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Experts Reiterate: Smacking Is Not The Issue

JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT
Save the Children NZ
Barnardos
ACYA

27 JULY 2006

EXPERTS REITERATE: SMACKING IS NOT THE ISSUE
IT'S CHILD PROTECTION THAT IS KEY

Swedish authorities do not remove children after single instances of smacking and neither will New Zealand authorities after the removal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act. In fact, both New Zealand and Swedish experts are outraged that some commentators continue to mislead the public and confuse the debate, according to a group of the most reputable and well-established child protection agencies in New Zealand.

Representatives of Save the Children, Barnardos, and Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa (ACYA) commented as oral submissions (including Ruby Harrold-Claesson's submission) are being made on Section 59 in Hamilton today. They emphasise that child protection is what they are aiming for with the repeal of Section 59, not prosecution of parents who have used single instance smacks.

Much has been made recently of the Swedish experience by anti-repeal campaigners. To clarify: legislative change occurred in 1957 in Sweden, followed by the introduction of a Children and Parental Code in 1979, which set no corporal punishment as a guideline for parents, without the power of prosecution. The law change and guideline has contributed to a considerable shift in public attitudes towards both smacking and child abuse in Sweden. Tolerance for physical punishment is very low in Sweden now.

There has been increased awareness of child abuse in Sweden and an increase in reporting of incidents following the introduction of the Code, but not an increase in prosecutions according to a large group Swedish experts working in the field of child welfare. Associate Professor Sven Bremberg says, in response to the cases raised by Ruby Harrold-Claesson in recent media coverage, that they do not appear "representative of Swedish legal practice."

Physical child abuse in Sweden is much lower than in New Zealand, and as Karin Lunden of the School of Education and Behavioural Sciences, Sweden says, in the instance of prosecution, "it is never a question of just smacking. It is really a question of severe child abuse." Further, Lunden states that "it is not correct to use child physical abuse cases in connection with corporal punishment legislation as these cases are handled under totally different legislation."

She also points out that Swedish Child Protection Services give a lot of support to parents in the home. Some misleading statements have been made suggesting that children 'in care' have been removed from their home, when they are more likely to be receiving assistance and support while they are still living at home. Lunden goes on to state that "the maltreatment has gone on for many years before children are taken into care [away from their families]."

"The removal of a defence for child abusers in section 59 of the Crimes Act is one step in a multifaceted campaign to protect children from serious abuse. Additionally, section 59's removal will give the public a positive signal that New Zealanders must work together to reduce and eliminate child abuse," John Bowis, Executive Director of Save the Children New Zealand said.

Claire Breen from Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa says that "New Zealand is obliged to promote and protect the rights of children who constitute some of our most vulnerable citizens. Just like adults, children in New Zealand have a human right to be protected from physical assault by anyone. The repeal of section 59 will result in nothing more than children and adults being afforded equal protection against assault under New Zealand criminal law. ACYA considers the repeal of section 59 to be one of a number of steps that must be taken to improve child protection in New Zealand."

Murray Edridge, Chief Executive of Barnardos points out that "because this country suffers from serious levels of child abuse, our NGOs believe the removal of Section 59 should coincide with the boosting of both the government and non-government sector's current work to provide parents with the support and information they need to avoid the use of corporal punishment. We support the use of alternative, non-physical means of punishment. We are not suggesting, and never have, that parents should be prosecuted for single instances of smacking."

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Eminent Swedish experts comment on misrepresentation of the effect of Swedish corporal punishment ban

Given the importance of the decision before the New Zealand Parliament on Section 59 of the Crimes Act, and given how prominent the Swedish situation has become in the debate, we believe that it is critical to provide accurate information about the Swedish situation. We are aware that a number of claims made in the media have raised fears about the consequences of law reform. These claims are unfounded and grossly misrepresent the Swedish situation. We wish to set the record straight.

