August 2003

Public education

EPOCH New Zealand was one of a small number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) consulted - on one occasion only - by officials developing advice to the Minister of Social Services on the shape of the public education campaign. NGOs at the consultation meeting unanimously insisted that a multi-media campaign was not enough.  We also said that change in attitude about the use of physical discipline is more likely if communities are involved in the process and if information is delivered on a person-to-person basis.  NGOs were also unanimous in saying that information about repeal of section 59 should accompany information about alternatives to physical punishment.  The use of the word 'alternatives' is unfortunate in that it suggests that the answer to discipline lies in alternative 'punishments' rather than in changing the way parents and others regard children, understand discipline and the principles of encouraging good behaviour in children.

In a recent paper prepared as part of her study for the Diploma in Public Health at Otago University Marie Russell, an EPOCH New Zealand Trustee, argues "... the problem to be addressed is not just physical punishment, but the underlying structures of social, economic, political and family life and intrapersonal beliefs where children are misunderstood and devalued or undervalued.  Physical punishment is both a symptom of and contributor to this status".

Marie argues for a model of change that:

  • includes the development and implementation of a programme to encourage change at every level (i.e. in public policy, organisational behaviour, individual behaviour, community responsibility)
  • includes an understanding of what people want for their children
  • addresses cultural beliefs that contribute to negative attitudes to children and that support physical punishment
  • addresses the needs of Maori
  • provides support and supportive services for parents
  • enables understanding of the need for change.

It is frustrating that since the single meeting NGOs had with officials, there has been no further involvement or feedback in the project.  NGOs are not included in the steering group formed from Government agencies.  This is despite a strong recommendation from the NGO representatives attending the meeting with officials that they be included in all phases of the programme