Posts Tagged research
May 19, 2010
The Ministry of Social Development have recently published this attractive and readable report called SKIP: What it is and why it works based on research into the SKIP (Strategies with Kids: Information for Parents) initiative.
The report is a valuable source of information about community based delivery of positive parenting messages utilising a variety of approaches with an emphasis on relationships, innovation, universality and community development. It identifies factors contributing to the effectiveness of the SKIP approach as well as the impact it has on children, parents and caregivers, communities and organisations.
In 2001 Cabinet agreed that there was a need of public education about alternatives to the use of physical discipline with children. Originally a public education campaign was envisaged but the strategy was revised and SKIP was born in 2003. It had three components:
- The development of national parenting resources
- Partnerships with national organisations delivering positive parenting messages
- A contestable Local Initiative Fund (LIF) that supported local community projects.
SKIP has been a very successful initiative and the LIF has enabled the development of many creative, innovative and locally inspired success stories.
Read more about SKIP at www.skip.org.nz, or download the report (PDF).
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.
January 22, 2010
Understanding some of the stresses that parents undergo in parenting children is an important issue that has received little attention in the recent media debate around a US study on the effectiveness of discipline and smacking children.
Parenting children can be especially challenging during the long summer holidays when families often spend more time together. Warmer weather can also see tempers fray.
Australian Psychological Society (APS) President, Professor Bob Montgomery, said it is helpful for parents to recognise that holiday time, although traditionally for fun and relaxation, can also be quite stressful.
“Children might be squabbling more than usual, asking for things, seeking attention. This can be exhausting and frustrating for parents, with some parents more likely to lose their temper with their children. It can be helpful for parents to use one or more calming strategies before this happens – such as talking to a friend and letting them know how you are feeling, or taking some slow, calming breaths, and saying things to yourself like “stay calm‟. Some parents find that walking out of the room, having a drink of water, or playing some music can help them to calm down, and regain control so that they can deal more effectively with their children.”
Research shows that physical punishment for bad behaviour does not work as well as other ways of disciplining children.
- If a parent frequently uses physical punishment, children often have trouble learning to control themselves.
- Physical punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong.
- Physical punishment makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, and when parents are not present to administer the punishment, those same children are more likely to misbehave (Gershoff, 2002).
- Hitting or spanking your child is likely to decrease the quality of your relationship with them.
The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict, aggression and bullying contains useful information about how to manage a child‟s behaviour in an effective way, without being aggressive or unduly punishing the child. More useful strategies include the use of logical consequences, time out, or withdrawal of consequences. This practical guide is freely available from the APS website.
January 8, 2010
Recently there have been reports in the media in New Zealand and internationally drawing attention to an unpublished study by Marjorie Gunnoe at Calvin College in Michigan USA that purports to have found that children who are smacked occasionally do better at school than children who are never smacked. These findings are, of course, being made much of by proponents of physical discipline – including those who would like to see New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law overturned.
It needs to be said at the outset that the case for bringing children into line with all other citizens in regard to their rights to protection from assaults does not primarily rest on whether or not smacking is effective or good (or bad) for children. We do not ask the same questions in regard to whether or not assaults might be effective in controlling other groups of citizens whose reasoning is sometimes less developed than other adults – the aged, the mentally ill and those with intellectual disabilities, for example. Removing the legal justification for assaults on children is fundamentally an issue of human rights to full protection from attacks on bodily integrity.
However, that aside, there is now a huge volume of credible research internationally that shows consistently that children who are physically hurt in the course of discipline often have poor relationships with their parents and are more likely to have poor developmental outcomes including emotional problems. Physical punishment is also consistently shown to be a risk factor for child abuse ie children who are physically punished are more likely to be hit hard and suffer injuries than those that are never hit or smacked. Children who experience and witness violence in their own homes can come to regard hitting another person as an acceptable way of behaving.
The following points are relevant when considering the media coverage of Gunnoe’s study:
1. The institution which undertook the research is an avowed sponsor of ‘faith-based inquiry’ not open scientific inquiry. Their stated vision is: “Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”
2. The lead researcher has published work which seems designed to confirm established beliefs of some conservative Christian communities.
3. She is not a recognised contributor to the scientific literature in this field.
4. The report of the study findings has not been published in a recognised scientific journal and so has not been subject to the scientific scrutiny associated with such publication.