First, the criminal defense equivalent to Section 59 was repealed in Sweden in 1957 – almost 50 years ago. Since that time, corporal punishment has been considered assault under the law. But just as trivial assaults against adults are not prosecuted, neither are trivial assaults against children prosecuted. In order to charge and prosecute a parent, such action would have to be in the child’s, the family’s and the public’s best interests. Certainly, prosecution in the case of a minor incident would not serve the interests of the child, the family or the society.

Second, the corporal punishment “ban” implemented in 1979 was a symbolic measure. It simply ensures that all Swedes know that children have the same protection that adults enjoy. It did not create a new crime of smacking. The ban is there simply to educate. Because it is so clear, it has been extremely helpful in educating parents about the harms of smacking, as well as motivating them to seek out parent support programs. But it has nothing to do with prosecution because it is not a criminal law. In fact, since the ban was implemented, the prosecution rate has not changed.

Third, law reform in Sweden has not resulted in a greater willingness of child welfare authorities to remove children from their homes. In fact, by far the most common child welfare measure is the provision of in-home support to families, including personal support and provision of contact families who provide assistance and respite to families under stress. Fewer than 4,000 children entering the system for the first time in 2004 were placed in out-of-home care and only about 200 of these were placed in immediate custody.

Fourth, making physical punishment unacceptable in Swedish society has led to greater public awareness of violence against children. It is more likely now that maltreatment of children will be identified and reported. Increased detection and reporting was one of our objectives, as it has been in many countries seeking to address violence against children. Unfortunately, the increase in reporting statistics has been misinterpreted by some as an indication of increased child abuse. In fact, there is no evidence to support the claim that actual child abuse has increased in Sweden. Rather, the reporting rate has increased because professionals are now required to report suspected maltreatment and because members of the public are less likely to look the other way.

Fifth, Swedish parents are not afraid of their children nor are they afraid to discipline them. Studies of Swedish parents have found them to be quite willing to control and set limits on their children’s behaviour. But Swedish parents rarely smack their children as discipline. They are much more likely to use positive methods of teaching their children – the kinds of methods that have been shown to encourage children’s compliance while building relationships and improving communication between parents and children.

Sixth, the aim of law reform in Sweden has always been to protect children, not to punish parents. The law operates in conjunction with parent education and support. The law sets a clear standard of non-hitting; parent education programs provide the support parents need to achieve that standard. Virtually all Swedish parents participate in parent support and education programs. As they do so, their parenting skills increase and the need for intervention into families declines. In fact, parents’ use of physical punishment has declined dramatically over recent decades and child abuse deaths are virtually unheard of.

Seventh, improvements in parenting skills have been reflected in improvements in children’s health and well-being. For example, today’s Swedish youth are extremely unlikely to use drugs on an ongoing basis and they have become less likely to become involved in criminal activity. While some have claimed that Swedish youth have become increasingly violent, this claim is based on misrepresentations of the statistics. In fact, Swedish youth are no more violent today than they were 20 years ago. What has changed is that bullying is more likely to be reported and it is recorded in the assault statistics.

In summary, law reform in Sweden has not led to greater government intrusion into family life. Rather, it has set a clear standard for which parents now strive and it has reinforced the value of positive parenting. In Sweden, law reform has been a vital and effective tool for public education and child abuse prevention. Our law has been essential to our ability to protect children while supporting families.

Sincerely,


Ǻke Edfeldt, Ph.D., Dr Ed.
Author of national study on violence against children in the home
Professor of Education
Stockholm University

Göran Juntengren, Ph.D.
Research Director, Research and Development Unit
Primary Health Care
Southern Älvsborg County

Karin Lundén Ph.D.
Social worker with 35 years of experience
Psychologist specializing in child abuse and neglect
Member of faculty expertise board of International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Göteborg University and University College of Borås

Mali Nilsson
Global Advocacy Advisor, Child Protection, Save the Children Sweden
Chair, International Save the Children Alliance Task Group on Physical and Humiliating Punishment

Kerstin, Palmérus, Ph.D.
Swedish parenting researcher
Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer
Department of Psychology
Göteborg University

Emma Sorbring, Ph.D.
Researcher on Swedish parents’ discipline methods
Lecturer in Developmental Psychology
Department of Social and Behavioural Studies
University West, Trollhättan

Håkan Stattin, Ph.D.
Researcher on parent-child relationships, socialization, antisocial behaviour
Director, Solna Project – a longitudinal study of development from childhood to adulthood begun in 1954
Professor of Psychology, Uppsala and Örebro Universities.

