Posts Tagged police

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.

John Key announces Section 59 review terms of reference

September 7, 2009

Prime Minister John Key today released Terms of Reference for a review of policies and procedures used by the New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family around the issue of smacking.

The review stems from Cabinet decisions a fortnight ago introducing safeguards to give parents comfort they will not be criminalised for lightly smacking their children.

“This review will look at the policies and procedures of the Police and CYF, including the referral process between the two agencies, to identify any changes needed to ensure good parents are treated as Parliament intended,” Mr Key says.

“The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and the recent referendum reinforces that New Zealanders don’t either.

“I believe the law is working as intended but I can assure parents the National-led Government will continue to monitor the way the law is being implemented.”

The review will be conducted by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, Peter Hughes, the Commissioner of Police Howard Broad, and well known clinical psychologist Nigel Latta.

Mr Latta has significant experience working with young people and their families and Mr Key says his independent perspective will be useful.

“I am pleased that Nigel has agreed to take part in the review and I’m sure he will bring a direct and honest approach to the table,” Mr Key says.

“The reviewers will be able to make recommendations and consider any other matters they think will help to ensure that parents are treated as Parliament intended.”

The review team will report to the Prime Minister, Minister of Police and Minister of Social Development by December 1.

Introduction

A citizens-initiated referendum was held between 31 July and 21 August 2009 on the question “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” Eighty-seven per cent of those who voted, responded ‘no’ to this question.

The Government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and does not believe the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 intends for this to occur. It wants safeguards to be put in place to give parents comfort that this will not happen. Cabinet [CAB Min (09) 30/23] has agreed to a number of measures to provide such safeguards. These include this review of New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures.

Terms of Reference

To review New Zealand Police and Child, Youth and Family policies and procedures, including the referral process between the two agencies, in order to identify any changes that are necessary or desirable in the interest of ensuring that:

1. good parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007

2. provisions of the law (both criminal and under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989) are applied to those who abuse children.

To consider any other matters which, in the reviewers’ opinion, will assist in ensuring that parents are treated as Parliament intended under the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007.

To make recommendations concerning these matters.

Reviewers
Peter Hughes, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development
Howard Broad, Commissioner of Police
Nigel Latta, Clinical Psychologist.

Timing

The reviewers will provide a report and make recommendations to the Prime Minister and Ministers of Police and Social Development and Employment by 1 December 2009.

Nigel Latta says in a press release,

I have been approached by the Prime Minister and asked if I would consider participating in a review of the Police and CYF processes around S 59 to see if the law is working as intended. I have agreed to participate in this review on the basis that it was understood that my role was independent and that I was able to speak freely about both the process of the review, and my opinions regarding its findings.

For the record, and this is something I have commented on publically in a number of contexts, my personal view on S59 is that I did not agree with the original law change. I also voted no in the referendum. I do not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the ‘common sense’ understanding of what that means, should be subject to criminal prosecution or investigation. It would be my view that the “anti-smacking debate” has become needlessly polarised from the very beginning into a position whereby you are either “for child abuse”, or you are “against child abuse”. This tendency of both sides of the debate to reduce a complex social/moral issue into rather simplistic extremes has resulted in our being plunged into an argument that has consumed a great deal of time, energy, and money, when ultimately everyone agrees with that we need to do more to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The terms of reference for this review are very clear. I see my role as first and foremost to look at the evidence and to ensure that the law does not result in good parents either being criminalised, or being needlessly subjected to investigations that are intrusive and/or traumatic. This is a responsibility I hold directly to the everyday mums and dads of New Zealand, and one that I take very seriously.

Because this issue has been dealt with to date in largely emotive and ideological rhetoric, I am interested solely in looking at the data, and in forming an opinion on the actual impact of the law change on that basis. For that reason I will not be meeting with, corresponding with, or entering into discussions with, any lobby groups from either end of the debate.

I will also not be engaging in any media interviews on this matter until after the review process has been completed. At that time the findings will be presented to the public in as transparent a manner as possible so that the Kiwi parents can make up their own minds based on the actual data.

The Press: Referendum vote a fiasco

August 25, 2009

The Christchurch Press‘s editorial yesterday discusses the referendum:

The question posed was flawed, the participation of voters low, the campaign unengaging, the cost of the exercise prohibitive and the results inconsequential. In short, the referendum was a fiasco…

Legal proceedings are costly and intrusive for a family; the cause of non-violent rearing is not advanced by a stream of parents being hauled into court.

The police realise this, and their administration of the legislation has been exemplary. They have initiated legal proceedings only for gross violations of the law and talked through other instances.

It is the fact that the law frowns on smacking that will encourage parents to rethink and change their behaviour towards their children such is the influence of formal sanctions in altering humans’ attitudes…

It is reform of the referendum legislation, rather than reform of the smacking law, that this latest referendum is likely to produce.

Read the full article.

Police publish two-year review of Section 59

August 25, 2009

NZ Police has published a summary of two years monitoring of relevant police activity since enactment of the Crimes (Substituted section 59) Amendment Act 2007.

This project began on 17th March 2007, three months prior to enactment. It ended on 22nd June 2009 two years after enactment.

Regular updates have been published since June 2007. This final report includes the 5th monitoring period (5th April 2009 to 22nd June 2009) not previously reported.

During the two years police brought one prosecution for smacking which was subsequently withdrawn. A further 13 prosecutions were brought for events classified as “minor acts of physical discipline”. These events may have included a smacking element plus other aggravating factors.

