Has Trump been sucked in to Syrian attack?

Who was responsible for the attack in Syria using chemical weapons? And why were chemical weapons introduced?

The President Trump and the United States have blamed the Syrian government, and launched a missile attack on a Syrian airfield and have warned the US is “prepared to do more.”

The Telegraph: US strikes on Syria: Nikki Haley tells UN: ‘We are prepared to do more. But we hope that will not be necessary’

US missile strikes on a Syrian air base have reportedly killed nine civilians – including four children – as Donald Trump launched the first direct American attack on Bashar Assad’s regime.

Four children are reported to be among nine civilians killed in the “targeted assault” on the air base, from where Mr Trump said a devastating nerve agent strike was launched earlier this week. Six servicemen are believed to have also been killed.

Mr Trump was reacting to the attack on Tuesday that killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, which he said was launched by Syrian president Assad.

Why would Assad use a nerve gas, knowing that it would be internationally condemned, and would risk an unpredictable reaction from President Trump. It was certain to complicate an already very messy multi-country situation in Syria.

Trump ordered a missile strike, and it seems to have provoked the Russians

Russia called the attack an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman saying he believed the US had carried out the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext”.

Vladimir Safronkov, the deputy Russian ambassador to the UN, accused Britain of “colonial hypocrisy” in supporting the US air strikes, and said the rational was based on “lies”.

He warned Britain: “don’t get into fights in the Arab world”, and accused the US of “facilitating terrorism”.

Russia has diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s missile defences against more US strikes, risking a confrontation between the former Cold World foes.

The Kremlin also announced it was immediately suspending its air safety agreement with the US in response to missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

The memorandum, signed in October 2015, is designed to avoid clashes in the crowded airspace over Syria, with each side giving the other warning over planned strikes.

So that raises risks of escalation.

Mr Assad’s office denounced US strikes as a “rash”  action, describing the attack as “reckless, irresponsible behaviour” and that Washington was “naively dragged in by a false propaganda campaign”.

Has Trump been sucked in to the Syrian attack? If so by whom?

There are three certainties in war, death, destruction and propaganda. And a fourth – mistakes.

There are reports emerging suggestion at least some Russian responsibility for the chemical attack, and possibly complicity.

NY Post: Pentagon probes whether Russia had part in Syrian gas attack

Senior US military officials say the Pentagon is looking into whether Russia participated in the Syrian chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town, according to the Associated Press.

A drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened, the officials told The AP.

The unmanned aerial vehicle returned later in the day as people sought treatment at a local hospital, which was bombed a short time later.

The officials say they believe the hospital strike may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the chemical weapons attack.

A Syrian Air Force Su-22 warplane was monitored dropping a chemical weapons bomb that landed in Khan Sheikhun, where 86 people were killed, including 28 children, The Washington Examiner reported.

Two officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon Friday said the US had no evidence of Russian complicity, but that any leads would be followed up.

“Any implication or lead that would indicate Russian involvement, we’ll investigate that lead,” one official said, the paper reported.

The officials said Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

Russia may or may not have been directly involved, but the fact that it is being reported that the Pentagon is investigating will increase tensions between the US and Russia even more.

Whoever used the gas in an attack in Syria will have known there was likely to be serious consequences and most likely an escalation of an already very messy and high tension situation.

International brinkmanship and war often has unintended consequences, and high-ego leaders often start down paths that they won’t reconsider, at least not until serious damage has been done.

A few Syrian kids getting gassed may be a relatively minor consequence of this escalation.

During last year’s presidential campaign Donald Trump was asked if he could “look children aged five, eight, ten, in the face and tell them they can’t go to school here”.

He responded: “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come’. I’ll look them in the face.”

He looked into dead children’s faces a few days ago and used that horror as a reason to actively involve the US in the Syrian war.

He won’t get to look most of the children that die as a result of this. Neither will Assad. Nor Putin.

It seems certain that someone, whether it was Assad or Putin or one of their opponents, used the gas attack to deliberately provoke Trump, and it got a result. But that was just one short battle in what has already been a lengthy war. And it could get worse. Possibly a lot worse.

It was fairly obvious that Trump would be easily provoked. He has already proven to be an unpredictable reactionary irrational egomaniac.

Does it matter now who sucked trump into Syria? The fact is it has happened. Now the Middle east and possibly the world has to live with the consequences.

But not everyone – how many children won’t get to live to see how bad it gets?

Failure to have state care abuse inquiry: “sticks like a knife in my guts”

The Prime Minister and Government ministers keep refusing to have an inquiry into historical cases of abuse of children while in State care (there are claims that abuses are still occurring).

