Nigel Latta and reveiw of application of the law

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 certainity in the law.  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.

The behaviour that stands out in the case examples reported in newspaper coverage of the review 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.