Child abuse laws need major overhaul - inquiry

The head of Owen Glenn's inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence says the Government needs to rewrite every law, policy document and guideline on the subject after research showed they were "far from the cutting edge".

Ruth Herbert, Glenn Inquiry director, said two papers released last month by the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, which studied the results of more than 100 pieces of research into family violence, showed "we have been caught sleeping on the job".

Herbert said New Zealand was "considerably out of line with the international evidence" and urged government departments to urgent ly review the papers and rethink policy.

Herbert has analysed a range of government documents, including planned Family Court reforms and current CYF policies, and said none matched the latest international thinking.

"The medical profession do this all the time," she said. "They don't sit back and after 10 years wonder what the rest of the world is doing: they are always looking at international research and modifying their practice and protocols to be at the cutting edge. But we are far from the cutting edge in domestic violence and child abuse."

The reports focus on the links between child abuse and domestic violence, but Herbert said most government papers gave only "brief references" to the subject. Evidence that domestic violence was the biggest predictor of child abuse also called into question a planned government "predictive model" for child abuse risks.

Herbert also pointed to documents still referring to children "witnessing" violence when the studies showed merely being in the same house had a lasting impact.

As an example of other flaws, she quoted policy documents on CYF's website, saying child advocacy services - cancelled by the Government two years ago - were the best method of supporting children.

Herbert said although the Glenn Inquiry was at an early stage, indications were that frontline practice also lagged behind.

Mary Beresford-Jones, general manager of the Tauranga Living Without Violence agency, said the report "resonated" with their work and that it would help all in the sector to "look through the same lens".

But the reports weren't welcomed by men's groups. Campaigner Murray Bevan said they were "advocacy research" clearly designed to influence policy and had their flaws, not least in ignoring counter studies showing the hidden nature of female-male violence.

"New Zealand desperately needs a long, slow debate on child and adult protection issues," he said. "The groups tend to talk past each other, rather than get together and constructively work towards sensible goals."

Wellington campaigner Craig Jackson said they presented a "distorted picture of the true dynamics of family violence" and a "skewed and selective interpretation".

But Herbert said she was not attacking good men but simply noting evidence showed conclusively that you could not be both a domestic abuser as well as a good parent.

"If they are able to show [differently] . . . put it on the table, I would love to see it."

Sunday Star Times