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Report: Parents not being persecuted

Published: 4:19PM Monday December 07, 2009 Source: NZPA

A review of how the anti-smacking legislation is working has found no evidence that police and welfare staff have been responding inappropriately or out of proportion to concerns about child safety.

There has previously been loud opposition to the anti-smacking law with parents upset they will be unfairly preosecuted.

The review team included well-known television host, author and clinical psychologist Nigel Latta who was opposed to the law change removing the defence of reasonable force when charged with assaulting a child.

The report says Latta, Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes and Police Commissioner Howard Broad found the police and Child Youth and Family (CYF) have effective guidelines for dealing with complaints, but more could be done to reassure parents that they would not be criminalised or unduly investigated for a light smack.

Latta says he thinks parents can relax.

And Prime Minister John Key says the findings reinforce his view that the law is working as parliament intended it.

"Good parents are not being criminalised for a light smack," says Key.

Latta personally examined several individual cases highlighted in the media by advocates for a law change.

"Mr Latta has found that the police and CYF responded appropriately and proportionately to the child safety concerns that were raised," Key says.

The report recommends:

.. A parent support helpline be set up so that parents with concerns about how they were being treated can be helped;

.. Guidelines be published for social workers dealing with child abuse reports that involved smacking;

.. Police and others should be required to tell parents what to expect and what rights they have when dealing with the police or CYF; and

.. The collection of information on the application of the new law be collected so there was a clearer picture of how the law was operating.

Key says the government does not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and says the law would continue to be monitored.

The law as it stands bans smacking for the purposes of correction but the police have the discretion not to prosecute for inconsequential smacks.

"From time to time parents may well smack their child lightly and in my view for the purpose of correction, they shouldn't be bought before the courts. If there is broader circumstances, sure, they should," says Key.

In a referendum results in August, 87% of those who voted said no to the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Before the review Latta said he did not believe that a parent smacking their child, in the common sense understanding of what that meant, should be subject to criminal investigation.

He intends to find out whether the law means good parents are being subjected to investigations that are intrusive or traumatic. 

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