Efforts to prevent the tragic deaths of children in New Zealand must not be allowed to slow down, new Children’s Commissioner John Angus urged today on the release of a report into maltreatment of young children.
The report, Death and serious injury from assault of children under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature, was commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and reviewed common risk factors for death and injury from abuse in New Zealand and worldwide.
“Every year about 45 children under 5 years old are seriously injured and around five are killed because they are maltreated at the hands of people they should be able to trust. That’s a distressing statistic,” John Angus said.
“And sadly, as this reports suggests, it is very young babies that are most at risk of abuse. Their vulnerability means that almost all forms of assault can lead to serious injury and death. It only takes a small slap to the head or a short shake of a baby to do real harm.
“The report also highlights some risks we need to give more attention to in this country. For instance, there is a particular risk when babies are left in the care of young men who are not biological fathers. They are often totally unprepared for the stresses of a crying baby and may already have problems with anger or alcohol abuse.
“International research has found that they often lash out in an attempt to ‘silence’ the child. With knowledge like this we can make sure that funding and resources to reduce child abuse are directed to the right places and at the right people.
“For instance, I would strongly urge government agencies to consider funding the Shaken Baby Prevention Programme – which is currently being looked at closely by the Auckland DHB.
“This successful international programme, based on robust research, is an excellent example of practical action being taken to reduce child abuse.
“The programme targets parents of newborns, including fathers, to give them information about infants’ vulnerability to brain injury and to teach them how to deal with the frustration of a baby crying inconsolably. One American study of the programme found a 47 per cent decrease in head injuries caused by Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“I would strongly recommend this programme is piloted in Auckland and the results evaluated. If effective it could be introduced New Zealand-wide.”
Report co-authors Mavis Duncanson, Don Smith and Emma Davies suggest that child abuse is often the result of a multitude of risk factors within families. It is compounding factors like a previous history of violence, impending parental separation and a lack of antenatal care that can suggest a higher risk of child abuse.
“Reviews like the one I’m releasing today make an important contribution to what we already know about the risks to young children and to the work underway to reduce the rate of abuse and neglect,” said John Angus.
“My intention during my time as Commissioner is to use evidence like this to support recommendations on matters concerning children and to ensure that such information is used to good effect by health, education and child protection agencies.
“I’m pleased that CYF and health services are already focusing on the prevention of abuse and neglect amongst infants, for example in the changes to the Well Child services.
“We simply cannot afford to ignore the harm done to our children – it is a significant issue for New Zealand and one that requires the full efforts of all those working with families and young 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.
Promoters of the referendum on child discipline must be truly desperate if they are willing to make a father who repeatedly pushes over his seven year-old their new poster-boy for “a smack as a part of good parental correction”, says The Yes Vote.
“The no vote campaign would have used the so-called ‘ear-flick’ Dad as their example of supposed injustice against parents until he was convicted of punching his child in the face.
“Now they are pointing to an angry father, who pleaded guilty to assault, as a ‘great Dad’.
“We all get tired and frustrated as parents, but actions such as those described are anything ‘good parental correction’. They are a loss of adult self-control, pure and simple.
“If ever there was an example of why the new child discipline law is a step in the right direction to creating a society in which violence towards children is no longer tolerated, this has to be it.
“A Yes Vote in the referendum is a vote to ensure children and adults are protected equally.”
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?”
Family discipline is a controversial topic which has been debated for centuries, and which is known to have a lifelong effect on the well being of children. This report provides a snapshot of the views, experiences and practices of a sample of 100 New Zealand families, in relation to the discipline of their preschool children.
Parents/caregivers were asked about what they believed about discipline, how they disciplined their children, and the type of support and stress that they experienced with parenting. The study also looked at the effect of child and family characteristics and context over time, on discipline. The study used a multi-method approach, involving semi-structured parent interviews, parent diaries of disciplinary events over three days in a two week period, and a standardised tool, the Parenting Daily Hassles scale. One hundred and seventeen caregivers comprised the national sample – 99 mothers, 18 fathers, one grandfather and two grandmothers. The findings include the following headings: beliefs about discipline; disciplinary practices; the influence of child and family characteristics, stresses, context and support. The findings suggest a more favourable picture of New Zealand parents’ disciplinary practice than previous research has, showing that the majority of parents took an authoritative (firm but warm) approach, and suggests that professionals who work with families could benefit from professional development programmes focusing on effective approaches to discipline.
Research shows disciplinary practices during childhood have lifelong consequences
Most previous research has focused on broad surveys and physical punishment – NZ parents favour relatively negative disciplinary techniques (Ritchie & Ritchie; Maxwell)
Need for better parent education and support in context of legal change in NZ
Little knowledge of the challenges parents face in using discipline in everyday contexts
What do New Zealand families with preschool age children believe about appropriate disciplinary practices for children?
What are the range and typical uses of discipline in New Zealand families?
How are family disciplinary practices influenced by context and events over time?
