A work in progress….
By Robert W. Walker, J.P. (NSW) B.A. (Sydney)
New Zealand, sadly, has no Mandatory Reporting in Cases of Child Abuse/Neglect legislation. All Australian States have longstanding legislation most requiring professionals such as doctors, teachers, social workers, lawyers, residential care workers, nurses and others to report cases of suspected or known child abuse. Many New Zealand professionals, encountering suspected or real child abuse, are now left in a dichotomous quandary as to whether or not to report suspected or real child abuse and thereafter wonder about the risk to themselves or their careers if they do decide to report such cases.
Some professionals have been directed by employers to say nothing when observing, say, an infant whose body is covered with cigarette burns or who has obviously been neglected and starved, battered and bruised by a psychologically depressed mother or, sometimes, the live in boyfriend. They can get angry because the kid ties them down too much socially or because the abused, sick or neglected baby just keeps crying a lot. Post-natal Depression or other parental mental health issues can be attendant problems.In one very recent case, in New Zealand, the boyfriend and sometimes child minder for a working mother, put the infant child in the clothes dryer!
Poverty, alcohol and drugs seem to be frequent, but NOT exclusively, concurrent issues in child abuse. According to psychology textbooks, research argues a possible correlation between professed or claimed religious beliefs and religious zealotry which can sometimes accompany child sexual abuse by a molesting parent or other person. “Daddy’s little secret” time with daughter or son….. Note well that religious zealotry by a parent or other trusted person is NOT necessarily an indication on its own of pedophilia or child sexual abuse.
Given the striking prevalence of child abuse in New Zealand, this writer has wondered if something, both cultural and economic to New Zealand society, is also happening along with other precipitating factors as above.
The professionals, teachers, doctors, social workers, nurses etc, are sometimes directed by supervisors or employers to keep their mouths shut just to keep the peace. The employers/supervisors do not want to draw attention to their organisation in case it prejudices their credibility for continued funding or because it could attract litigation for defamation. The mutilated, neglected, beaten-up or abused child or their fate is never a concern to such people. Mandatory Reporting legislation makes it law that reporting cannot be avoided or fines and/or criminal dispositions will apply. The Australian States’ Acts all protect the informer against litigation or retributive action by the employers.
The policy should always be to err on the side of caution to protect the child, not the possible perpetrators until the matter can be investigated further.
New Zealand presently offers NO formal statutory Mandatory Reporting protection to either the child or to the professional who informs. There IS, under the existing circumstances, an attendant personal and career risk to the professional if they report the incidents they encounter almost daily or weekly in New Zealand.
Sadly, legislation for Mandatory Reporting in Child Abuse Cases is not adequately or immediately able to protect the lawyer, doctor, teacher or social worker (etc) from any vengeful physical threats. It can though, as it does for example, the Australian New South Wales (NSW) Children and Young Persons Care and Protection Act (1998?), protect them from repercussions to their employment and from tort law or malicious litigation. This litigation could be brought by the child’s carer/parents claiming defamation on the part of the professional and their legislated reporting obligations. The Mandatory Reporting Acts do NOT protect from litigation or prosecution any whistle-blowers or reporting persons where their motive in reporting is found to be only of malicious intention (can occur in family law and family politics matters).
In addition the NSW Act, as does other States’ legislation, also protects the professionals from disciplinary action from their professional or statutory body by alleging unprofessional conduct. Such breaches of professional discipline, can be breaches of their Ethics Codes such as, for example, breach of confidentiality, discrimination or privacy of the client/patient relationship (etc).
Sadly the present situation in New Zealand is definitely not promising for the child in remedying their plight. This is, at least within the NZ Social Work professional bodies, which have taken the view that they do NOT support Mandatory Reporting in Child Abuse Cases claiming that it might prevent abuse perpetrators from seeking medical help and support for their neglected, battered or abused child. The Social Workers in New Zealand have that concern in case the perpetrators fear they will be be reported to the law and police. Quite an understandable point of view but one of the Australian States Minister’s letters/emails specifically denies that to be the case.
One common reason for NZ politicians and workers in the field is that they claim that Mandatory reporting will make the caseload on the social worker in CYFS to hard to handle.
