Saturday, 31 March 2007

30 March 2007 - Manawatu Standard - Smack could be reported to CYFS police tell mother

Smack could be reported to CYFS police tell mother

By GRANT MILLER - Manawatu Standard | Friday, 30 March 2007

Police have told a Feilding mum that if she is caught lightly smacking her children after Section 59 of the Crimes Act is repealed, she will be reported to the Child Youth and Family Service (CYFS).

"CYFS seems to have so much power," said mother-of-eight Sandra Elliott.

She fears CYFS will treat parents who smack their children as child abusers.

Green MP Sue Bradford is promoting a bill in Parliament that will remove "reasonable force" for correcting children as a possible defence for assault.

Mrs Elliott rang Feilding police to clarify the effects of the bill.

She says she asked: "If I lightly smacked my three-year-old for correction and my neighbour saw it and called police - would you have to come out and investigate?"

The answer was yes.

Police national headquarters confirmed this for the Manawatu Standard, but added the call would be prioritised, as all police calls are. It would come under the category of domestic violence.

Mrs Elliott then asked if police would pass on the information to CYFS. The answer again was yes.

She was told that if police believed the child was in no immediate danger they would not notify CYFS within 24 hours, but they meet fortnightly about family violence and that's when information would be passed on, Mrs Elliott said.

"That's the bit that scared me - having CYFS on your doorstep," Mrs Elliott said.

"I've got nice neighbours, but not everyone does.

"A light smack for correction is not abuse," she added.

Police national headquarters spokesman Jon Neilson said there is a notification process that involves CYFS, but its involvement could depend on the seriousness of the incident.

He said it would be "difficult to say, categorically" if CYFS would be notified after a child is lightly smacked. Whether a child was frequently hit in the past would also be a relevant factor.

However, Police Association president Greg O'Connor said reported assaults on children would "almost invariably" end up with CYFS.

"If a parent admits to smacking a child, that's clearly an offence. Even if a warning is administered, it will still be reported," he said.

Under the existing police policy, reporting the alleged assaults would be "basically mandatory".

Supporters of the bill argue smacking is already technically illegal. Removing S.59 will stop people from getting away with it.

Opponents argue the bill will criminalise loving parents and the state should not interfere.

"Our concern is that the political debate is taking place in a vacuum of understanding about what action police are likely to take on receipt of a complaint of assault," Mr O'Connor said.

"Police are not going to go around looking for it," he added.

Using their discretion not to report assaults could backfire on police, however.

"The first time a child is seriously hurt or worse following police inaction, I imagine there will be very strong policy about what police should do."

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