The Herald is running a week-long series on the smacking debate. Today we focus on the views of Child, Youth and Family Services and the police on the effect of the child-discipline law. To tell us your stories, go to the Your Views discussion. Or you can follow the debate on our facebook page.
The children and families we work with come to our attention because of the concerns of everyday Kiwis.
When people see something that concerns them, they tell us about it. The growing number of notifications to Child, Youth and Family over the past five years demonstrates this.
This does not mean that CYFS is interfering in the lives of good Kiwi parents.
Every day our call centre is contacted by frustrated parents who just need someone to talk to. On an average day, we receive around 230 notifications of child abuse or neglect. Our task is then to work out which families we need to be working with so that the concerns we and others have for those children are looked into, and which families would be better supported by people other than Child, Youth and Family.
It would be misleading and inaccurate to say that the rise in notifications is because of the repeal of section 59. What we do know is that a number of factors have contributed to this rise. Better sharing of domestic violence information between Child, Youth and Family and police, high-profile child abuse tragedies such as Nia Glassie and the "It's not OK" campaign have all encouraged people to phone and ask for help when they see something that worries them.
I think that's a good thing, and often takes courage on the part of the notifier, particularly where family members, close friends or relatives are involved.
We have not noticed any change in the nature or volume of calls we get because of changes to section 59. While we may get a call from someone who has seen a child being smacked, this is almost always just one part of a range of concerns they have about the way the child is being cared for.
From my experience of the cases I've personally reviewed, there are always underlying issues about the families we work with that are seldom publicly reported. When my social workers sit down and speak with these families they often find people that are struggling on a day-to-day basis to deal with behavioural problems, mental health issues or any number of other stresses that families find themselves facing.
It is important to remember that the repeal of section 59 removed the defence of reasonable force against a criminal charge of assault under the Crimes Act. Whether the police determine that a case meets their threshold to proceed with a criminal prosecution differs from the way we decide if a child or family needs our help.
New Zealanders would expect my staff to take notifications seriously and take action where necessary. It is always our goal to do this in a way that demonstrates the care and consideration that children and families deserve.
Every day social workers need to make judgment calls about whether children are safe to stay with their parents. There are around 5000 children in our care whose homes are not safe. These are tough calls for social workers to make and they do so with great compassion.
There are cases where we know at the time we receive a notification that there is no role for Child, Youth and Family. Often the family is already well supported by other agencies or extended family, or it is clear that there are no care and protection concerns for any children.
Whenever we can, we connect families to services in their own community. By linking families in with the right sort of help at the right time we find that they often don't need any more help from Child, Youth and Family.
Once we know that a notification needs further action we give it a criticality rating to determine the urgency of our response. This means we can make sure that the most urgent cases are given the highest priority.
No parent likes to think they are being criticised for the way they are raising their children. Parents are understandably upset when we come to their door, but I can assure you that we take every step to be respectful when we do so. Our goal is to keep families together. After all, we want children to grow up with parents who love and care for them.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that these cases are brought to our attention by members of the public who are so concerned about the welfare of a child that they needed to tell someone.
I commend each and every person that calls us when they see things happening in their community that worry them, that's how we can all play a role in keeping kids safe.
* Ray Smith is the deputy chief executive (CYFS) at the Ministry of Social Development.
MORE NOTIFIED, MORE ABUSE
11 months to May each year
NOTIFICATIONS TO CYFS
2007 - 64,980
2008 - 81,220
2009 - 100,716
CASES NEEDING ACTION
2007 - 39,960
2008 - 37,010
2009 - 45,157
2007 - 11,867
2008 - 12,128
2009 - 14,506