Response to Steve Kilgallon’s reporting of Ruth Herbert 12th May 2013 in Sunday Star Times
thank you for your reporting of Ruth Herbert’s initiatives.
Response to Steve Kilgallons reporting of Ruth Herbert 12th May 2013 in Sunday Star Times
I welcome Ruth Herbert’s drawing the public’s attention to child protection, in particular related to experiencing and witnessing domestic violence (DV).
I agree that much of NZ’s social and social welfare legislation needs revising. However, I cannot see that all legislation should or could be reviewed every time a new DV research paper is published, as Ruth suggests.
Readers of research will tell you that much research can be contradictory, for even a few decades, before researchers will agree on many issues. Thus good quality legislation cannot be realistically based on research, until a sensible consensus has been reached. DV research through 30 years has not reached this point. Nuclear physics has been going for a hundred years and is still asking more questions than it answers, so far.
Ruth compares the medical profession updating treatment protocols, as soon as research has settled issues. Updating of treatment protocols as required is a small task, compared to rewriting all of NZ’s legislation, regulations and Government guidelines.
Her claim that “Government needs to rewrite every law, every policy document and guideline on the subject” seems quite over the top. For legislation to serve society, it needs to be well thought out and then be stable and unchanging for as long a period of time as social changes permits, ideally at least 30 years. This allows citizens to have some understanding of the legislation and to order their lives accordingly, to make the best of opportunities. If legislation was to change as often as advocated by Ruth Herbert, society could never keep up with the changes back and forth.
NZ already has serious problems with new ideas being turned into legislation, before being properly thought through. The Building Act changes in 1990s have cost everyone in NZ many $ billions. The DPB has cost far more financially and socially, than policy documents supplied to Parliament warned about, again many $ billions through the last 30 years. These costs are accumulating still, faster than they did originally.
As well as financial costs, solo parents have played a large part in sending children to school, ill prepared for learning and poorly motivated for learning. This flows on to poor economic performance and lives less happy and satisfied than they should be. All issues around the DPB are in serious need for review and the Government is trying to make adjustments so that welfare incentives encourage constructive behaviour by beneficiaries. Our standard of living would be markedly higher if this review had taken place 20 years ago.
I am making a case for legislation to receive much more careful analysis before passing and implementation to be monitored much more carefully after passing. Presently, NZ spends far too little on policy analysis and too little time on public consultation. This costs us dearly.
In any case, legislation is not a panacea for fixing all social problems, as both John Key and Phil Goff have pointed out publicly. Many issues need to be resolved by the public’s own behaviour and choices.
Perspective on violence in NZ.
NZ has about 80 homicides per year. This figure has grown proportionately to population, so as a rate per population, it has generally reduced slightly through the last 100 years. Detection of murders is certainly better now, than in the past, so there is a slight drop in the real rate up to the present. Public intolerance of violence is at an all time high and thus more effort is put into crime detection and resolution. We still treat retroactively, but from that point there is now proactive risk management, resulting in long and indeterminate detention for most dangerous offenders. Why do we make such people?
The majority of homicides relate to disputes, involving one or more personality disordered persons, drug or financial deals, greed, ego. Perhaps not fully meeting DSM4 diagnosis threshold, but sufficient for fuelling serious social problems. This is not to say that all people with mental health problems should be locked up. The vast majority of them are not violent, but when they run up against the bumps of life, they may react with violence. There is a large situational element. Good etiquette does save lives.
Of all homicides, domestic homicides are about 30%, with a few more women than men and almost as many children as adults. Some consider that women are more vulnerable than men, which has some truth. Men victims usually succumb to drugging and knifing, poisoning, scalding with boiling water or shooting by women. Thus women are as capable of being dangerous as men, it might just take a bit more preparation. In UK and USA, women’s violence is increasing and men’s reducing slowly, so that some commentators predict crossover within 20 years. This is especially apparent in areas with serious substance abuse problems.
The Domestic Violence Act 1995 has not had any statistical impact onto DV deaths. If there are positive impacts, then somewhere else there are a similar number of negative impacts. As the legislation is not working as Parliament intended, it is obviously seriously in need of review. I claim that it drives up to 50 men’s suicides per year and 5 children’s, as a consequence of denial of access between children and their fathers, for periods of time much longer than the statutory 42 days. These claims should be checked, before these victims of the DV Act reach past 1000 souls and start working toward the second thousand? Possibly this is a perverse outcome of the DV Act and was not intended by Parliament.