Paora Crawford Moyle (at E-Tangata) describes what state care was like for her, and how “it sticks like a knife in my guts” whenever she hears a refusal to have an inquiry.

Every time Anne Tolley and Bill English talk about the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, or oppose an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care, it sticks like a knife in my guts.

I am Ngāti Porou through my mother, and I’m Weira — Welsh — through my father. After spending 14 years in state care, and 25 years in social work, I consider myself an expert on what it is truly like for a child with Māori whakapapa to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them.

I was five when I was taken into state care, and 18 when I was finally able to escape it. My mother, miserable and unwell, had left us, for her own survival as well as ours, to escape my father’s violence. She was deemed to have “abandoned her children”, and so my father was awarded legal custody of us.

He then applied to Social Welfare to have us temporarily placed in its care. On my fifth birthday, he took me and my two brothers (my older sister was placed with other caregivers) to a children’s home, and left, promising to be back for us soon. I waited every day for weeks and months after that, but it would be many years before I saw him again.

Over the years, other children came and went, but my siblings and I stayed in those homes. To everyone who came to visit and view the “underprivileged” children, we looked well adjusted and cared for.

But our experience contradicted appearances and we suffered things children are not supposed to: psychological, sexual, and other physical abuse over many years. It still makes me sick to say that.

She goes on to describe how Maori children were subjected to institutionalised racism.

We are survivors, although none of us came through that experience unscathed. Even after I left state care, the trauma followed me. For many years, I tried to fill the emptiness with drugs and alcohol, and toxic relationships.

But, as my brother Tipene said to me: “Our stories have to be told. How would people know what it’s like for a child to go through state-imposed trauma unless we all tell our story?”

There are still thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. And too many of them are Māori. According to the Children’s Commissioner, Māori make up 61 percent of all kids in state care and 71 percent of the total in youth justice residences.

If that isn’t institutional racism, what is?

There may be institutional racism, but there also seems to be a disproportional problem in Maori families – probably a minority of families but far too prevalent.

Problems continue:

Anne Tolley has ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead her ministry consults and engages with and privileges organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation.

The refusal of Government to have an inquiry obviously hurts.

Bill English, interviewed on The Hui, denied again the need for an inquiry into the state’s epic abuse of children in care. What this says to survivors is: “It didn’t happen.” Or “You weren’t beaten or raped that badly”.

It sticks like a knife in our collective guts. And while it’s fantastic that Susan Devoy and others are calling for the inquiry, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Māori have been calling out state abuse of our mokopuna for decades. For example, in the landmark Puao-te-Ata-tu report in 1988.

Bill English and Anne Tolley keep referring to April 1 when the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will kick in and miraculously make children safe. That’s like saying cigarettes are safe because Big Tobacco says it is.

Āe, we absolutely need an inquiry to know the scale of the state’s historical abuse on children. Without it, the cogs in the machine keep churning, trucking and trafficking.

English has changed his mind on a number of issues – like Super, like charging for water. Perhaps he will think again about how to deal with this.

 

Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents

The recent news and discussions on the behaviour of teenagers in relation to sex reminded BJ Marsh of a moral panic in 1954 that resulted in ‘the Mazengarb Report’ on ‘Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents’ that was posted to every household in the country.

NZ History: Mazengarb report released:

The Mazengarb inquiry into ‘juvenile delinquency’ blamed the perceived promiscuity of the nation’s youth on working mothers, easy availability of contraceptives, and young women enticing men into having sex.

In July 1954 the government appointed lawyer Dr Oswald Mazengarb to chair a Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents. They established the committee after a teenage sex scandal in Lower Hutt and other high-profile incidents such as a milk-bar murder in Auckland and the Parker–Hulme killing (see 22 June).

The report, sent to every New Zealand home, blamed lack of parental supervision for juvenile delinquency and advocated a return to Christianity and traditional values. Excessive wages for teenagers, a decline in family life, and the influence of film, comics, and American literature all apparently contributed to the problem. The report provided a basis for new legislation that introduced stricter censorship and restrictions on contraceptive advice to young people.

Despite the public outrage it caused, the Mazengarb report and other government papers and inquiries that followed in the 1960s and 1980s had no observable impact on young people’s behaviour.

This is before my time and I haven’t heard of it before. It is a fascinating window into New Zealand society a bit over sixty years ago.

MazengarbReportheader

‘Preliminary Observations’ from the report:


1) Sensational Press Reports

In the second week of July 1954 various newspapers throughout the Dominion featured reports of proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court at Lower Hutt against youths charged with indecent assault upon, or carnal knowledge of, girls under 16 years of age.

