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.
Family First are determined to prove that investigations and prosecutions in cases where there are suspicions of assaults on children are unwarranted and that good parents are being prosecuted because of the child discipline law. Unfortunately the information they give about the cases is not enough to make a judgement about whether or not action was warranted. Neither Police nor CYF will release information on cases. Media reports and court proceedings sometimes provide information but in reality few cases are getting to court. What Family First provide seem to be stories as told by people who are being investigated for ill-treatment of their children and not verified by independent assessment.
In the referendum question that Family First regards as valid the standard set for acceptable assault seems to be a “smack”. This definition does not address questions such as how hard, whether an implement was involved, on what part of the body, at what age, how often and administered by whom? These could all be relevant questions when considering whether a “smack” might compromise a child’s safety and sense of security.
Both the Police and CYF are required to investigate reports of alleged harm to a child and so they should. Any such reports could mean that the child is at risk. Whether there is further action after an investigation requires careful consideration of the facts. These facts could include type of force used, degree of force used, part of body affected, presence or otherwise of injury, age of child, circumstances of the harm inflicted, family history of violence and attitude of the adult(s) involved.
The Police data Family First claim to have obtained under OIA, most of which had already been published, unfortunately gives no detail about the kind of assaults involved. In the past Family First have defended the behaviour of parents whose actions have subsequently been found to be quite abusive. It is reasonable to assume that “smacking” and minor acts of physical discipline, refer to cases where section 59 might have been used as a defence (successfully or unsuccessfully) before law change. Even if there is a valid concern that it might have been obvious to the Police that these cases were low enough on the scale of violence not to warrant investigation nine cases is not a huge number – nothing like the flood of good parents being prosecuted we were warned by Family First to expect.
The third category used in police data is “other child assault”. This refers to more and heavy handed assaults and complex circumstances that no one could find reasonable or acceptable and are likely to have been prosecuted under the old law.
The sensible and compassionate sentences (called weak resolutions by Family First) imposed in the cases that have gone through court and been found guilty do not indicate that the judge took the matter lightly. It is more likely that judges have understanding of the need to set standards in law at the same time as avoiding unnecessary hardship on families.
In examining the details of the cases where investigations are reported to have taken place we must keep in mind the natural tendency of people accused to minimise their own wrongdoing and present their own side of the story. As previously stated verification of the stories is not provided and in any case on the face of it much of the adult behaviour reported seemed to indicate a problem existed.
The only real conclusions we can draw from the material provided by Family First is that there is interest in the community in reporting apparent ill-treatment of children which is a good thing, and that appropriate investigations are taking place.
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.
Once again the public are being subjected to misleading and expensive Family First advertisements in the Sunday papers. Politicians are being lobbied by Family First who are undermining a law that is working well and want to turn the clock back so that parents can assault children within the law.
The law change reflects efforts to end the social acceptability of anyone’s right to hit anyone else. Over time, this will lead to better outcomes for children as fewer children will be exposed to violence.
In their most recent attempt to illustrate that “good” parents are being criminalised Family First cited four cases:
In one case investigations were undertaken and no charges laid. In another the parent was charged and then chose to plead guilty. The sentence is not mentioned. In the third the parent was convicted and discharged without penalty.
In two cases the parents concerned were not convicted (and therefore not criminalised). In the second case the parent pleaded guilty himself. And in the other case a discharge without penalty outcome was a compassionate one that sent a message to the parent and society about non-violence, It did not inflict punishment that could cause hardship to the family involved.
Family First seem to be suggesting that Police and CYF should ignore allegations of assault on children. All reports of assault on children should be investigated – there is good evidence that use of physical punishment is a risk factor for child abuse and although not all physical punishment is child abuse. It is appropriate, that if someone is concerned enough to make a report, that the safety of the child or children involved is investigated. Very few, if any cases, of minor assault are leading to prosecution.
Family First need to clearly state their views on what level of assault on children they find acceptable – does it include blows to the head and face for example or striking a child too young too understand how they should be behaving? Do they regard out of control, bad tempered striking out as appropriate parental correction?
We note that Family First are no longer citing the Jimmy Mason “face-punch” case as evidence that the law is not working, as it has in previous ads, and noted in their own press statement that the conviction was “appropriate”.
Family First are clear that they do not approve of child abuse and urge action to address the real causes of child abuse. But belief in parents’ rights to use physical punishment and belief in its legitimacy as part of child discipline are a real contributing factor to the existence of child abuse. Many children are still beaten because of such beliefs. But Family First do not seem to understand that by sanctioning use of physical discipline they are undermining efforts to reduce abuse.
bFM Wednesday Wire’s Paul Deady talked to Deborah Morris-Travers yesterday, and the result was an unusually thorough discussion of the real issues behind the Christchurch “face punch” trial which has been trivialised by many in the mainstream media and in the odd lobby of people who think it’s OK to hit children.
