum based on a confusing question is not an indicator of relevant public attitudes. The limited research we have available seems to indicate that attitudes are trending in the right direction but that there is still some way to go before a majority of the population can move on from a belief that hitting and smacking children is ok, even necessary.

ACT MP John Boscawen, is convinced that children cannot be guided to behave well without being smacked and that use of implements might be appropriate when keeping children safe. Where does he get his information about child rearing from? Does it come from his own experience as a child, has he observed other people parenting or is he simply taking a punt at what he thinks will be a popular cause? His background is in the accounting and finance world which will not have exposed him to modern child development theory or experience with managing children. He makes no reference to credible research in justifying his claim that physical punishment is a necessary part of child discipline and a parent’s right.

And what of children’s rights? It is illegal to hit wives, prisoners and service men and women in New Zealand, fundamentally because such assaults are regarded as an infringement of their human rights (regardless of whether or not hitting might make them behave better). The same is true for children.

Mr Boscawen’s bill has been drawn from the ballot but it has not had its first reading in Parliament because Mr Boscawen has delayed this, as he is entitled to do. It appears likely that he will continue to delay the first hearing because he does not have support from any party in Parliament other than ACT. Mr Boscawen has held a series of public meetings around the country to support his bill and it is likely that his supporters will hold further meetings. Whose interests will the meetings serve? Certainly not the interests of children.

International research continues to indicate that children that are hit have poorer outcomes than those who are never, or only occasionally, exposed to physical punishment. (See also other research on this site).

Recently pro-smackers around the world made much of a US study that claimed to have found that young children spanked by their parents may perform better at school later on and grow up to be happier. Marjorie Gunnoe, psychology professor at Michigan’s Calvin College is the author of this unpublished research and has used it to caution against governments changing laws to ban use of physical discipline. The research been rejected for publication by at last two respected journals and there has been considerable criticism of its methodology.

2010 will be good year for children if:

  • political leaders stay strong in their resolve not revisit the 2007 law
  • politicians and other leaders encourage greater use of positive non-physical discipline by supporting the law and not excusing physical discipline.
  • increased funding is made available for parent support and education with a particular emphasis on supporting local communities to lead their own changes in the way children are regarded and treated
  • the law is presented in a positive and reassuring manner as being a good law for children and families and one that is being implemented sensibly
  • the media continue to loose interest in the so-called “anti-smacking debate”.
  • the pro-smacking activists let the issue go and move on.

Beth Wood

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.

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.

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.

National Council of Women stands by the Child Discipline Law

August 21, 2009

The National Council of Women of New Zealand (NCWNZ) will continue to support a law that allows children to grow up free from violence, regardless of the referendum results.

In 1997 NCWNZ passed a resolution by majority that called for the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 so that children could be afforded the same legal protection from assault as adults.

NCWNZ applauds the law changes that followed and urges the government to stand by the decision made in 2007 to protect children from unjust physical punishment.

“There needs to be more education around the current law and more information around the benefits of positive parenting over physical discipline,” says Elizabeth Bang, NCWNZ National President.

Studies have shown that rewards are more effective than punishment in terms of modifying behaviour for the better. The use of physical punishment has also been shown to produce overwhelmingly negative lifelong consequences and condition the individual to view violence as a solution.

“If it’s not an effective discipline solution and has harmful side effects on the individual and society”, says Elizabeth Bang, “why would anyone ever use physical discipline”.

NCWNZ believes the law is working and that the child-rearing practices of many New Zealanders are being positively affected.

“The child discipline law gives our kids the possibility to grow up in a society that over time will become less violent,” says Elizabeth Bang, “that’s a good thing”.

Viv Gurrey: The Referendum did not provide a mandate for changing the Child Discipline Law

August 21, 2009

On behalf of Parents Centres New Zealand Inc and our 52 affiliated Centres across New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Viv Gurrey, says “The result of this referendum does not provide a distinct and clear mandate for changing a law that is proven to be working” .

“Our membership urges the National led government and all Members of Parliament to wait for the outcome of the planned review of the law” before considering (if any) action.

“Now we have the loaded, confusing and ambiguous referendum behind us, let’s rely on hard facts and data to inform decisions”.

“It is more than enough that we have gone to an unnecessary expense to feed the egos of some in our society that appear to be obsessed with their personal right to hit a child. Let’s not compound this further by making change without supporting facts”.

“These facts state categorically that this law is working” says Gurrey. “Parents Centres have no doubt that this trend will continue”.

Parents Centres considers the referendum question was obtuse in its intent. Those who poll professionally are very aware that the result you achieve depends specifically on the question you ask. If you ask people if they want something that looks bad, dishonest or false to happen the majority will say no. In this referendum the question is framed up as good parents being made into criminals.

It suggested that hitting children was good parenting practice and those ‘good’ parents are being criminalised when neither is true. Because of this, we are aware that some people preferred to abstain from voting or even to vote no despite being supporters of the current law.

“Many credible agencies and individuals who touch the lives of parents and children daily have taken the opportunity that this referendum has offered to better inform people about the law and about positive parenting”.

Research is showing that growing numbers of parents recognise there is no need to use physical punishment and the law is consistent with this shift in public attitudes and behaviour. Parents Centre would like to see increased public education about the law and further resources made available to support sector organisations in their provision of service”.

Mrs Gurrey concludes by saying “Parents Centres will continue to focus on providing the essential support and education to parents that they need to raise healthy and confident children able to contribute positively to society in a resilient home environment free from physical discipline”.

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.

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

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