Of those 14 cases prosecuted sentences included diversion, discharge without conviction, conviction and discharged, and supervision.

Deputy Commissioner (Operations) Rob Pope says the monitoring shows police have consistently applied their discretion when dealing with child assault events.

“The amendment has had minimal impact on police activity and officers have continued to apply a commonsense approach”

“The monitoring has shown that practice guidelines issued by the Commissioner in June 2007 have been effective in guiding police when dealing with these difficult cases”

“Police has continued to apply its discretion and assess each incident on a case by case basis”

Notes:

(i) Two new reports are available on the police website at www.police.govt.nz/resources. These are the final 2 months of monitoring (5th review) plus the summary report of all reviews over the last two years.

(ii) The 1063 child assault events identified in this review period are not the total number of child assault events attended nationally by police during this time. These are events which, according to 7 offence codes, were most likely to identify incidents which might involve ‘smacking’. This is because ‘smacking’ in itself is not an offence.

The Police Family Violence Governance Group and the Ministry of Social Development agreed to examine the following seven offence types:

  • Assault Child (Manually)
  • Assault Child (Other Weapon)
  • Common Assault (Domestic)(Manually) Common Assault (Manually)
  • Other Assault on Child (Under 14 Years)
  • Common Assault Domestic (Other Weapon)
  • Other Common Assault

And based on this examination the events were allocated to one of each of the following categories: ‘smacking’, ‘minor acts of physical discipline’ and ‘other child assault’. The rationale used to allocate each event to a specific category involved consideration of the:

  • actual physical action used in the child assault; and
  • the context and the surrounding circumstances, as outlined in the Commissioners Circular.

(iv) The Commissioner’s Circular on this issue released in June 2007 can be found on the NZ Police website

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.

More analysis of the Police statistics

August 5, 2009

Open Parachute has a cogent summary of the recent Police Statistics on the Child Discipline Law.

1:  “Smacking” in itself is not an offence. The report had to consider offence codes which weren’t “smacking” but most likely to include “smacking” type incidents.

2: The legislation has had “minimal impact on police activity.”

3: During the review period “police attended 279 child assault events, 39 involved ‘minor acts of physical discipline’ and 8 involved smacking.”

4: There has been a decrease in ‘smacking events’ and ‘minor acts of physical discipline.’

5: There has been an increase (36) of ‘other child assault’ events. (We should be concerned about these).

6: “No prosecutions were made for ‘smacking’ events during this period.”

Read the whole article at Open Parachute.

Police statistics confirm child discipline law protects children who need it most

July 10, 2009

The latest six-monthly Police statistics confirm that the public can have confidence in the child discipline law and the way it is being administered.

“The statistics released today show that Police have prosecuted fewer cases of smacking and minor physical discipline in the past six months, but more cases of other child assault.  In all cases, Police advise that they have only taken action because of the range of circumstances combining to place children at risk.  As such, the law is protecting those who need it most and this is positive news,” said Deborah Morris-Travers, spokesperson for the Yes Vote coalition.

These figures continue to demonstrate that Police are exercising the discretion affirmed in the law.  While the law grants children the same legal protections as all other citizens have, Police are not prosecuting parents who lightly or occasionally smack their child.  The legal opinion from the Human Rights Commission released this confirms the law is a necessary statute and is working well.

“Importantly, the law is consistent with government and community efforts to support parents to do their best for their children through the use of positive, non-violent, parenting techniques.

“The statistics released today affirm what members of the Yes Vote coalition have said many times … the child discipline law is working well and parents have nothing to fear.  This is yet another good reason to vote YES in the upcoming referendum,” concluded Ms Morris-Travers.

De-bunking Family First’s analysis of how the law is working

June 19, 2009

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.

  • Family First’s police report:ff-police-report

Who needs correcting? More misleading claims

June 12, 2009

In a feature article in today’s DomPost entitled The smacking debate needs some correction Bob McCoskrie of Family First makes a number of claims that warrant comment.

This is a continuation to our previous article on misleading claims.

Misleading claim 10: Mild physical punishment does no harm.

Our response: Physical punishment can be harmful, and is at best ineffective in modifying children’s behaviour.

Whether or not mild physical punishment harms is likely to depend on the circumstances it is administered in. The relevant question is does physical punishment do any good? Research indicates that it does not. People continue to strike their children in the name of behaviour correction for historical reasons. It’s time to pay attention to the relevant research and move on to more effective parenting techiques.

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.

In fact there has been a steady decrease in assaults on children since the law changed in Sweden. In Sweden as in other countries increases in notifications for child abuse indicate an increased willingness on the part of the community to take action and report assaults on children rather than an increase in abuse. 

Misleading claim 12: Huge increases in notifications to CYF since the law change are in some way connected to the new law.

Our response: The increases are in fact largely due to increases in the number of children referred to CYF by the Police because the children have been present at incidents of domestic violence.

See the Briefing to the Incoming Minister for more information.

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.

Family First Advertisements and New Zealand’s Child Discipline Law

June 3, 2009

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.

In 2007 New Zealand’s law changed to give children the same protection under assault law as other citizens in New Zealand. A provision in the 2007 law reminding parents that police have discretion about prosecution in cases of inconsequential assaults means that very few, if any, cases at the lower end of the smacking/hitting spectrum are being prosecuted.

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.

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

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