The prosecuting officer was reported as saying that:

The police investigations revealed a shocking degree of immoral conduct which spread into sexual orgies perpetrated in several private homes during the absence of parents, and in several second rate Hutt Valley theatres, where familiarity between youths and girls was rife and commonplace.

He also stated that:

… in many cases the children came from excellent homes.
A few weeks previously reports had appeared in the press of statements made by a Child Welfare Officer and a Stipendiary Magistrate that juvenile delinquency (meaning delinquency in general and not only sexual delinquency) had more than doubled in recent years, and that in many cases the offenders came from:

… materially good homes where they are well provided for.

Such statements naturally provoked a good deal of private and public comment throughout the Dominion. The anxiety of parents deepened, and one leading newspaper asserted editorially that:

It is probably quite safe to assert that nothing that has occurred in the Dominion for a long time has caused so much public dismay and so much private worry as the disclosure of moral delinquency among children and adolescents.

There is room for difference of opinion as to whether or not the ensuing public discussion of sexual offending was desirable. On the one hand it provoked many conversations on the subject between children themselves and a noticeable desire to purchase newspapers on the way to and from school. On the other hand the focusing of attention on the existence of the peril to school children caused many parents, temporarily at any rate, to take a greater interest in the training and care of their children than they might otherwise have taken; it caused some heads of schools to arrange for sex instruction; and it also resulted in a public demand that something should be done to bring about a better state of morality in the community.

Following hard upon the newspaper reports of these cases in the Hutt Valley there was the news that two girls, each aged about 16 years had been arrested in Christchurch on a charge of murdering the mother of one of them. It soon became widely known (and this fact was established at their subsequent trial) that these girls were abnormally homosexual in behaviour.


XVII. Summary of Conclusions

1. Sexual immorality among juveniles has become a world-wide problem of increasing importance, but the great majority of the young people of this Dominion are healthy-minded and well-behaved.

2. As sexual immorality is generally clandestine, is often not criminal, and even when criminal may not be detected, there are not any statistics from which it can be shown whether, or to what extent, it has increased.

3. During recent years the pattern of sexual misbehaviour has changed: it has spread to younger groups; girls have become more precocious; immorality has been organized; the mental attitude of some boys and girls towards misconduct has altered; and there is evidence that homosexuality may be increasing.

4. The new pattern of juvenile immorality is uncertain in origin, insidious in growth, and has developed over a wide field.

5. Objectionable publications ought to be banned by establishing a system for the registration of distributors of certain printed matter. Urgent action is necessary so that publications now banned in other countries will not be dumped into this Dominion.

6. The absence of regulations necessary to make the Film Censor’s recommendations effective deprives parents of the protection which the Legislature intended for them.

7. The possibility that children may hear radio programmes unsuitable for them calls for firmness and discretion on the part of parents and more care by the Broadcasting Service in arranging and timing programmes. Serials and recordings giving undue emphasis to crime or sex are not desirable, nor is the frequent repetition of recordings that are capable of misinterpretation, particularly in times like the present.

8. Advertisers should realize that the increasing emphasis on sex attraction is objectionable to some and, possibly, harmful to others.

9. Although television may not be introduced into New Zealand for some time, plans to cope with its effects on children should be made well in advance of its introduction.

10. There should be a closer bond between school and home. The system of visiting teachers should be expanded and as much liaison as possible established between them and public health nurses.

11. The evidence that the propinquity of boys and girls at co-educational schools contributed to sexual delinquency was not convincing.

12. The value of insisting upon all children remaining at school till they are 15 years of age should be further investigated. When the underlying cause for an application for exemption is misconduct, the exemption should only be granted subject to supervision by a Child Welfare Officer.

13. Whenever a pupil under the care or supervision of the Child Welfare Division is enrolled at a school the principal should be informed of any matters pertaining to the pupil which are within the knowledge of that Division. He should also be consulted as to any recommendation which it is proposed to make to the Court in respect of any of his pupils.

14. The school is not the proper place for fully instructing children about sex, although it may be a convenient place in which mothers and daughters together, fathers and sons together, or parents together, may listen to addresses or see appropriate films. This would help to break down some of the barriers of self-consciousness.

15. In the new housing settlements the younger age groups predominate. They are without the stabilizing influence of older people and established institutions.

16. The work of all organizations which aim at building character is warmly commended as they help to prevent children from becoming delinquent; but facilities for recreation and entertainment will not cure juvenile delinquency.

