CYF to be given smacking guidelines

12:47, Aug 27 2009

Social workers will be told to change the way they deal with parents referred to them for smacking.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday that Child, Youth and Family had never given its social workers guidelines on how to deal with smacking cases after the 2007 law change removed the defence of reasonable force in cases of child assault.

The Government announced a series of measures yesterday to reassure parents that they would not be dragged before the courts or have social workers knocking on their doors after Friday's referendum reflected widespread unease over how the law was working. Nearly 90 per cent of voters supported the right of parents to smack.

But Mr Key rejected another law change, saying it would "consume and derail" Parliament when there were more important issues to deal with.

Police were given clear guidelines after the 2007 law change to take a "commonsense" approach to smacking complaints after Parliament made it clear it did not want parents prosecuted for giving their children a light smack. But Mr Key said the same guidelines were never issued to CYF workers.

In the six months to April, police dealt with eight smacking complaints and referred three to CYF. One of those cases was referred to the Family Violence Inter-Agency Response System. However, CYF did not respond to questions yesterday on the extent to which the three cases were investigated, or whether follow-up action included visits to the family homes.

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The office of Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said yesterday that it had no information on how CYF followed up smacking cases, as it was an "operational" matter.

Mr Key said he expected changes to police and CYF policies and procedures in the wake of the referendum result and announced a review, led by police and the Social Development Ministry.

He also asked the ministry to report early on its two-year review of the law and said police would continue to report regularly on prosecutions and investigations. If future reports indicated a "worrying trend", the law would be changed.

"If the law shows ... that New Zealand parents are being criminalised, or their children are being taken off them in some bizarre case for what could only be described as minor or inconsequential smacking, then the law has to be changed."

But there was no evidence that was the case, although he said it was clear the law was "not necessarily well understood by every New Zealander", given that it clearly included grounds for parents to legitimately smack their children.

There had been only 33 smacking complaints dealt with by police, and none had resulted in prosecution.

The Dominion Post