‘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