17. Liquor and gambling are symptomatic of some homes where there is child neglect. The Committee deprecates the growing practice of parents conniving at the consumption of liquor at young people’s parties.

18. Tension in the household, separation of the parents, lack of training for parenthood, the absence of a parental sense of responsibility or poor discipline all help to create an unsatisfactory home environment; the child of such a home often feels unwanted or unloved. This unsatisfactory environment or feeling of being unloved is productive of much delinquency.

19. Nearly one-third of the delinquent children whose cases were considered came from homes where the mothers, possibly out of necessity, went out to work. Fathers themselves are also to blame when they neglect the opportunities available in the evenings or at the weekends to interest themselves in the welfare of their children.

20. The high wages paid to adolescents on leaving school are an important contributing factor especially when those youths have not been trained in the virtues of thrift and self-reliance.

21. In many of the cases investigated by the police the children have either been ignorant of the functions of sex or have too advanced a knowledge of its physical aspects. When, how, and by whom the information should be given is very important.

22. The present state of morals in the community has indicated the value of a religious faith, and of family religion. Encouragement should be given to the work of the New Zealand Council of Christian Education.

23. There has been a decline in certain aspects of family life because of a failure to appreciate the worth of religious and moral sanctions.

24. During the past forty years new concepts have entered into society. These concepts resulted from the unsettlement following two world wars. The changes were the increased use of contraceptives, the broadening of the divorce laws, an increase in pre-marital sexual relations, and the spread of new psychological ideas.

25. The Committee is unanimously of the opinion that adolescents should not buy or be in possession of contraceptives. There is, however, some difference of opinion as to how this decision could be made effective.

26. The state of the law regarding indecent conduct on the part of boys and girls operates very unfairly. Boys who admit this offence are charged in the Children’s Court under sections of the Crimes Act for breach of which they are liable to terms of imprisonment of five to seven years. Their names and particulars of the offence are recorded in the Police Gazette. The girls (some of whom may have incited the boys to offend) cannot be charged; if they are brought before the Court at all, it is only when their parents are summoned for having delinquent children and their names are not gazetted.

27. The Child Welfare Act should be broadened to provide for the doing of preventive work. At present it provides only for the correction of children who have committed offences or who are delinquents. There are also grave weaknesses in this statute and in the whole procedure for dealing with offending and delinquent children.
XVIII. Recommendations

(1) Proposals for Legislation

(a) The definition of “obscene” and “indecent” in the statute law relating to printed and published matter should be enlarged so as to cover all productions which are harmful in that they place undue emphasis on sex, crime, or horror.

(b) All distributors of books, magazines, and periodical (other than newspapers and educational or scientific publications) should be required to register their names and the names of their various publications. If they offend against the proposed law regarding objectionable publications, their licences to produce or distribute should be cancelled.

(c) A new offence should be created whereunder boys and girls who are guilty of indecent conduct with one another should both be liable to be charged as delinquents in the Children’s Court and the practice of recording the names of boys in the Police Gazette as having been summarily dealt with should cease.

(d) In all cases where children are summoned to Court their parents (if available) should be required to attend with them.

(e) The Court should have the power to require the parent or guardian of an offending or delinquent child to pay the fine or costs and to give security for the future good behaviour of the child unless the Court is satisfied that the conduct of the parent or guardian has not conduced to the child’s wrong doing.

(f) The Court should also be given power to direct that the children’s benefit or family benefit payable to any parent or guardian by the Social Security Commission be suspended until he gives the security required by the Court or for such further or other period as the Court may order. The material interests of the child should be preserved by enabling the Court to suspend the operation of the order, or to cancel it upon being satisfied that the parent or guardian has given the required security to exercise due care and control.

(g) Effect should be given to the recommendations regarding enrolment or expulsion of children as set out in Section XVI (5) (d) and (e) of this report.

(h) The Child Welfare Act should be completely recast in such a way as to remove the weaknesses indicated in this report and to suit modern needs. “Child welfare” should be given an autonomous status under the Minister of Social Welfare.

(2) Proposals for Administrative Action

The following outlines of administrative action are not dependent upon the amending of any Acts of Parliament such as were recommended above:

(a) Police Department

The training and duties of policewomen should be considered with a view to deciding the best method of dealing with girls involved in sexual offences.

(b) Department of Internal Affairs (Films)

To facilitate the practical working of film censorship steps should be taken to gazette the outstanding regulations empowered under the relevant Acts of 1934 and 1953.

(c) Broadcasting Service

It is suggested:

(i) That the service ensure that the concept “Crime must never pay” is more prominently featured in crime serials.

