Sunday, October 28, 2007

School dobs mum to CYF for hand smack

By RUTH LAUGESEN - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 28 October 2007

A Wellington mother says her family has been left traumatised by new anti-smacking laws, after her son's school reported her to Child, Youth and Family for smacking him on the hand.

"I don't want to feel like a child abuser, and I don't want to be labelled as a child abuser because I smacked my son," she said. "It's brought a lot of trauma to our family unit and unnecessary stress."

The woman, who did not wish to be named because she says she fears losing her children, says another smacking several months later resulted in a visit from police.

In the first incident, she came home one day in the July school holidays to find a card left by Child, Youth and Family asking her to contact a care and protection officer.

The officer told her the agency had received a complaint from the school after her son had hit another child with a ball. When asked why, the boy told the teacher he had been smacked that morning.

The mother of four said she had smacked him on the hand after he had "thrown a wobbly" instead of getting ready for school. The smack had left no mark.

She said hers was "just an average Kiwi family". Both parents worked, did not smoke or drink or "have any addictions". They smacked rarely, preferring to use time out. She said the care and protection officer had decided not to take the matter any further.

The school was unrepentant when her husband questioned its handling of the matter.

In the second incident, in September, three police officers arrived at her house after she smacked her child outside, and a neighbour complained. The police questioned her and the child separately before deciding not to take the matter any further.

A friend who was at the house at the time, Gabrielle Allen, said the arrival of police was astonishing and intimidating.

"My friend is loud, there's a lot of volume. She's just excitable. I think she's a great mum, and she really loves her children. She's consistent but she's not over the top with discipline at all."

The mother then contacted Family First, a lobby group that vociferously opposed smacking law changes passed in June. The organisation put her in touch with the Sunday Star-Times.

The mother said she had not previously been involved in Family First and had had some sympathy with Sue Bradford's anti-smacking bill, "not thinking that it would affect us on a personal level".

Family First spokesman Bob McCroskrie said parents now feared the law, and Child, Youth and Family.

A spokeswoman for Associate Social Development Minister Ruth Dyson said the minister did not believe the CYFs intervention was a result of the June law change, but reflected greater community sensitivity to child abuse.

The Education Ministry said schools had not been given any fresh instructions about reporting smacking since the legislation came in.

ENDS - [emphasies my own]

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