5. The media reports are second or third hand and subject to the accompanying distortions.
6. The methodology of the research is unknown. Important points that bear on the validity of its reported conclusions are:
- Were the smacking and non-smacking groups selected and matched so as isolate smacking and non-smacking as the only significant variables upon which the conclusions were based?
- How were smacking and non-smacking defined? Was there a severity scale?
- What were the outcome measures that purportedly distinguished between children who were and were not smacked? Were they chosen so as to be reliably and consistently measurable and were they important? Was the difference statistically significant?
7. If the reported conclusions are legitimate, they require support from repeated studies if they are to have any credibility, i.e. they could be unrepresentative results.
8. Calling an investigation ‘research’ can be aimed at investing it with a respectability that it does not deserve.
Beth Wood and Ian Hassall
August 25, 2009
Every Child Counts has just released a report written by Infometrics entitled The nature of economic costs of child abuse and neglect in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Government has substantially increased its investment into the prevention of child abuse and neglect in recent years. In the 2004 Budget departmental appropriations for education and preventative services for children amounted to just $16.1m, or 3% of the Child, Youth and Family appropriation in 2004/05. In the 2008 Budget this commitment had risen to $166m.
However, adapting international cost estimates to the New Zealand situation suggests that every year child abuse and neglect generates a long term bill that is equivalent to around $NZ2bn (or over 1% of GDP).
Based on US studies, just 32% of this cost is likely to be the direct consequences of child abuse and neglect (eg health care, child welfare service, and justice system costs). A further 36% of costs relate to ongoing health, education, and criminal consequences for child abuse victims in later life. The final 32% of costs result from a decline in productivity as victims fail to meet their potential (Wang and Holton 2007).
The growing focus on prevention is a welcome development that reflects the current understanding of child development and the biological underpinning of this development process:
- The architecture of the brain and the process of skill formation are both influenced by an inextricable interaction between genetics and individual experience.
- Both the mastery of skills that are essential for economic success and the development of their underlying neural pathways follow hierarchical rules in a bottom-up sequence such that later attainment build on foundations that are laid down earlier.
- Cognitive, linguistic, social, and emotional competencies are interdependent, all are shaped powerfully by the experiences of the developing child, and all contribute to success in the work place
- Although adaptation continues throughout life, human abilities are formed in a predictable sequence of sensitive periods, during which the development of specific neural circuits and the behaviours they mediate are more plastic and, therefore, optimally receptive to environmental influences.
Brain development is continuous over many years. For children at unusually high risk, neuroscience provides a compelling argument for beginning intervention programmes at birth, if not prenatally. Developmental research shows that children master different skills at different ages, which suggests that opportunities for a variety of effective interventions are present throughout early childhood.
Looking forward the critical issues that still need to be resolved are:
- Is the current level of government spending on preventing child abuse and neglect sufficient?
- How can one ensure that the appropriate level of resourcing is attained and maintained?
- What institutional arrangements will encourage the delivery of effective preventative services?
Answering the first question will require further New Zealand specific research, and this will also contribute to debate about the level of public commitment to the issue. Grunewald and Rolnick (2006) suggest an elegant approach to ensuring public commitment is maintained and which can foster innovation in the delivery of services aimed at reducing the incidence to child maltreatment: the creation of a public endowment. Grunewald and Rolnick consider the benefits of such an approach are that:
- It encourages private, innovative, and targeted provision of early childhood services (small scale, high quality interventions have demonstrated greater social returns than broad-based publicly provided schemes).
- It represents a permanent commitment and allows leverage of resources from public and private stakeholders.
- A permanent commitment sends a market signal to service providers that they can expect a consistent demand for their product.
- By drawing up a business plan that demonstrates it can win service provision contracts, a prospective provider can leverage funds for capital expansions as lenders will be assured by the stability of the early childhood development endowment.
This report covers the consequences of child abuse and neglect, the case for preventative intervention, and policy issues related to the promotion of a preventative approach to child abuse and neglect.
Download The nature of economic costs of child abuse in New Zealand.
August 24, 2009
Deborah Morris-Travers appeared on TVNZ Breakfast this morning to discuss new research that child abuse costs New Zealand over $2 billion per year.
Watch the video.
August 7, 2009
Terry Dobbs wrote an insightful piece in today’s Herald, discussing the results of her research and its implications for improving behaviour outcomes for our children. Here are some excerpts:
Proponents of smacking argue it is not child abuse and that smacking and child abuse are not related issues. They claim that physical punishment is only used as a last resort, that smacking is lightly administered and harmless and should be used when a parent is calm and loving.
