Nigel Latta gives OK to anti-smacking law

20:32, Dec 07 2009

A leading anti-PC campaigner says parents "can relax" about the anti-smacking law.

Television psychologist Nigel Latta was called on by the Government to carry out a top-level review.

Yesterday the host of The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show said none of the cases highlighted by the pro-smacking lobby to bolster their argument that good parents were being made into criminals for smacking stood up to scrutiny.

His finding, after the three-month review, has firmed the Government's resolve that there is no need to change the law, despite a resounding referendum vote in favour of change earlier this year.

Dr Latta originally opposed the law change removing the defence of reasonable force in cases of assault against a child.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that the review showed the law was working as intended.

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The law was clear that a light smack should not be treated as a criminal offence and it was up to parents to decide whether or not they would smack their child for correction.

"Lightly smacking a child will be in the course of parenting for some parents and I think that's acceptable," Mr Key said.

The Government introduced a series of new measures yesterday in the wake of Dr Latta's review, which was conducted with police and the Social Development Ministry.

Mr Key said if Child Youth and Family "turn up on their doorstep", parents could turn to a new telephone helpline to "give them some assurance of what their rights are".

Dr Latta said there would always be cases in which social workers or police turned up on the doorstep of "normal, good parents".

However, he said he had observed how police and CYF staff responded to reports of smacking and in every case the response was appropriate.

"In all of the case studies that I reviewed, it was clear that there were other aggravating features involved," he said.

He was the independent panelist on the project, which Mr Key commissioned after the referendum.

The review document said police and CYF had effective guidelines for making sure good parents were treated as Parliament had intended.

"I think you [parents] can relax," Dr Latta said.

However, the review found there was more that could be done to reassure parents. It recommended the new CYF-run telephone helpline and three further measures:

The immediate publication of guidelines for social workers dealing with child abuse reports that involve smacking.

A requirement for police officers and social workers to provide families with more specific information when handling a smacking complaint.

The collection of more specific data on the effect of the law change.

The national director of Family First, Bob McCoskrie, told Radio New Zealand this morning that the number of "support mechanisms" the anti-smacking law required showed it was not a good law.

He also disputed the suggestion that cases used by Family First to campaign against the law did not present the full picture.

While he admitted it was possible that parents who contacted them for support after being caught on the wrong side of the law could be withholding some of the facts, the group worked hard to ensure the information they had was accurate, including speaking with a senior police officer about whether discretion had been used in individual cases.

Mr McCroskrie said review of the legislation should also assess the effect it had on parents and the way they were parenting.

The Prime Minister was "contradicting what the law says" when he said parents could lightly smack their children and not fear they would be prosecuted.

Mr McCoskrie said the group would not let the matter rest and would push for the amendment proposed in a private member's bill by ACT MP John Boscawen.

"We just want to make it clear in law. I think parents deserve certainty in the law, rather than just at the whim of the current prime minister," he said.

FAMILY FIRST CLAIMS UNDER INVESTIGATION

Celebrity psychologist Nigel Latta, Police Commissioner Howard Broad and Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes investigated cases supplied by smacking campaigners Family First. But they found the truth often differed markedly from what parents told the lobby group.

THE CLAIM: A father claimed he shook his rebellious 15-year-old daughter on the shoulder to get her out of bed after she sneaked home at 4am.

The report says: Police responded to a call from a 15-year-old girl that she had been punched at least three times in the face.

What happened: The father was convicted of assault and discharged on condition of counselling.

THE CLAIM: The parents of a teenage girl claimed the father gave his daughter three smacks on the bottom after she became violent over an argument.

The report says: Police responded to a call from the school of a 14-year-old girl about allegations her stepfather hit her, put her in a stranglehold and tried to tie her up with a dog lead. The stepfather admitted that he tried to tie his stepdaughter up and hit her three times on the bottom.

The outcome: The stepfather was discharged without conviction.

THE CLAIM: A father claimed he smacked his daughter once on the leg with an open hand after an argument sparked by police picking her up for wagging school.

The report: A 13-year-old girl alleged she was struck with a telephone book several times and punched in the side of the head.

What happened: The father was convicted of assault.

THE CLAIM: A grandfather was charged for tipping his grandson out of a chair to get a move on.

The report: Police were contacted after alleged assaults on a boy, 11, and his grandmother. The boy was tipped out of a chair, striking his head on a metal pole.

What happened: The man was convicted of assault.

The Dominion Post