Cases Reveal CYF Ignoring Intent of Anti-Smacking Law
Media Release 18 June 2012
Family First NZ has released further cases highlighting how the anti-smacking law is being used to criminalise and persecute good parents.
“These cases add to the extensive list of cases already listed on the website www.protectgoodparents.org.nz and our documentary “My Mummy’s A Criminal” highlighting five families and the inaccuracies of the Prime Ministerial review led by Psychologist Nigel Latta,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.
“These latest cases show a disturbing trend. Not only are police resources being wasted on investigating ‘smacking’ allegations, but Child Youth and Family (CYF) are ignoring the intent of the law and are removing children from good homes where the parents may use a smack, are failing to adequately investigate the background of families before uplifting children and traumatising families, and are refusing to place children with extended family who may use a smack even when CYF acknowledge the expertise and safety of the parents. They are also ignoring the fact that in many cases, the police are seeing no reason to prosecute.”
At the time of the law being passed, Prime Minister John Key said “Good parents want to have confidence that they will not be criminalised by this legislation if they give their children a light smack. It sends a strong signal that the level of violence against children in our society is unacceptable, but at the same time gives parents confidence that they will not be criminalised for carrying out their normal parenting duties.”
“The law was always sold to the public by pretending that non-abusive smacking would not result in a visit by the police or a social worker to remove the children. But the cases released today – and previously – show the exact opposite is happening,” says Mr McCoskrie. “Parenting has been put on trial in New Zealand, and they have every right to be concerned about a flawed, confusing, and badly applied law.”
“It is significant that the ‘discretion’ clause only applied to police and not CYF. At least with the police, parents get to have their day in court to defend themselves – even if it means going all the way to the Court of Appeal as one of our cases highlights. But with CYF, they are unaccountable to the families.”
Family First continues to call on politicians to adopt the ‘Borrows’ amendment which did not ban smacking but which clearly stated what was abusive and what was not. This has been successfully used in other jurisdictions such as the UK and Australia.
1. THIS IS THE ‘PERFECT HOME’ FOR YOUR GRANDDAUGHTER – BUT…
NZ Herald 19 June 2012
Mum and dad – who are now grandparents – currently have custody of their daughter’s 8 year old son. They have had him since he was 3 months old. CYF also gave them custody of their niece (13). Their daughter had another child (girl) who was taken by CYF from the daughter at 9 months old. Mum and dad applied for custody of this 17 month old granddaughter. Mum has been an approved caregiver for 13 years supporting various whanau. CYF actually asked mum to have the granddaughter, and when they applied, the social worker indicated that they would be approved. They also went to the 8 year old’s school and interviewed him. Two social workers who interviewed mum and dad before the formal approval were very affirming and said that “this is the perfect home” for the 2 year old, and that the 8 year old is “a happy healthy boy – no problem with him.” However, during the interview, mum and dad admitted that if methods of correction such as time-out, withdrawal of privileges, and other consequences for defiant and unacceptable behaviour didn’t work, she might use a smack on the hand with a half-size wooden spoon. The two social workers – both who had just recently graduated – then said that the grandparents would not be able to have the granddaughter. A letter confirming this decision was sent, saying that the reason for not letting the granddaughter stay with her grandparents was because of “the disciplining methods and unwillingness to change these”.
2. BOYS REMOVED FROM NANA FOR HAND SMACK AFTER KNIFE INCIDENT
Nana applied to have custody of her two grandnephews A(5) and B(3). She had been a caregiver with CYF previously, caring for nine children over a number of years. Her two great-nephews had been in foster care all their life and had been moved throughout various whanau unsuccessfully. CYF acknowledged that they had both medical and behavioural difficulties but offered support to Nana. They closely monitored Nana’s caregiving for a number of weeks before they formally assigned custody to Nana. Their behaviour was a challenge for Nana including incidences of climbing on the roof of the house, sticking fingers in to wall sockets, inappropriate toilet behaviour, and generally not obeying specific instructions. Nana regularly rang CYF for assistance but was either unable to contact the social worker assigned to her case, or was fobbed off – once being told to just ‘keep a log’ of the misbehaviour. CYF even suggested that the behaviour only started at Nana’s – but official records show that there were already concerns before placement, and an assessment by CYF of Nana after the incident detailed below says “home environment appears very child friendly and cosy… the boys seemed very settled, happy and bright.” CYF documents also show that they admit that their services and lack of co-ordination between offices was ‘not always consistent’. All of this resulted in stress and health concerns for Nana. On one occasion, A grabbed a butcher knife and hit B on the head, drawing blood. Nana growled A and gave him a smack on the hand with a wooden spoon. A trainee psychologist who was working with A contacted CYF regarding the incident. The boys were removed without any written notification or specific reason being given to Nana. Nana and the boys have not seen each other since – and Nana has still not been given a reason as to their removal. (This information has been corroborated with documents obtained under the Official Information Act.)