(ii) That a married woman be immediately appointed to the auditioning panel.
(d) Censoring Authorities

Any Departments concerned with censorship should maintain a liaison to produce as far as possible a uniform interpretation of public opinion and taste.

(e) Department of Education

(i) The Department of Education should discuss with the Department of Health the respective duties of public health nurses and visiting teachers to prevent overlapping and to ensure the best possible employment of these officers.

(ii) Following upon the conference outlined in the previous paragraph the appointment of additional visiting teachers should be accorded priority.

(iii) The Department should consider what type of officer is best suited to help with problem pupils in post-primary schools.

(iv) The Department should request that residences be set aside for some teachers in housing settlements.

(v) In areas where there is a lack of facilities for recreation and entertainment the Department should consider the possibility of making school grounds and buildings available to responsible organizations.

(f) Research into Juvenile Delinquency

A long-term project for the investigation of juvenile delinquency in all aspects should be undertaken.

(3) Parental Example

New laws, new regulations, and the prospect of stricter administration may help to allay the well-founded fears of many parents for the future of their children. It would, however, be a pity if parents were thereby led into any relaxation of their own efforts. Wise parenthood implies firm control and continual interest in the doings of sons and daughters. But what is most needed is that all people should, by right living and by the regularity of their own conduct, afford the best example for the conduct of the rising generation.

Food marketing criticism tainted by political slogans

Food marketing which promotes junk food to children is a real problem, but raising the issue with ‘neoliberal’ labels taints the message of Darren Powell, a lecturer in health education at the University of Auckland.

NZ Herald: Needs of children, not Big Food, must win out

It looks as though our Advertising Standards Authority will, once again, fail to adopt a strict code of food advertising to children and young people. This is hardly surprising.

In neoliberal societies such as our own, the wants of the private sector frequently take priority over the needs of citizens, including children. This is especially true for the “Big Food” industry which includes the multinational food and drink producers with massive marketing power.

The marketing of multinationals, especially when it involves the promotion of unhealthy eating, should be addressed, but including vague political slogans doesn’t help Powell’s case. Labelling it a neoliberal problem may please a few political activists but it will turn off ordinary people, and also those with the power to do something about the problem.

The ‘Big Food’ label doesn’t help either, that smacks of us against them.

A raft of public health experts, journalists, researchers and the public blame Big Food products, lobbying and marketing practices for the childhood obesity “crisis”.

Claiming the support of ‘the public’ is a common and lame political practice. Without any substantiation it is poor coming from an academic.

Powell does make some important points.

Although on the surface it looks as if corporations are promoting healthy lifestyles and health products, at the same time they are stealthily creating and profiting from a new market – advertising “health” to children.

An example of how devious and successful fast food companies can be is the association of Ronald MacDonald with child health in Auckland (and nationally).

This is where the narrow focus on “junk” food advertising restrictions is naive, even dangerous: all advertising to children is potentially “unhealthy”.

But it’s totally unrealistic to protect all children for advertising – and futile when it is parents that make diet decisions for their children.

Children are being conditioned to believe attaining good health is as simple as listening to advertising and consuming the right products. This deflects attention from complex and powerful determinants of health, such as genetics, poverty, colonisation and inequality.

Should children be educated on complex determinants of health such as genetics, poverty, colonisation and inequality? Should they have Politics 101 at pre-school?

Through marketing, children’s understanding of health is being altered. It is moving away from traditional and cultural perspectives of well-being and towards a corporate-friendly version of health that emphasises individual consumption.

My traditional and cultural diet, relatively uninfluenced by advertising, was later slammed as unhealthy – too much meat, supposedly bad fats, sugar loaded baking, and even our vegetables were

Rather than being shaped by culture, biological needs or family income, children’s choices are increasingly being guided by mascots, cartoon characters, product placement, free toys, free educational resources, sponsorship, philanthropy, and the promise of a fit, non-fat, socially acceptable body.

Those are important and serious issues.

This must stop – our policymakers must introduce controls that prevent children being advertising targets. And it can be done. Brazil, for example, has made it illegal to market any products to children on the basis that it is equivalent to child abuse.

Unless all food advertising was banned – and this should include useless health supplements, diet fads, exercise fads, and products that cause more problems than they are purported to solve like disinfectants – then it’s an uphill and probably futile battle.

We must challenge the assumption that marketing healthy lifestyles and healthy choices is inherently “healthy” and examine how marketing tactics may actually shape children’s thoughts and actions in unhealthy ways.

Yes, but that should be done with research and fact based information.