Deborah also discusses the upcoming referendum, and why your YES Vote is so important.
It’s significant that it was a jury ruling
The Police had discretion to prosecution, and police the six-monthly reports issued since the 2007 law change show that they are only prosecuting cases where parents have seriously injured their children
The court sentences being handed down in these cases are usually anger management and parenting education courses – which seems entirely appropriate, and provides additional support to the offenders to do their jobs properly as parents.
Parents are not being criminalised – The public is being seriously misled by groups like Family First and the Kiwi Party who are pro-violence against children. These groups have sought to minimise the significance of the issue by referring to this case as the “ear-flicking” case.
These groups collected enough signatures to force an unnecessary and expensive referendum on a stupidly worded question.
Smacking Children is not good parental correction, and there are 92 international studies that show that positive parenting is better, and that hitting children is harmful.
A YES VOTE promotes positive parenting and supports children.
Independent of the Referendum, the Child Discipline Law is scheduled to undergo a full review by the Ministry of Social Development later this year.
John Key has said repeatedly that the law is working well and National continues to support the law.
Public perception of the law is strong – a recent UMR Research poll showed that 43% of the public support the law, 28% are opposed, and the rest are undecided.
Children attain the best behaviour outcomes when they live in an environment that includes good structure, clear boundaries, warm communication, and love.
In homes where parents use violence against their children to correct their behaviour over four years or more, the violence tends to escalate. In many homes where children are abused, the parents say that it started out as punishment, but the punishment has gone badly wrong.
There’s the thing I find difficult to understand – that any civilised person should be so upset by the idea of it being against the law to hit children that they would go to the trouble of organising a petition to parliament seeking a referendum on the issue, with the express aim of having that law overturned.
Some explanation of the mindset of the more high-profile apologists for a change in the current law is to be found in their connection with, and in some cases membership of the ACT party, the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Family First, the Destiny Church and other conservative political and religious groups. These are people who cannot see beyond punishment as a response to unacceptable behaviour whether in the family or society at large. Their field of vision ranges from hitting naughty children to locking up violent offenders and throwing away the key. Neither response has ever been effective in improving children’s behaviour or in deterring violent crime. Quite the reverse.
Equally concerning is the willingness of these groups to dishonestly manipulate public opinion. The 1999 Law and Order Referendum, initiated by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, provided a striking example of the ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?’ style of survey and was deliberately designed to offer respondents Hobson’s choice. It read:
Should there be a reform of the justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?
Three questions but only one available answer – either Yes or No. So if you were in favour of ‘greater emphasis on the needs of victims’ and ‘providing restitution and compensation for them’ – as I am – you also had to be in favour of ‘minimum sentences’ and the brutal Victorian concept of ‘hard labour’ for all serious violent offences’. Which, needless to say, I am not in favour of.
Ninety-two percent of respondents apparently were. But most thinking people would have realised that the referendum presented impossibly conflicting options within the one question and would not have responded at all.
In an interview I did with the Sensible Sentencing founder on Radio Live a couple of years ago, Garth McVicar agreed that the Law and Order Referendum question was so flawed as to be meaningless. One might have thought the advocates of smacking – essentially the same people – would have taken care to ensure that the same mistake would not be repeated.
But the ‘Anti-Smacking Referendum’ has again been deliberately phrased to bamboozle respondents. It reads:
Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?
This is the equivalent of asking: ‘Should doctors recommend an exclusive diet of McDonalds and KFC as part of a healthy weight loss programme?’ McDonalds and KFC cannot be part of a healthy weight loss programme. And it is open to serious doubt whether smacking can be part of ‘good parental correction’.
If they are to have any validity at all, the language of referenda questions must be neutral. To make the ‘Anti-Smacking Referendum’ neutral, the word ‘good’ has to be deleted from the question. Even its title is misleading since there is no reference at all to ’smacking’ in the Act. The word simply does not appear.
Bradford’s bill was designed to prevent abusive parents using Section 59 of the Crimes Act to escape penalty. Its purpose was clear:
To abolish the use of reasonable force by parents as justification for disciplining children.
The wording of the current Act reflects this:
Nothing in the Act or in any rule of common law justifies the use of forcefor the purpose of correction.
And it includes the following clarification:
To avoid doubt it is affirmed that police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child, or person in the place of a parent of a child, in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.
That is precisely what the police have done.
Well, in the end it comes down to whether or not you think it should be legal to hit children. ‘Smack’ is such an innocuous word. But you cannot ’smack’ a child without ‘hitting’ or ’striking’ the child. And the word includes a range of possibilities – from the ‘tap on the bum’ which the proponents of the referendum would have us believe a smack means, to the volley of frenzied thumps which most of us have observed from frazzled parents on the street, in supermarkets and on buses. Indeed, one of the best arguments against smacking is watching a parent smack a child. Generally the child is squirming or struggling to get free. The parent restrains the child by holding onto its arm with one hand, while using the other hand to paddle its bottom. Usually the child is crying or screaming. It is not an edifying sight.