But how real is this – what do children tell us? In 2005, as part of her Master’s thesis at Otago University, she interviewed 80 children aged between 5 and 14 years old about their experiences and understanding of family discipline. They were from ordinary New Zealand households with no history of child abuse or neglect.
Some 91 per cent of children in the study said they had been physically punished.
Adults may define a smack as something a lot gentler than a hit, but children were clear that a smack is a hard hit that hurts both emotionally and physically.
Fear and pain may sometimes achieve short-term obedience, but in the long term these emotions are unlikely to contribute to positive behavioural outcomes or promote children’s effective learning.
Many of the children believed smacking did not work as a disciplinary tool. They said that the use of time out, having privileges removed or being grounded were far more effective means of discipline.
The children’s responses render many adults’ claims and justifications highly suspect. It is also concerning that quite large numbers of children reported adult behaviour that was in fact abusive.
[Progressing to more effective discipline techniques means] moving on from a number of deeply held and understandable attitudes and emotions – coming to terms with the fact that your own loving parents hit you (they knew no better), that you may have harmed your child’s development (it’s never too late to change that) and that the law can be regarded as a positive move for children rather than an unwelcome imposition on adults.
Our 2007 child discipline law is only two years old – let’s give it time to help New Zealand grow happy, healthy children.
Read the whole article.
Also see a copy of the report “Insights”, which describes the results of Terry Dobbs’s work, and was commissioned by Save the Children
July 16, 2009
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.”
July 3, 2009
Report on physical punishment in the United States: What research tells us about its effects on 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.
July 2, 2009
By Anne B. Smith
Many people, including myself, have been saying that the Referendum question about smacking, is ambiguous and misleading. So does that mean that we should ignore it and chuck it in the waste paper basket, or should we respond? The referendum question is: “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?” A lot of people – both ordinary parents and the majority of experts – don’t believe that smacking is part of good parental correction, but we should not be distracted by the phrase “as part of good parental correction”. The Referendum is really about whether the 2007 child discipline law is a good and just law, and whether it is in the best interests of children.
In my view we need to stand up and be counted by voting “Yes”. If we vote “Yes” we show that we understand the law as one small part of our country’s efforts to show that we care about our children and that they are human beings who should be loved and nurtured rather than hit. This law is not about criminalizing parents, because it is very clear that the police are not prosecuting occasional light smacking. It is about sending a message that parents should not have an excuse in law, if they hurt their children badly enough in the name of discipline, to come to the attention of authorities.
It’s important to put the issue in an international context. We are part of a global movement towards recognising that physical punishment is violence and a violation of rights. Some years ago we stopped physically punishing prisoners and juvenile offenders, and stopped spouses being allowed to physically punish their partners, and teachers from physically punishing children in schools and early childhood centres. We have now joined the 24 countries around the world, which have prohibited the physical punishment of children in all settings, including the home. Progress towards eliminating physical punishment around the globe has been exponential in the last decade. In 1999 corporal punishment was illegal in only eight states but today it is illegal in twenty four states – Austria, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Moldova, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela. High Courts in two further states, Italy and Nepal, have ruled that corporal punishment in childrearing is unlawful. Many other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Ireland, Lithuania and Serbia, are committed to full prohibition and are in the process of developing new policies and laws to bring this about. Laws do not always change behaviour, but recent research in Germany by Professor Kai Bussman showed that countries which had prohibited corporal punishment had fewer families using physical punishment and more families rearing their children without it. Especially if this law change is accompanied by education and support for other parenting methods, it can make a difference.
The Child Discipline law is just and good because it protects children from the public health risk attached to the use of physical punishment. No, I am not saying that an occasional light smack is going to harm children forever, but regular use of physical punishment is a risk to children’s health. Research shows that physical punishment has been associated with children’s increased aggression; poorer academic achievement; poorer quality parent-child relationships; more depression and anxiety; and decreased self control. No-one has been able to show that physical punishment has any long-term positive effects on children’s behaviour or development. Other more positive methods of parental discipline have been shown to be more effective, contribute to the well being of children and do not pose risks.
But by far the most important reason that the present Child Discipline law should be supported, is that physical punishment is an assault on children’s dignity. It is disrespectful of their physical integrity, and they find it shameful and humiliating. If we want to treat children without discrimination, as people with human rights, we must support this law.
- Anne Smith is a professor in the education faculty of Otago University.