NZ does have a significant problem with injury violence. Most of it is fuelled by the same cluster of behavioural traits as homicide, with poverty and social deprivation playing significant roles. Poverty typically reflects mental health issues, these also impact onto parenting skills, negotiating skills and life opportunities. As society more constructively addresses these epidemiological issues, violence may be expected to continue to drop slowly.
Public intolerance has perhaps become somewhat irrational and we now have technical assaults taking up large amounts of District Court time. In many instances, these processes are quite counterproductive for the types of people being prosecuted. Court processes often have poor social and cost efficacy at reducing recidivism, compared to proactive community mental health support and probation supervision and support.
Although our injury violence rate per population statistics show a slow drop over many years, the actual incidence of serious injury violence is dropping faster than statistics show, due to the recent increase in prosecutions for trivial and technical assaults. This is a waste of money, that would be more productive spent in mental health sector.
Serious violence and homicides flow on from our annual production of psychopaths. Psychopaths are the result of serious emotional neglect of babies and very young children. This is usually only picked up when it co-occurs with physical neglect or serious physical abuse.
Children are much more at risk of emotional neglect when in solo parent households and when parents are depressed or substance addicted. In these situations, children are denied close support from their parents.
Children are much better protected from emotional neglect, when they have working close relationships with both parents and ideally wider family too. This is expressly provided for in Care of Children Act 2004, so is it a mystery why our children are not being better protected from serious emotional neglect? International statistics show that the responsible parent is the mother, in about 80% of situations.
If children’s parent’s relationships were better supported, then children would be much better protected from this socially disabling condition (and us better protected from violence).
If we want all of our children to enjoy happy, satisfying lives, we do need to protect children’s relationships with both parents, with wider family and support parent’s mental health more proactively than we do at present. Parent’s imperfections cause much less problem for their children, when the children have close relationships with both parents. We shouldn’t make this hard for the children.
Again, I thank Ruth Herbert for informing and energising public debate about protecting vulnerable people in our society.
Child abuse laws need major overhaul inquiry by STEVE KILGALLON
Last updated 09:26 12/05/2013
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.”
Agenda setting Lets not kid ourselves politics and reasoned debate by StuartBirks
May 29, 2012 at 1:15 am rwhiston
Have you ever been puzzled – even stunned – by events and why they either happen so rapidly or seem never to reflect the opinion of the general public ? The answer is the insidious power of “Agenda Setting.” It is an art form and when used skillfully can be devastating. Let’s not kid ourselves – politics and reasoned debate stand no chance when “the fix is in.” But how does it work ? Stuart Birks, the Director of the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation, Massey University in New Zealand briefly lifted the skirt on this topic during a seminar in 2008.
Regardless of the specific subject (child custody, cohabitation, shared parenting, domestic violence etc), somewhere, someone’s ‘agenda’ lies behind it – and social policies seem forever to be the victim.
New Zealand Centre for Political Research (NZCPR)
(26 October 2008)
Guest Speaker : Stuart Birks (Massey Uni)
“It would be nice to believe that the current election campaign would consist of well-informed debate on important issues. Ideally, there would be a good airing of the best alternative policies. Politicians, armed with the facts, would debate openly without being tied to agendas, hidden or otherwise. Let’s be honest, though. That is not what is happening. Nevertheless, according to some theories, the world is rational, everyone is logical, and there is no false information!
If we were to go back two hundred years or so, we would find that logic, aiming to prove, and rhetoric, aiming to persuade, were given equal emphasis in education. Persuasion is central to the operation of politics and is actively pursued through the media.
There are large numbers of PR [public relations] people employed in the public sector. Political parties do their own polling to monitor public opinion, and “push polling’ is used in some countries to sway respondents. “Social marketing’ is growing as a specialist area, with numerous taxpayer-funded social marketing campaigns in New Zealand, especially in the area of health and violence (as with “It’s not OK”, http://www.areyouok.org.nz/).
