Hard News by Russell Brown

181

Feckless Solutions

I'm against child abuse. I just thought I'd say so, because so many people in the past few days have been letting us all know they're against child abuse that there's a risk that anyone who doesn't pipe up might be taken to be, y'know, in favour of it.

John Key's totally against it. So is Simon Power.

You might want to put out a press release saying how totally against it you are too, before anyone starts to look at you funny. Lyndon Hood at Scoop has helpfully created an interactive child abuse press release generator to help you with the job. It has been described by Act's Heather Roy -- in a press release -- as "an exercise in poor taste".

But Roy, Deborah Coddington, Michael Laws and Jim Hopkins all know what the problem is. It's the welfare, clearly. If only the government had the gumption to cut off the bastards' benefits until they could prove they were fit parents. Simple as that.

None of them seem unduly troubled by the fact that Nia Glassie's mother, Lisa Kuka, was not a beneficiary. She worked long hours in a kiwifruit factory in Te Puke; six days a week, leaving the house at 5am and sometimes not returning until 10pm. For $600 a week. That's why she left her daughter in the care of the rabble who abused her. She might perhaps have left her daughter in the care of her own mother, but she too, at the age of 71, worked full time, at a timber factory.

This is not to suggest that Kuka adequately fulfilled her duty of care as a mother -- it appears she did not. But the commentariat's reflexive refrain about welfare dependency rings hollow this time. Perhaps Heather Roy could put her hand up for some babysitting duties after she sends all those welfare mothers out to work.

Roy and Coddington find ample room in their respective efforts to write admiringly about themselves, but Hopkins' column -- given an admiring link by David Farrar ("My fingers almost got burnt blogging that," DPF observes, then leaves his readers to scratch each others' eyes out as usual) -- deserves special mention. Even by Hopkins' lamentable standards, it's smug, pompous and sneering.

After mocking the new hospital screening questionnaire on domestic abuse (and indeed, sliming basically everyone involved in trying to prevent abuse), Hopkins trumpets his own solution: spend the money instead on "rewards for any information that might spare a child and convict its abuser". Oh, right. A bounty system. There's no way that could go wrong, is there?

Michael Laws also, of course, has more feckless solutions than you can shake a stick at. Here's his prescription:

Don't give second chances. One conviction and they automatically forfeit their chances to have children again. That they must prove their fitness, their sobriety, their changed attitude or every child they produce is whisked away for adoption.

And a sidebar: a drug conviction and you similarly lose your children. Automatic.

When you're clean, and proven clean - then we'll talk. But you must earn your way back into parenthood.

But haven't the children been "whisked away for adoption" already? And has Laws even thought about what he's saying? Does a drink-driving conviction mean the state comes and takes away your children? Does he actually know how many people between the ages of 30 and 39 get a marijuana conviction every year? (It's between 6000 and 7000. Laws doesn't venture on how many children that would see taken away from their homes and schools and put up for adoption under his bold new scheme.)

Laws' pen-portrait of abusive parents concludes thus:

They don't give a shit what any government official or law-enforcement agency thinks. They'll look after their kids their ways, f--k off.

Oh, like this you mean?

We "correct with force" because we love, we occasionally smack so that we may save.

And we have a very simple message for the Bradfords, Pillays and Riches of this world. We don't tell you how to raise your kids. You don't tell us how to raise ours!

Michael Laws said that. But that's different. Of course.

The Dom Post today recalls another home where they had their own way of disciplining naughty children:

An Auckland High Court jury was told the youngster was beaten with weapons including a baseball bat and an oar. Ngati would punch her son in the face, hit him with a stick and whack him on the head when she thought he was naughty.

For all the put-upon middle-class yelping about rights from the likes of Laws, it does seem that "don't hit your kids at all" has, at least, the virtue of message simplicity.

But that, of course is not the whole thing. And there's some truth amid the braying. We don't want families rotting and robbed of ambition. It may be that CYFS should have monitored Kuka's children after an earlier incident. There is some evidence that sentences for serious assaults and homicides on children have been shorter, although not a lot, than those for offences against older victims. But whatever satisfaction harsh sentences may bring after the fact, don't bring back dead kids, and they probably don't stay the hand of abusive parents.

The New Zealand child most at risk of homicide is less than one year of age, male, and Maori. The child is most likely to have died from battering, sustaining head and other fatal bodily injuries inflicted by one or other of his parents. The overall rate of such deaths has not changed significantly since the 1970s, although it rose among Maori children and fell among non-Maori. There is a correlation between child maltreatment deaths and other forms of domestic violence. Kids die violently in violent households.

(Heather Roy and her fellow preachers of blame-welfare lines might care to consult the equivalent figures in the US before they trumpet US-style "welfare reform". They are three times as high.)

The hospital abuse screening programme will inevitably raise hackles -- being asked an embarrassing question is a small sacrifice in the circumstances, but it will be too much for some people -- but its trial in Auckland does seem to suggest that it is doing the job it has been designed for: picking up abuse within a secure, structured environment. No one should care what Jim Hopkins has to say about it. He doesn't matter.

I'm trying not to pretend I know more than I do here, because I don't know what it's like in these families. I have the deepest respect for the professionals who have to intervene. It does amaze me the way that our child welfare agency is vilified.

But in the end, the state can't be in every home. It can't forcibly remove thousands of children without creating a whole new catastrophe. But family members -- and they're not all failures; there's a doctor in the whanau around this household -- can bring pressure to bear. They can walk into a house and remove a battered child. They can not stand for it any more.

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