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A selection of comment from Swedish experts relating to the Section 59 debate

Dr Tapio Salonen
Professor Social Work,
School of Health Sciences and Social Work
Vaxjo University, Sweden

Email: Saturday 24 June 2006

“In my view Harrold-Claesson represents a quite extreme view on this matter which neither represents the official or the popular standpoint in this question in Sweden”


Dr Sune Sunesson
Professor Social Work,
Lunds University. Sweden

Email: Saturday 24 June 2006

“we have never heard of the so-called expert, Ms Claesson. The truth is that the ban against parental "smacking" is considered both good and effective”.


Stina Holmberg
Criminologist
Head of department at "Brottsförebyggande rådet", the Swedish National Board for Crime Prevention, Sweden

Email: Mon 26/06/2006 21:31

“Before your e-mail I had never heard of Ruby-Harrold-Claesson, even though I have been working somewhat in this field."


Dr Christian Diesen
Professor of Procedural Law
Dep. of Law, Stockholm University

Tue 27/06/2006 01:13

“Never heard of the Swedish expert…”

Tue 27/06/2006 21:33

‘Now I have checked Mrs Claesson up and remember her from a TV-debate here some years ago... She is not a member of the Swedish Bar Association and not qualified to appear as an appointed defence lawyer in criminal cases”.


Margareta Hydén
Professor in Social Work
Dept. of Child Studies
Linköping University, Sweden

Email: Tue 27/06/2006 03:16

“I have recieved your questions about the so called Swedish expert Ms Harrold-Claesson and I like to tell you the following:

Ms Harrold-Claesson holds a Swedish degree in law, but she is not a lawyer. She is the president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, a two years old organisation, aimed at helping parents with children unvolontarily placed in foster care. She has assisted two single mothers in cases against local autorities in the West of Sweden, where she has her private law practice. After that, she was excluded from practicing in courts in the West of Sweden.

Ms Harrold-Claesson was never heard of publicly until some weeks ago, when one of the major Swedish newspaper reported that she was to appear in the parliament on New Zeeland (!) in pro-spanking matters and rendered some kind of expert status.

It should be noted that Ms Harrold-Claesson’s group has no official status and that the comments of Ms H-C are not supported by any evidence, they are merely expressions of her personal opinions. It seems as if she runs some kind of “one person spanking lobby” in Sweden. She has declared that she herself spanked her children, and that she finds Swedish children badly behaved”


Rafael Lindqvist
Professor in Social Work
Umea University, Sweden

Email: Tue 4/07/2006 01:51

“Child abuse is not my special area of research, yet the statement by Ruby Harrold-Claesson, that policies have lead to many good Swedish parents facing criminal charges in court surprises me. In fact very few parents end up as cases in the courts and the sanctions are usually mild, i.e. the penalty would be a fine. I doubt that these parents belong to the category "good Swedish parents". I have never heard of her as an expert in this field so I take it that she is not very known in social science circles”.


Gunnel Ostlund
Department of Welfare and Care,
Faculty of Health Sciences, Linköping University
Linköping University

“Ms harrold-claesson seem to be misinformed from my opinion and most people here in sweden the law has been a success”.


Dr Joan Durrant
Head of the Department of Family Studies at the University of Manitoba

“While it is obvious that Ms. Harrold-Claesson cannot back up her statements, it is unfortunate that the public will only hear her rhetoric. Some astute listeners will have picked up on the vacuous nature of her arguments, but many will only have had their fears and doubts raised. This is so damaging to the prospect of intelligent debate and public education. I do hope that someone is able to effectively refute her claims and restore the debate to a level that is worthy of your public”.