3. THREE MONTHS (& MUM’S WEDDING) TO INVESTIGATE BOTTOM SMACK
Mum was engaged to be re-married, and had custody of her 8 year old (G). She also has two adult children. G has been diagnosed with ADHD and could, at times, be extremely challenging and defiant. Mum has regularly sought the help of medical professionals. Everyone that mum went to for help – including CYF – basically turned their backs on her. On one occasion, neighbours called the police when G was sent outside because of her defiant behavior and started screaming when her step-dad told her to apologise to her mum. On another occasion G told her step-mum that mum had smacked her on the bottom – which she had, when G was being defiant and swore at her. The step-mum complained to the police. In both cases, the police told G off for not listening to her mum. During a visit from the police G even started to get mouthy to the policeman who told her to behave herself. G’s stepmother had told G that “if your mother ever smacks you, you are to tell me”. The step-mum and dad applied for custody, and because of the complaints about “alleged assaults”, the Family Court judge refused all access between mum and G (and her other siblings and grandparents) while CYF investigated. This absolutely destroyed G’s mother to the point where she couldn’t go to work for a couple of days due to being so distraught. The CYF investigation took three months to complete – despite the Family Court judge requesting an urgent assessment! This also meant that G had to be supervised while being a flower girl at her mother’s wedding! G was not allowed to have contact with any family members. Affidavits show that the step-mum and dad had no good reason or evidence that mum used any violence – and even admitted that G ‘does sometimes exaggerate things’. Because of G constantly threatening mum with reporting her to the police, G is now living with her dad and step-mum and visiting her mum every 2nd weekend. The step-mum has apologized for her actions, and has acknowledged the difficulties with controlling G’s behaviour.
4. SLOW TO SUPPORT, QUICK TO PROSECUTE AND REMOVE – MOTHER
Mum has two children aged 10 and 8. The oldest child (P) had been very difficult and mum sought help from her school, social workers, and mental health organisations who told mum that P was ‘displaying’ ADHD but was ‘just naughty’. Mum and her partner did a parenting programme, and even have the certificate! They had been having trouble with P lighting fires which was particularly dangerous given that they live rurally right by a forest area. Mum had even got the local fireman to explain to P the problem with fires. On this particular occasion, P lit a fire right by the garage shed which has flammable materials (and during a particularly dry period of summer). When Mum confronted him with the seriousness of what he had done and what could have happened, he told her “F** you”. Mum gave him two smacks on his clothed bottom with a women’s cloth belt. Every other deterrent she had tried to stop him lighting stuff didn’t seem to work. Four days later, she admitted to a social worker what she had done and said “I need help. Your advice isn’t working”. The social worker said that she would be reporting mum. Next day, CYF removed both boys to the birth father. The police investigated and after two weeks, informed mum that no charges would be laid, that the law was dumb, and that she was officially warned (although she received no written documentation relating to this). After seven weeks of supervised access to the children (and despite the police investigation being concluded five weeks earlier), mum tried to contact the social worker at CYF a number of times to enquire when she would be able to have the kids back. She managed to get hold of another social worker who checked the file and ‘thought’ it might be ok. The boys returned home. 18 months later, they have still heard nothing from CYF. They even submitted an Official Information Act request but got no response. Mum says that there is simply no support for parents who struggle with difficult children, but authorities are quick to take action when a parent puts a foot wrong.
5. TEACHER SAID I HAD TO SAY DADDY HIT ME
Timaru Herald July 2011
A judge dismissed a charge against a Timaru father accused of hitting his seven-year-old with a belt. The charge arose after the boy told staff at his school that two bruises on his legs were caused by his father hitting him. The boy told police the same thing in a recorded interview in October last year, but told the Timaru District Court at a defended hearing on Wednesday he had lied because his teacher told him to say his father had hit him. When questioned by the police prosecutor, the boy said part of what he said was not true. He said the bruises were caused by his brother, who had thrown a clay cat and a toy dinosaur at him, and when he had jumped onto his brother’s bed. He said he told a teacher aide because she asked him for news from home, and said he told her the bruises were caused by his brother. Yesterday, when asked if the boy had said his brother caused the bruises, the teacher aide said no. Following his conversation with the teacher aide, his teacher spoke to him and he said he told her his brother had caused the bruises. The teacher said his brother could not have done it, and it must have been his father, he said. “I had to say daddy hit me or she would just put my name on the board or she would bench me.” The boy also said he was scared his brother would go to jail.