Further, we must find better ways to make advertising – of both “healthy” and “unhealthy” products – abnormal and help children to become critical consumers, aware of marketing strategies and stealthy tactics such as sponsorship, product placement and “educational”, “health-promoting” programmes.

No suggestions at all of how that could be done. Ban all advertising? Ban all sponsorship? Implement state enforced diets and state controlled media?

Food (and other) marketing is a real issue, but politically tainted rants will more likely detract from rather than contribute to effective solutions.

Food (and other marketing) and sponsorship is a complex issue that creates difficult to resolve problems.

Powell has raised issues, tainted them with political slogans, and has failed to offer realistic alternatives. He means well but seems to be sheltered by an idealistic academic bubble.

Child poverty and parental responsibility

Judith Collins has revved up the child poverty debate, blaming it on, amongst other things, a lack of parental responsibility.

Not surprisingly this has stirred up a lot of debate.

RNZ: ‘I see… a poverty of parental responsibility’

Ms Collins was challenged at the Police Association’s annual conference in Wellington today by a delegate, who said poverty was making law enforcement harder.

The delegate said his officers had been very busy with gangs, which he said were often filled with people who had experienced poverty as children.

Ms Collins responded by saying the government was doing a lot more for child poverty in New Zealand than the UN had ever done.

In New Zealand, there was money available to everyone who needed it, she said.

“It’s not that, it’s people who don’t look after their children, that’s the problem.

“And they can’t look after their children in many cases because they don’t know how to look after their children or even think they should look after their children.”

Monetary poverty was not the only problem, she said.

“I see a poverty of ideas, a poverty of parental responsibility, a poverty of love, a poverty of caring.”

As the MP for Papakura, she saw a lot of those problems in south Auckland, she said.

“And I can tell you it is not just a lack of money, it is primarily a lack of responsibility.

“I know that is not PC, but, you know, that’s me.”

Collins is correct, to an extent, but it is much more complex than her provocative statements acknowledge.

There is not enough money available for many people and many families to have a comfortable lifestyle. Making ends meet is a constant and extremely challenging battle  for many.

Poverty of parental responsibility, poverty of love, poverty of caring are all issues adversely affecting many children. But so are mental health issues, drug abuse, health problems. And so are lack of regular reasonably paying job opportunities.

And especially in some areas housing costs and the availability of adequate housing.

I don’t know if Collins also spoke about these things.

But what has been reported has stirred up a storm of condemnation.

But overstating some aspects of a wide ranging problem are hardly any worse than overstating the degree of poverty and the number affected badly. It’s no worse than saying the Government doesn’t care about kids or poor people.

Collins provoked, possible off the cuff, possibly deliberately, and will probably cause a few Government headaches trying to deal with the fallout.

But what she said is no narrower and unfair than many of her and the Government’s critics.

There are serious issues that need to be dealt with better. But long lasting solutions won’t be easy, they won’t be quick and they are unlikely to be cheap.

When smacking becomes slapping, punching, kicking

Consternation over the so called anti-smacking laws seems to have largely faded away as the sky remained unfallen.

The law change, flawed as it was, was intended to protect children more from when smacking goes bad.

This case seems to show the law working as intended, where a mother admitted a representative charge of assaulting her child.

ODT: Woman admits assaulting daughter

A woman was sentenced to six months’ supervision by Judge Bernadette Farnan in the Queenstown District Court on Friday, after she admitted assaulting her child over a period of four years.

The woman, who was granted final name suppression, initially denied four charges against her, of assaulting the girl, now aged 11, by slapping, punching and kicking her about the body between April 21, 2011 and April 30, 2012; and between December 1 and December 25, 2015; punching and kicking her about the body between January 1, 2014 and November 30, 2015; and assaulting the child with intent to injure her by slapping and punching her in the head on several occasions.

Perhaps this mother simply ignored the law and ignored a general social abhorrence of inflicting violence on children.

But when smacking is promoted as being ok it can send signals to some that it is a normal way of disciplining and punishing a child.

And one person’s smack can easily become another person’s slap, and if physical assault on a child becomes a normal behaviour it doesn’t take much for that to slip further towards punching and kicking, especially in stressful situations.

The simplest safest approach is to not smack or hit children at all so there is less chance of escalation.

This doesn’t mean a total hands off approach is necessary, but if there is any chance of hurting then it should be avoided.

A stunning statistic

Yesterday Alan posted this comment, it’s worth exploring some more:

Rodney Hide cites a pretty stunning statistic in his NBR column this weekend. In 1961 95% of children were born to married parents. Now it is 53%. For Maori children it is 22%.