What type of support (if any) do families receive in their parenting with young children?
Summary of findings:
Majority of parents use authoritative or mixed approach (ie sometimes they are permissive)
Positive methods (rewards, praise and reasoning) more commonly used than negative methods (smacking or shouting). Timeout the most common punishment.
No enthusiasm for physical punishment.
Own experience of parenting important – but can be rejected.
Books and TV hugely important source of info and support.
Family and friends important supports but also early childhood teachers (other professionals less mentioned)
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.
Like many other religions rooted in nationhood, Judaism is not simply a treasure trove of ritual holidays and life cycle events. Judaism is a way of life. Our sacred texts inform our way of being in the world, not only our gestalt (world view) but also our daily conduct. The relationship between parent and child is no exception.
The Talmud, our largest compendium of case law, instructs (Kiddushin 29a):
What are a parent’s obligations regarding a child?
They must bring them into the faith community, teach them values and appropriate conduct, lead them to learn a trade and start families of their own. And there are those who say parents are also required to teach their children to swim in the river.
It is not all that difficult for us to accept this set of parenting guidelines. It is indeed the role of parents in our society to prepare our kids to be self-reliant and accountable for their choices in life. The challenges arise when our children present their own developmentally appropriate obstacles to our parenting…
Some Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) commentators suggest that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden illustrates human development from childhood into adulthood. At first we are happy that the garden (our home of origin) provides what we seem to need when we need it. When we’re hungry, there’s something in the pantry. When we’re tired, there’s a bed or a cushion to ease our rest. Despite having what we need, moments arise in which we want more or we want something different. And so, Eve tastes from the forbidden fruit of the tree in the centre of the Garden of Eden. Challenging authority is part of our process of development into fully functioning capable adults. Breaking free from the spoon that feeds is essential, albeit often disruptive and even painful.
The Talmud tells a story about one particular sage’s challenging teen son (Kiddushin 32a):
Rav Hunah considered tearing up his son’s favourite silk shirt in that son’s presence saying: “He does not honour his father and mother, therefore I will go and see if he flies into a temper or not.” The other sages counsel him: “But perhaps you will cause him to fly into a temper. If he does, you will have violated the precept – You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”
While we are responsible for our children’s welfare and self-sufficiency in adulthood, we are also warned by Jewish literary tradition not to exploit developmental blindspots. Using force because we can justify it in our role as the ones in charge is simply not acceptable. Provoking our children in a way that teaches abuse of power is akin to placing a stumbling block before the blind.
Part of growing up is learning how to manage anger and rage. Anger and rage help us differentiate from our caregivers and make strides out on our own. At the same time, when we are children we don’t know how to cope with the power of that anger and rage. Parents have the responsibility of “teaching their children how to swim in the river.” Swimming in the river of life requires skill, self-control, and instinctual knowing of when to fight and when to redirect our activities. Everything we do matters because our kids are watching, listening, and learning.
As our children transition into adolescence and adulthood we celebrate a ceremony in which grandparents and parents pass a Torah scroll down through the generations to the child who is ready to accept it. It is important for us to remember each time we engage in that “passing down” that our children learn from our conduct moreso than our words that are not reflected in the manner we behave. The real Torah, or legacy, we hand our children is the example of how we are with them in the daily to and fro of life.
The researchers found that submitters to the select committee who saw children as “human beings” were more likely to support the 2007 law change than those that regarded children as “human becomings”.
The second article by Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith, A place where it’s not ok to hit children, looks at how professionals approach the task of communicating, guiding and advising families with young children about disciplinary issues. They found that parents sought advice on discipline, and that most professionals disagreed with the use of physical discipline but expressed caution about telling parents that they thought smacking was harmful. The research was conducted before the law change and it is possible that professionals now have an added challenge – how to tell parents about the law change.
A major implication of both these pieces of research is the need to continue to raise public awareness about child development, positive child discipline and the law.
Victoria University of Wellington
Health Services Research Centre
School of Government
New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law – a post law change report
Beth Wood and
Thursday, 14 May 2009, 12.30 – 1.30pm
Railway 501, Level 5, West Wing Railway Station
(entrance through Railway Station, take Lift 3 to Level 5)
Pipitea Campus, Victoria University, Wellington
In 2007 the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act repealed the existing section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 and replaced it with a new set of provisions which included a clear message that use of force for correction of children was no longer legal in New Zealand.
In this presentation Beth Wood (from EPOCH New Zealand) and Deborah Morris-Travers (from Barnardos New Zealand) will review what is known about public knowledge of the law and attitudes towards it and what is known about how the law is working in practice.
They will discuss the forthcoming referendum on the question, Should a smack as part of good parental discipline be a criminal offence in New Zealand? The discussion will include an analysis of the question and describe a campaign to try to ensure that the non-binding referendum outcome does not threaten the new law.
Feel free to bring your lunch – our seminars are informal
You are welcome to bring your colleagues
RSVPs are not required and there is no charge
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.