Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sue Reid: Smacking laws were never about the real issue of child abuse

Sue Reid: Smacking laws were never about the real issue of child abuse

This in the NZ Herald today.

It is a shame that we have a Families Commission that is driven by ideology rather than listening to families.

Chief commissioner Jan Pryor espouses her beliefs that "positive parenting should never include a smack" (Herald, April 3).

Her so-called justification for the anti-smacking laws are inflammatory and continue to vilify good parents who may use a smack as part of good parental correction.

As a mother of two young children, I resent the constant barrage that fully funded, power-packed organisations such as the Families Commission can constantly deliver from their lofty soap-boxes.

One can be left wondering who represents mums like me who are focused on the task of raising good, law-abiding and positive contributors to society. Like many other mums, I know that I wish to parent within a sensible legal framework and we owe it to good parents to get this law right.

The new flawed law has tried to link a smack on the bottom with child abuse of the worst kind and has put good parents in the same category as rotten parents who are a danger to their kids and to society.

Not surprisingly, the child abuse rate has continued unabated, with 12 child abuse deaths in the 21 months since the law change - the same rate as before the change. The smacking laws were never about addressing the real issue of child abuse but to undermine and criminalise good parents.

Contrary to Pryor's comments, the new law did introduce a new criminal offence - smacks for the purpose of correction, no matter how light, are a crime.

Police reports show four prosecutions in a six-month period for "minor acts of physical discipline" and report a 200 per cent increase in families being investigated - yet fewer than 5 per cent were serious enough to warrant prosecution.

And there has been a huge 32 per cent increase in CYF's notifications, but the cases warranting further investigation haven't increased - in other words, valuable resources and time are taken away from the front line to deal with the real cases of abuse.

Family First NZ has plenty of evidence on its website of families being investigated and traumatised for complaints of light smacking, including parents who are referred to CYF by so-called helping agencies when they are simply seeking help, and of children ringing CYF to complain about their parents - imagine what that is like for a family.

Pryor asks families to seek help but in a culture of being labelled "lowest common denominator", this will do nothing to support and foster good parenting.

She says "there is no legal justification for the use of force to correct a child's behaviour", so why does "positive parenting" not include correction? As a mother I need to be able to teach my child right from wrong and it is an ongoing process to "correct" my child's behaviour - society expects me to fulfil this role.

We can all lament the daily cases in the media whereby individuals have not "corrected" their behaviour and have become a blight on society. Many parents would testify to aspects that are less than positive in the training of a child for the adult world.

I am sure the child does not see "time out" in a positive light nor see grounding as positive. Parents are often seen in negative light when they proceed with knowing best what will work for their child.

The role of parent is set apart from other relationships such as in the workplace or a sports team. Parents have the reserved responsibility to raise, train and shape the will and character of their child to maturity. Adults have already mastered that task - so the argument that Pryor puts forth about smacking another adult is null and void.

It is important to progress through to a referendum in July. This issue continues to be a strong, unresolved matter for most parents. After all, this was a citizens' initiated referendum and the democratic process needs to complete its cycle by asking the voting public, "should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence?"

People who don't like the question in the referendum simply don't like the answer they come to.

Organisations such as the Families Commission would better serve families when they consider the attitudes, needs and requirements of families rather than using their government-funded weight to impose a flawed ideology on to good, healthy, functioning families.

* Sue Reid is a researcher and writer for Family First NZ.

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