This perhaps is stunning but it’s no surprise to me at all. Attitudes to having babies and to marriage have changed enormously in my lifetime.

In the sixties and still into the seventies it was normal for girls and boys to marry young, often still as teenagers. This was in part because it was the done thing, and in part seen as a necessity when girls became pregnant.

Having children soon after getting married was very common – within 9 months give or take a few months.

Having children ‘out of wedlock’ was widely frowned on. It was commonly seen as a disgrace.

I know of two girls 2-3 years older than me who had children while I was at school. One was in the open, she had to stay away from school but was allowed to sit school certificate (I sat some of the same exams as her). In both cases their parents raised the babies.

I later learned it was common for girls to disappear ‘up north’ for a while. I know of one from Invercargill who went to Auckland for six months, but who returned with her baby refusing to adopt it out, as was common then. Her parents were quite upset about the family disgrace.

In Dunedin there was a ‘wayward girl’ hospital, where they went (usually sent by parents) to hide their pregnancies and had their babies.

Adoption was common and was often done under pressure, sometimes extreme pressure.

But things changed dramatically in the seventies and eighties. It was a combination of a major attitude change plus the introduction of financial support for single parents.

And now we have only about a half of children born to married parents. And often first children are born before parents get married. It simply doesn’t matter to most people now whether a couple is legally married or not.

There’s pros and cons with this change.

Largely gone now is the shaming of girls and women who get pregnant (usually with the help of a male).

Virtually forced removal of new born babies from mothers is now seen as abhorrent.

Most children are now raised by at least one of their natural parents, which in general is a positive thing.

But there are major downsides, including the lack of commitment in many relationships, the poverty trap that many young parents find themselves in, and families with multiple fathers – this can work out ok but it can also end in disaster due to parental conflict and a lack of care for other people’s children.

Regardless, there is no going back. For most people being a parent and getting married are seen as two separate issues, two unconnected decisions.

The child in wedlock tradition is history, or at least simply one option.

Risk factors for children

Minister of Finance Bill English has announced the release of data on major risk factors for babies through to young adults (ages 0-24).

Final data-set enhances at-risk youth profile

Further data on the risk factors that indicate children are likely to lead difficult lives has been released today, giving social service providers valuable insights into the issues these vulnerable children face, Finance Minister Bill English says.

Since 2013, Statistics New Zealand has collected data from government agencies including the Ministries of Social Development, Health and Education, as well as Child Youth and Family, Corrections, Police and Housing to create the world-leading Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI).

Mr English says today’s publication extends the analysis to include 0-14 year olds, giving a broader picture.

“Like the two earlier reports, the analysis of the risk factors affecting 0-14 year olds has produced information that will help government agencies, NGO’s, Iwi, Pacifika, and the wider social sector understand the needs of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.”

The analysis has identified four indicators that could lead to poor outcomes later in the lives of this group of children.

  • a CYF finding of abuse or neglect
  • being supported by benefits for most of their lifetime
  • having a parent who has received a corrective sentence
  • having a mother with no formal qualifications

If children have two or more of those indicators they are at much greater risk of having poor outcomes.

Being supported by benefits for most of their lifetime and having no formal qualifications won’t be solved by just giving them more money. Probably the same for most who abuse or have corrective sentence.

Compared to 0-14 year olds with fewer than two of the four indicators, those with two or more indicators are:

  • three times more likely to leave school with no qualifications
  • three times more likely to receive benefits for more than five years between ages 25 and 34
  • three times more likely to receive a prison or community sentence between ages 25 and 34
  • six times more likely to be referred to Youth Justice services
  • four times more likely to be on a sole parent benefit by age 21

Which means the cycle of risk factors is inter-generational, not surprisingly.

Mr English says this means as they grow older, more than a fifth of children who have two or more of these indicators will be on a benefit for five or more years or serve a prison or community sentence.

“Those are grim outcomes by any standards. This information – which is being made widely available – will enable the social sector to create solutions and interventions to better help vulnerable people make positive changes to their lives.”

Alongside the 0-14 year old data-set, Mr English has also launched an online mapping tool called Social Investment Insights which allows users to point and click to drill down into the data by location.

“The Government’s programme of social investment is about using information to improve the lives of New Zealanders with evidence-based investment in social services.

“For the first time we can see the risk-factors affecting young people within their various communities – with the necessary privacy protocols in place.

“This is priceless information for service providers who need to understand the people they are trying to help.

“We want to reduce misery, rather than service it and that requires a deep understanding of the drivers of social dysfunction.”

Not sure why the Minister of Finance has fronted the release of this.

