Posts Tagged preventing violence in the home

Infometrics: Child maltreatment in NZ costs $2 billion

June 4, 2009

The cost of child maltreatment is staggering, yet our willingness to live with the consequences suggests that we remain in a state of denial. The consequences of child maltreatment include:

  • Human costs to victims: child fatalities, child abuse related suicide, medical costs, lower educational achievement, pain and suffering.
  • Long term human and social costs: medical costs, chronic health problems, lost productivity, juvenile delinquency, adult criminality, homelessness, substance abuse, and intergenerational transmission of abuse.
  • Costs of public intervention: child protection services, out-of-home care, child abuse prevention programmes, assessment and treatment of abused children, law enforcement, judicial system, incarceration of abuse offenders, treatment of perpetrators, and victim support.
  • Costs of community contributions by volunteers and non-government organisations.

Translating overseas estimates of the costs of child abuse and neglect to the New Zealand context suggests that it imposes long term costs in the vicinity of $2 bn per year, ie in excess of 1% of GDP every year. Roughly one third of this cost relates to dealing with immediate consequences (eg health care, child welfare service, and justice system costs). Another third relates to ongoing health, education, and criminal consequences for child abuse victims in later life. The final third results from a decline in productivity as victims fail to meet their potential.

Reducing the incidence of child maltreatment would not only have a profound impact on the quality of life for potential victims but, by reducing our need to support victims, it will also materially improve the wellbeing of the rest of society.

Prevention is more effective than correction. The main reason for this is that maltreatment has lifelong impacts on the victims. The trauma of maltreatment can inhibit brain development in ways that mars intellectual, communication, social, and emotional abilities. Victims of child abuse face a greater risk of failing at school and of being emotionally alienated from society. That so many victims of maltreatment go on to lead essentially normal productive lives is a testament to the general resilience of human nature. But these victims have done it tough. Life could have been so much better and productive if their formative years had been less stressful. And then there are the walking disaster areas who go on to impose huge costs on themselves and the rest of society.

Abusive behaviour is not constrained by socio-economic status, but research has identified a number of risk factors that increase the potential for child abuse. Key markers of child maltreatment include:

  • Parental age and education, eg young or uneducated parents might not be naturally as well equipped to deal with the stresses of parenthood.
  • Parental mental health problems such as depression.
  • Social deprivation, in particular a lack of wider family support.
  • Alcohol or other drug dependency issues.
  • Past exposure of parents to interpersonal violence or abuse.

Poverty might exacerbate these pressures, but it is not clear that it is a root cause.

In New Zealand, agencies such as Barnardos, Plunket, Preventing Violence in the Home and many others play a critical role in supporting families to do their best for children.

Also the government’s commitment to preventing child maltreatment has increased considerably in recent years. Child, Youth and Family’s appropriation for education and preventative services for children increased from $16m in the 2004 Budget to $166m in the 2008 Budget. This increased spending has the potential to reduce the incidence and therefore the future cost of child maltreatment. But is it sufficient? Will services provided be effective? And what guarantee have we that the current commitment will be maintained?

A common problem with government sponsored programmes is their top-down, planned design. Large-scale programmes may miss the factors that made small-scale programmes a success or have difficulty obtaining success in different environments. Large programmes also have a propensity for diverting resources away from children and their families into running the bureaucracy and creating an overarching infrastructure.

Large-scale programmes can succeed if they have the following three features:

  • The programmes focus on at-risk children and encourage direct parent involvement.
  • There is a long term commitment to reducing the incidence of child maltreatment, including changing attitudes about physical punishment.
  • The programmes reward successful outcomes in order to encourage high quality and innovative practices.

A way of maintaining commitment would be to create a public endowment that would fund the provision of child and parent support services. A fund would clearly signal an ongoing commitment to reducing the incidence of child maltreatment, a focus on service rather than bureaucracy, a reassurance to service providers that there will be consistent demand for their services, and a willingness to fund effective, specialised and innovative services.

David Grimmond, Senior Economist, Infometrics Ltd

Tapu Misa: How can we tolerate some forms of violence against children, and not others?

May 25, 2009

Tapu Misa wrote a great article in today’s Herald, in which she talks about the ramifications of the Jimmy Mason case.  She claims that the law is working well as intended.

No, the law isn’t a cure-all for child abuse, it was never meant to be. It’s nonsense to claim, as some do, that the law is a failure because it hasn’t stopped violence against children overnight.

[Jill] Proudfoot [who’s part of a child crisis team at Preventing Violence in the Home that’s routinely called on by police to attend to families after a domestic violence incident] knows as well as anyone the role of poverty and stress, drug and alcohol dependence, and family breakdown and dysfunction. But as she argued in a submission on the proposed law, if the Government was serious about preventing domestic violence and changing attitudes and behaviour, it had to include a strong mandate to not be violent to children; and it couldn’t do that while Section 59 was still on the books.

“The sense of entitlement with which adults physically assault children is no different from the sense of entitlement men have when they batter women, but it is more overtly socially and culturally sanctioned.”

The law corrected the bizarre situation where animals used to have more protection than children:

Proudfoot cites a boy whose father was arrested for beating his mother. He’d been beaten too, “all the time”, but his father was never charged for that. Later, when the father was fined for cruelty to their pet dog (he jammed its tail in the door and refused to release it), the boy was incensed that his dad had been punished for beating the dog but not for beating him.

Misa concludes that one of the key questions for those who want to reject the Child Discipline Law is “how we can tolerate some forms of violence against children, and not others.”

And that’s not helpful for those who are trying to forge a better way – like the Rev Dr Hone Kaa, who’s part of a child advocacy group determined to address Maori child abuse and maltreatment.

“We are actually asking our people to … make a major mind shift about the beliefs of parenting …”

“We believe that smacking is simply another expression of violence against Maori children. If we can break the habit that our whanau have of hitting children, then more serious forms of abuse and maltreatment will also reduce.”

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

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