6. YOU HAVE BEEN TREATED APPALLINGLY BY CYF – PSYCHOLOGIST
Mum and dad ‘s 11 year old daughter was getting bullied at school. Her parents weren’t aware of the extent of the bullying or impact it was having on her. As a result of the bullying, she was being difficult at home, and mum and dad were having to be very strict and put clear boundaries on her, which she didn’t like. She got involved with a group of girls at school who were experimenting with ‘cutting’. One day she took a kitchen knife to school to use with her friends, and a teacher found it in her bag. She panicked, thinking that she would be in a lot of trouble at school for having the knife with her, so she told her school counsellor that dad had been smacking, punching and strangling her. (She had previously told her parents that they weren’t allowed to smack her or her siblings anymore as it was against the law). The school immediately referred this to the Police who in turn referred it to CYF. The same day, mum and dad’s four children were removed from the family home – without a court order. The family insisted CYF interview their other children, family members, friends, previous teachers, and their family doctor to get an idea of what their family was like. CYF were not interested in doing this but agreed to interview the older siblings after constant pressure from the family. No disclosure of abuse of any kind was made by either sibling. The mother was interviewed and also stated that husband had never abused their children at any time. A CYF worker then tried to tell the mother that she was a victim of domestic abuse from her husband and that she wasn’t safe to go home to him. They also told the mother and father that if they hadn’t taken their daughter out of the family home immediately she would have ended up on the front page of the NZ Herald within a week as a story of ‘another’ child who had been beaten to death by their father. Throughout this entire time the father had to leave the family home and was not allowed any contact with any of his children. Despite no corroboration or evidence of what the daughter was saying, CYF chose to rely only on the testimony of the 11 year old despite the fact that the parents have had no previous involvement with CYF or the police of any kind, and have had no issues from any school or any other social service agency. In fact, the father has a highly responsible community based job. While staying at her aunty’s, the 11 year admitted she had made up the stories because of the bullying. CYF were advised of this but stated that the family had forced her to recant and compared the family to the Kahui family. Mum and Dad’s lawyer pushed to get the 11 yr old referred to the child mental health unit at Starship Hospital to be assessed by an independent child psychologist. After one session of interviewing and observing, the child told the psychologist that she had lied. The psychologist became visibly upset in front of the parents and said that they had been treated appallingly. On two occasions the psychologist spoke with CYF and told them that he didn’t believe CYF had any reason to be involved with the family as the 11 yr old had made up the abuse allegations. After nine weeks the police finally completed their investigation and said that no charges would be laid and that there would be no further action from them. 14 weeks after the hell started, the family were reunited. Despite no evidence of abuse, the family – including all the children – are now flagged officially with the police and CYF as “family violence”. The father has a flag against his name “Assaults Child”. This will affect the future career prospects of dad within his current employment and mum who is currently studying for a degree.
7. MUM CONVICTED FOR ADMITTING LIGHT SMACKS OVER PREVIOUS YEARS
Sunday Star Times 3 June 2012
Mum has been trying to get help from CYF, CAMHS, and a psychologist, but they all said that not much could be done about her eight year old son’s oppositional behaviour and conduct problems. After a particularly extreme situation (not the first time), Mum asked her partner to discipline him in order to bring home the unacceptability of his actions. Mum’s partner smacked the boy with a folded belt on his clothed backside twice. The boy’s grandmother (who CYF no longer want the boy to live with) reported it to the police and both mum and her partner were charged with assault. When spoken to by police, mum unfortunately admitted that over the past two to three years, she had smacked her son on a couple of occasions when she believed he needed it due to his behavior and when other punishments didn’t work – but the last time she could recall doing was at least six months ago. The district court judge acknowledged that mum had sought help and assistance many times – but that she had ‘stepped outside the bounds of what is considered to be appropriate parental discipline..’ Because mum was an early childhood teacher – a ‘very good one’ as acknowledged in court documents – the judge said she was ‘supposed to know better’. Both she and her partner were convicted of assault. The district court judge said that the fact that the mother was not angry but that the smack was a ‘considered decision’ was an aggravating factor. On appeal to the High Court, mum’s partner was discharged without conviction on the basis of it being a ‘one-off incident in response to an extreme, highly unusual situation’ and that ‘a poor choice was made in response to a situation none of us would like to confront. It arose against a background where persistent efforts had been made to cope with the challenges presented.’ The judge also commented that there had been ‘sustained efforts over several years to cope with, and adjust, the boy’s behaviour.” However, because of mum’s admission that she had occasionally used smacking in the past, her conviction was upheld in the High Court, because ‘it cannot be said it was a one-off incident’ – despite her son presenting ‘unusual and difficult challenges’. She appealed to the Court of Appeal – and won. They acknowledged that mum had ‘sought appropriate expert assistance … and had utilized a range of non-physical measures to address the child’s behaviour’ and that the actions were at ‘the lower end of the scale’. They also held that the prior incidents were overstated by the District Court judge. Moral of the story? Be careful what you admit, even if John Key says a light smack is ok – and you think it is also. http://jdo.justice.govt.nz/jdo/GetJudgment/?judgmentID=210397