Tools and data can be viewed and downloaded:

Free education versus tax cuts, or…

Today’s Herald editorial suggests Free tertiary study may trump tax cuts.

In past years, this Government has started with unexpected announcements – an asset sales programme, a school leadership initiative and a flag change exercise. This time, the most surprising item in John Key’s speech was an indication tax cuts are still on the horizon.

That was surprising because National’s prospective tax cuts provide the fiscal justification for Labour’s big new year proposition: free tertiary education.

If National wants to argue at next year’s election that an entitlement to three years’ free tertiary education is unaffordable, it cannot be offering tax cuts. If it thinks a tax cut will be more appealing to voters than relief from student fees and loans, it may be mistaken.

There may be more pressing social needs for any spare revenue, but few would be as popular.

But in eighteen months time there’s likely to be more policies in the campaign mix than free tertiary education and tax cuts, from both Labour and National.

Labour are promising much more, especially from their ‘Future of Work’ focus.

National have been light on policies, preferring to campaign on their fiscal competence, but they are likely to announce something significant probably at the start of next year.

And there have been hints of something else from Key – addressing poverty related issues especially related to children.

Last year Bill English announced the first benefit increases for decades, and these kick in this year.

I think there’s a good chance that this  year’s budget will provide something significant for children, possibly timed to kick in next year prior to the election.

Free tertiary education that will mostly benefit better off adult New Zealanders versus something significant for struggling kids?

Note that National have already increased early childhood education options. Those who have failed in education by the time they reach their teens are unlikely to go to university.

Labour seem to be trying to repeat their 2005’s successful university education bribe via interest free student loans. Public concerns have moved on from then.

The future of kids may be a strong election policy next year.

‘Forced contraception’ versus ‘encouraged responsibility’

Yesterday Anne Tolley was interviewed on NZ Q & A about dealing with the ineffectiveness of CYF (Child, Youth, Family) at dealing with child protection.

While changes to how CYF are currently being looked into Tolley raised a contentious issue – “forced contraception”.

@AnneTolleyMP raises impt issue re contraception for vulnerable families @NzMorningReport. Estimated 9,000 babies born at risk each year.

Radio NZ reports Minister considers ‘tricky subject’ of family size

Anne Tolley admitted it was a tricky subject, but said something had to be done about the women who have multiple children taken into care.

Mrs Tolley said she was talking about a small number of families, where Child Youth and Family was removing more than one child at birth, most from homes with a history of abuse and neglect.

“I know of a case where they were taking the sixth child from that woman and of course the first question I ask is; ‘So what sort of family planning advice is being made available to that woman, is it there immediately for her to think about?’

“It can’t be great for the mum involved to be continually pregnant and then losing that baby,” she said.

So is Mrs Tolley suggesting limiting the size of families?

“That’s not the New Zealand way. We don’t live in a dictatorship like that, but for some of these families I think it’s very distressing that we are removing four, five and six babies from them. And of course there’s a huge cost then that goes on to the general taxpayer,” she said.

But she said there was an underlying problem – referring to the Growing Up in New Zealand study that found just under a third of pregnancies were unplanned.

Mrs Tolley said in this day and age there was no need for that.

“Are we making sure that family planning and contraceptive advice is getting to the very people who need it, the families showing the most dysfunction and the most stress,” she said.

That doesn’t sound like an intention to force contraception but that’s a very tricky issue.

Association of Social Workers chief executive Lucy Sandford-Reed said she felt uncomfortable about the minister’s comments.

She said women could not be forced to use contraception and she would oppose any move to punish them by cutting their benefit if they did not agree to.

“My view would be that of a different approach and one that isn’t reactive and punitive. Providing contraceptive advice needs to be part of a package that the social work practitioner takes with them when they start working with the family. But you can’t just stomp in on day one and say ‘right here’s the pill’,” she said.

Nothing like that has been suggested by Tolley.

This is a very difficult thing to deal with, and is similar to people with high genetic risks of having children with serious medical or mental problems.

Forcing sterilisation and contraception should perhaps be reserved for extreme situations, but educating about strongly encouraging sterilisation and contraception for some people must surely be a responsible way to deal minimising children being born into at risk family situations.

It’s not dissimilar to forcing/encouraging vaccinations. Or forcing/encouraging blood transfusions and other medical help that is against the religious beliefs of parents.

Certainly these are issues that should be talked about without overstating and scaremongering.

There’s a difference between ‘forced contraception’ and ‘encouraged responsibility’, but the degree of difference may depend on the nature and degree of encouragement.

Video of interview: Overhauling our child care services