But it is instructive. Smacking invariably means that the parent has lost control. Reasoning and constructive communication have been abandoned in favour of physical force.
I suspect most parents feel bad after they have hit their child. And, as a parent of five children and grandfather of ten, I understand very well the stresses that can impel the most loving father or mother to strike out. We should be careful, as the Act allows, not to prosecute the parent who on a rare occasion lightly smacks a misbehaving child.
But that is very different from the state legitimising or sanctioning the smacking, hitting, striking, corporal punishment – whatever synonym you prefer – of children by their parents. That is a very slippery slope. Proponents of a change to the law want a ‘light slap’ to be legal, but the term defies definition and the police and the courts will be faced with the same impossible task they faced in defining ‘reasonable force’.
At present children are protected in law from all corporal punishment in 24 countries. They include Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Israel, Norway, Finland, Sweden – and New Zealand.
Wellington, April 12 NZPA – Labour leader Phil Goff says the anti-smacking law does not need to be amended or revoked.
Mr Goff caused confusion this morning when he was asked on TV One’s Q and A programme whether he thought a smack should be allowed as part of good parental correction.
“Well my answer to that is no it shouldn’t be a criminal offence or we should not have people following up and prosecuting parents for a smack in that context, but remember 110 out of 122 MPs voted for that legislation including every member of the National Party.”
That response sparked Family First who oppose the law to put out a statement welcoming the apparent U-turn.
ACT MP John Boscawen has drafted a member’s bill to allow parents to use a light smack to correct their children and Family First director Bob McCoskrie said Labour should now back the ACT MP’s bill.
But Mr Goff told NZPA this evening neither his position nor Labour’s policy had changed.
Labour supported Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to remove from the Crimes Act the statutory defence of “reasonable force” to correct a child, meaning there would be no justification for the use of force for that purpose.
The “reasonable force” defence had been used by parents who had beaten their children with whips and pieces of wood but opponents said the change would make criminals out of parents who lightly smacked their children and removed their right to discipline them.
The bill was hugely controversial and even though it passed in May 2007 by 113 votes to eight, Labour took the flak for it. National backed the bill after a last-minute compromise to add a proviso stating police had discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent if they considered the offence to be inconsequential.
Mr Goff this evening said the law was working.
“We voted in favour of the legislation but there was an understanding all the way through that good parents would not be prosecuted for lightly smacking their child… and there has been no prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.”
Mr Goff said Labour had never supported parents being prosecuted for a light smack.
“That’s not a U-turn, that’s the policy we talked about at the time.”
Mr Goff did not accept his comment was confusing and said he was happy with what he said.
“Technically it is a criminal offence… the point we are making is there should be no criminal prosecutions of parents in those circumstances.
“I don’t think the law needs to be changed.”
He rejected backing Mr Boscawen’s bill.
“There’s not a question of backing John Boscawen’s bill if good parents are not being prosecuted for lightly smacking their children then the law is working as intended.”
Former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen also commented on the issue today in the Sunday Star Times. He said Labour had had to support the bill as it fitted with the party’s own policy.
Opposing the bill would have made Labour look unprincipled.
“That was the kind of issue where you’re hung for a sheep or a lamb whatever way you go,” Dr Cullen said.
He told the newspaper the law change did not impact on personal freedom.
“Freedom is the right to be who you are, providing it doesn’t impinge upon the right of people to be who they are. That’s not the right to beat up kids.”
Two Hamilton-based child advocacy groups are adding their weight to a coalition of child welfare agencies preparing for a war of words with supporters of a referendum to change the controversial “anti-smacking” law.
The debate over the 2007 law, which removed the defence of “reasonable force” in the physical punishment of children, has reignited ahead of the August referendum.
Child Protection Studies chief executive Anthea Simcock and Parentline chairwoman Margaret Evans say both Hamilton organisations support Barnardos, Save the Children, Plunket, Childspace and other groups in countering what they say is misinformation about the repeal of Section 59.
“There is always going to be debate but at the end of the day if we can keep some children safe by changing adults’ attitudes towards violence then that’s worth doing,” Mrs Simcock said.
The coalition is shaping up against lobby group Family First and others championing the referendum on whether smacking should be a criminal offence.
Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said polls consistently showed the public was against the smacking ban, and the Government could drop the referendum estimated to cost up to $8 million.
“National and Act could change the law right here and now and that’s what they should do, because that’s what the country’s demanding.”
Family First did not want a return to the law as it was previously, but rather one that allowed light smacking. But Mrs Simcock said this would be a return to the previous law which in one high-profile case allowed a father to get away with hitting his child with a piece of wood.
“What is ‘light smacking’? It’s a bit like a little bit of speeding.”
She said the new law would take a while to “bed in” but she believed it had already begun to change attitudes. “It’s making parents think twice before they just lash out.”
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.