Numerous theories have developed to describe this activity and to explain its effects. Some writers see politics as competition between groups which are aiming to set the policy agenda, promoting their issues and denying alternatives. Others consider ways in which agenda setting is done, “framing’ issues so that people see them from their preferred perspective. Here are three examples of prominent perspectives:
1. Global warming is happening, and we must reduce carbon emissions.
2. Maori social problems are a result of colonisation.
3. Family violence is men’s use of force to control women and children.
The use of language can be important, promoting key words and phrases that trigger desired responses, such as Labour’s use of “hollow men’, “flip-flops’, “slippery’, and “trust’. All parties do this, but the Labour Party has drawn attention to the approach through a paper by Curran (details below).
There is a good reason why views can be influenced in these ways. Most policy issues relate to things about which people have little direct experience. Therefore they have to rely on others for their information. In addition, the issues are not ones that they can do something about individually. Owing to their complexity, the number of people affected, or the costs of intervention, co-ordinated action is needed.
So people begin by being poorly informed, and they generally have little incentive to put in much effort to become well informed.
Consequently, they rely on readily available information, such as that provided through the media and by politicians in election campaigns. They are in no position to accurately assess the quality of the information, and are likely to accept the commonly accepted views that they hear, including the views of the people around them.
This is what Hardin has called “street-level epistemology’. People’s understanding is simply what has been passed on by others, generally with little attempt at verification. This is natural enough. After all, even so-called experts begin by learning what others tell them. However, it does mean that we can be misled.
Language and lexicon
We can speculate by considering the current election in terms of actions by people who subscribe to these theories about framing, use of language, and setting agendas. What if political strategies were chosen as if it were a game of thatnature? Anthony Downs, in his book, “An Economic Theory of Democracy’, specified a set of propositions based on rational individuals and only accurate information.
We could present alternative propositions based on agendas and shaping views. I summarise some possible propositions here. They are discussed in more detail in my paper at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1257860. There is a key term, “traction’, that you will hear in political debate. An issue or idea has traction when sufficient people consider it deserving of attention. It gets media coverage and others respond. There may be enough support to result in a policy response.
So what are the implications? Only so many issues can be on the agenda. There is a limit to the attention people can give, and news bulletins include only a few stories. Politicians can only consider so much new legislation, and the more they consider, the more superficial the assessment. So there a limited number of issues have traction at any one time. Parties aim to achieve traction on their issues and prevent traction on others, and they are more likely to invest in an issue with traction than to generate traction for a new issue. Perspectives can be narrow, with “quick fix’ simple solutions.
If traction is so important, we should be concerned about how it is determined. The media play an important role. They are more suited to some kinds of coverage than others. Image tends to dominate over substance, and there is effective imagery thatcan “push buttons’. It is easier to generate traction through celebrity support than through detailed, informed presentation of information. In general, the media are not aiming to change views. Rather, they tend to reinforce the prevailing pattern of issues with traction. [However, the recent Murdoch/ News of the World scandal of 2012 might re-write that aspect – Ed].
If propositions such as these describe the political scene, there is unlikely to be detailed policy analysis or monitoring, and many problems will only be recognised and addressed when they are too serious to ignore. While it is often said thatwe get the government that we deserve, there are institutional biases thatwork against good, reasoned government. These limit the quality of government that can be expected. It may be possible to moderate their effect, but nevertheless, there is a strong likelihood that politics will be dominated by crises. This might help to explain the sub-prime mortgage crisis that is affecting the whole world.
E N D
Birks, S. (2008) An Economic Theory of Democracy Revisited – Downs with TractionAvailable at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1257860
Curran, C. (2006). Language matters; Setting agendas – taking charge of the language Paper presented at the Otago/Southland Labour Party regional conference. from http://www.whaleoil.co.nz/Files/Language_Matters.pdf.pdf.
See also http://www.nzcpr.com/guest121.htm
Note: Stuart Birks is the director of the Centre for Public Policy Evaluation at Massey University, Palmerston North. He is an economist with a focus on policy formulation and implementation.
More work needed….
If you wish to add to this public debate, please do.
If I have made any cockups (which I do at times), please tell me!
I have been ruthlessly criticised for hiding behind the skirts of ambiguity. Accordingly, I have been forced to confess explicitly, that the inclusion of Stuart Birk’s article about agenda setting, is an admission that I have not directly answered Ruth Herbert’s challenges. Is my subversive approach forgivable?
If anyone knows where “Murray Bevin” may be located, I would like to chop him to small pieces with my axes or pay good bitcoins to anyone else who can do it for me. I am having more serious identity problems at present, well through the last 150 years and this business isn’t helping me.
Thanks, Murray bacon.