Email: Tue 27/06/2006 00:23

"She is actually stating that children are taken into care because of a minor smack. This is completely contrary to the entire philosophy and implementation of the Social Services Act, which is preventive and centred on keeping families together if at all possible."

Email: Tue 27/06/2006 10:09

“I am indeed familiar with Ms. Harrold-Claesson and her views. She has been saying these things for many years with the support of Ms. Siv Westerberg, who is the only other member of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights that I have come across. To the best of my knowledge, this committee has no official status but exists only to inflame fears and create divisions where none need to exist.

There are several reasons why Ms. Harrold-Claesson's statements should not be taken seriously. First, she has conducted no research nor does she cite any research to support her claims. She states only her opinions, which are quite extreme. For example, she has stated that "the repressive authorities no longer seek to fight crime in the society - the family is the main prey." This statement, which is characteristic of Ms. Harrold-Claesson's writing, is simply inflammatory. It has no basis in fact and is patently absurd. Similarly, she has stated that "during the years that have followed the anti-smacking law, hundreds, maybe thousands, of parents have been prosecuted, fined and sentenced to prison for smacking their unruly children. The children have in most cases been removed from their "abusive" parents and put into foster homes. This has caused the total break-up of those families. The police and prosecutors have gone out after parents who discipline their children instead of attending to other crimes in the society." Ms. Harrold-Claesson provides no evidence for her wildly distorted claims. She simply makes them regardless of their veracity.

Second, most of what she claims to be true is actually false. For example, she has stated that, "many Swedish parents are therefore afraid of their children and dare not correct them for fear of being reported to the police, indicted and fined or sent to prison." In fact, studies of Swedish parents show quite the opposite to be true. Not only are they quite willing to admit when they have smacked a child (albeit with deep regret), they also tend to be exemplary of the "authoritative" (warmth and structure) parenting style that has been recommended by parenting researchers on the basis of decades of research findings. If you wish, I can send you references. Ms. Harrold-Claesson makes other claims about the rate of child abuse increasing 489%, Swedish youth becoming unruly, and thousands of prosecutions of parents for smacking their children, all of which are contradicted by the evidence.

Third, she confounds the Parents' Code, the Penal Code, the Social Services Act and the Care of Young Persons Act. For example, she writes about parents who are "victimised under the 1979 law" and "social authorities and courts who enforce the law concerning the child's right not to be subjected to physical punishment." In fact, the 1979 ban (which came 22 years after repeal of the criminal defence) is not "enforceable." It is in the Parents' Code, which carries no penalties. Its purpose was solely to educate and raise awareness. It was specifically designed in this way so that it could not lead to punishment of parents”.


Stina Johansson
Professor in Social Work
Umea University, Sweden

Email: Tue 4/07/2006 02:25

“The only thing I can say is that this "expert" expresses attitudes towards "human rights" which is not representative for Swedes in general. I went to her website and I was really shocked. Please let me take another look at this and come back to you”.

Email: Thu 6/07/2006 20:42

“I have started some research on Ruby Harrold-Claesson, a person which nobody seems to know anything about. I have asked persons at my Department (Social Work), I have asked medical doctors and also other persons working in the field. I can say this person is not known except within a very small circle”.


Dr Gunvor Andersson
Socialhögskolan
Lunds University, Sweden

Gunvor Andersson, Ph.D. in psychology and senior lecturer in social work, works at Lund University in Sweden, School of Social Work, where her research work is financed by the Swedish Council for Social Research. Her doctoral dissertation was about small children in a children's home (1984). She has also published a follow-up study of children who have been separated from their parents (1988) and a book about social workers' child welfare work, Social Work with Small Children (1991).

Email: Fri 30/06/2006 08:40

“I have never heard about Ruby Harrold-Claesson. The anti-smacking law is not controversial in Sweden and have led to changed attitudes among people in general in the direction that smacking is not seen as a method for upbringing. It is not true that the removal of smacking rights has lead to many good Swedish parents facing criminal charges in court. Parents are not prosecuted for smacking - and there is some criticism that it is a law without sanctions - but parents can be prosecuted for assault and battery”

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Letter from Karin Lunden re Swedish experience
School of Education and Behavioural Sciences
Sweden

Friday 21 July 2006

As in most countries there are very few studies about child maltreatment prevalence. We have recently done one. Our results shows that physical abuse is very, very rare. These rare cases are more likely to be reported to Child Protection Services than other forms of child abuse and neglect. I can assure you that it never is a question of just smacking. It is really a question of severe child abuse.

Most of the help to families where CPS are involved are given the families in their home. The maltreatment has gone on for many years before children are taken into care. A majority of the maltreated children are not taken into care. The official statistics of children taken into care concerns children 0 - 20 years. Most of them are youngsters. The reasons for taken into care for older children are ”their own behaviour” such as delinquency, drug abuse, prostitution etc. You can be (and very often) are)taken into care and placed in your own home.

In my research (children 0 - 6 years) only every fourth maltreated child (24%) were reported to the CPS despite a mandatory reporting legislation. Just half of these children (58%) were investigated by the CPS. Half the very few children (0.06%) where signs of physical abuse had been observed were reported according to the mandatory reporting legislation. Not all of these children were investigated though. Again we are not talking about smacking your child.

Our newspapers, of course, wrights about those very rare fatal cases of child physical abuse. Unfortunately we have hade some this year. Some very sad cases. This has happened at other occasions over the years. Still the average amount of severe child physical abuse is rare. Of course these cases create headlines in our newspapers. In the last days I have read in the newspapers that child physical abuse have increased because more cases are reported to the courts. It is a conclusion that have no support in research. Except for our research there have been two other prevalence studies in Sweden and one in Denmark. None of us can say that physical abuse cases have increased. The reported research findings written about in the newspapers just says that more cases are taken into court Professionals and society are more aware of these things nowadays. The corporal punishment law has been of great help in this. It is true that the ban have not decreased the likelyhood of physical abuse, but there are much more complicated factors contributing to that. The common awareness of childrens development and the reponsibility of our society to help is a result from our long experience of corporal punishment ban. Attitudes and believes har important and from my practical experiences I would say that corporal punishment ban has been very important in this respect.

I am very surprised that professionals uses such severe cases to underpin their viewpoint. In fact I think it is unethical to use cases as is done in the debate. As I have said before we are dealing with two different legislations here. I am also surprised that a person who claimes to know swedish cicumstances does not read through the research that has been done here. When you talk about the corporal punishment legislation you just can not use examples from very severe child physical abuse.

It is holiday season here in Sweden just now. and am for the moment in my summerhouse on an island in the Baltic Sea. Therefore there are some difficulties with the internet. I have not my usual access to the accurate figures which you referred to and comment on. May be Mali Nilsson or some of the others are still in their offices and can help you more correctly in this.

Conclusively can be said that child physical abuse is very rare in Sweden. Most of the children taken into care are older children. When children caIt is not correct to use child physical abuse cases in connection with corporal punishment legislation as these cases are handled within a totally different legislation. Unfortunatley there have been some very severe cases this year which has been written about in the papers. These incidences are still very rare. The corporal punishment legislation has contributed to a common view of the society – it is not a healthy thing to use corporal punishment in your upbringing of a child.

Kind regards
Karin


PS. I am not sure but I have a suspicion that the number of children in care in reality is a number of placement. I.e. one child can be counted several times. It is very common, you see, that a child is taken into care several times during childhood. CPS has the idea that it is best for the children to stay in the family with support. Very often nowadays when it is necessary to be removed from home the children are placed within the extended family.


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