We believe that, using the Social Workers academic knowledge and skills at a child minding level is a waste of pay money, resources and expertise. In answer to that issue we advocate for the establishment of the former Australian Welfare Workers Certificate (Say, WFW CERT) and a Welfare Workers Diploma Welfare Workers (say, Dip. WFW). These qualifications offer lower, pay and entry levels to tertiary training at the college level. They are set to provide specific NGO caring workplace caring skills at training levels that are taught and supervised by graduate Social Workers and/or other appropriately skilled University graduates. The supervisors and teachers would be suitably qualified at BSW or MSW Staff. The WFW Cert or WFW Dip would obtain training to coalface skill levels in sociocultural concerns, sociology, law, ethics and psychology courses (etc), specifically teaching at coalface casework for NGOs child and family rather than at the more advanced Social Work skills. The advanced Social Work University trained skills could then be more targeted at social engineering and change advocacy at macro and mezzo levels. These Social Workers are aimed at political, institutional and organisational levels, policies and actions in social change for areas that can cause the victims and marginalisation that necessitate the never ending bandaid casework social workers now do. New Zealand Social Work academic training seems, by comparison with some Australian Universities, aimed more at casework rather than
qua SOCIAL Work
No WFW Cert or WFW DIP training, NO JOB!
The social engineering [not exactly his nomenclature,but this writer’s] skills approach to Social Work follows on from the teachings of Professor Stuart Rees at the University of Sydney, circa 1978.
Meanwhile once the Mandatory reporting is done it is referred to Social Workers. Once some outcomes for the family and/or the child are investigated and set in motion, the ongoing casework is relegated to NGOs that are thereupon staffed by WFW Cert and WFW Dip. qualified personnel. The casework is always over looked by, and reported to, the Social Workers (etc) in Government or quasi institutional organisations operating with a more distant supervising watching brief and at a higher level.
Using a medical model parallel for the above structures, within that context, the Social Workers become the doctors or specialists and the Welfare Work trained Certificate or Diploma graduates become the skilled nurses providing ongoing caring and assistance casework for the families and, particularly for the child or children. The Diploma level, WFW Dip, could, after a predefined level of actual employment or field work, become qualified for entry to a elevated level of admission to Social Work training at a recognised University Social Work degree.
In our thinking, the WFW Cert and WFW Dip practitioners should, ideally also have some basic statutory powers, protection, almost similar to Social Workers. Professional statutory registration/licensing is also considered to be essential to ensure quality of skills, ethical practice adherence and as an incentive to want to train for personal recognition.
New Zealand jingoistic claims seem to be rife in saying New Zealand has its own experts and doesn’t need interference from other countries who already have had their Mandatory Reporting legislation in force (a New Zealand MP in 2013).
Three years ago, the writer had an interview, at their offices, with the CEO of one of the NZ Social Work professional bodies. They were naively claiming that the legislation for Mandatory Reporting in Child Abuse was probably unnecessary based on the premise that the next door neighbours or other parties would always report any incidents of suspected child abuse. There is a very famous psychology research project that, in recent years, investigated the actions taken by twelve street witnesses to a brutal murder in the USA. Out of the twelve actual witnesses, only one came forward to report their eye witnessing to the murder….. Most people just preferred to see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil and walked on by trying to stay out of any possible trouble or repercussions.
The social work organisations also made the naive assumption that there would always be neighbours/teachers/professionals in the area in New Zealand who could, or even would, witness or report incidents of child abuse. This assumes that everybody had the training or insights to recognise incidents. As above, there is a risk to reporting on your neighbours or colleagues especially if there is the slightest personal doubt that child abuse has been happening.
In 2013, the authors of this post, wrote emails to all of the Australian States’ Ministers whose portfolios included child protection and welfare. Almost all Australian States have, for many years had legislation specifically requiring doctors, teachers, social workers, et al to report any suspected or real cases of child abuse and, in so doing, removes any doubts about their responsibilities. Their Mandatory Reporting in Child Abuse legislation also removes any punitive measures by employers, professional bodies and others against punitive or legal dispositions for reporting by whistle blowers and or other reporting professionals.
Four out of the six states we contacted, their States’ Ministers responded emphatically by emails and letters to us that they had very positive and rewarding results from their longstanding use of such legislation. They each thoroughly recommended Mandatory Reporting legislation to other sovereign nations or countries contemplating the use of such legislation. Unedited copies of those documents are available free of charge to any person/government interested in the topic. Apply by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strangely, copies were sent to a one of the two New Zealand major political Party’s MP’s who held a portfolio interest in child protection. We were told by email from that MP that New Zealand has all the experts we need, claiming also that they had been told by the Australian Governments that Mandatory Reporting didn’t work (a NZ Labour Party MP 2013). That MP’s tone in their reply was most strongly jingoistic about New Zealand’s expertise about child protection despite the obvious and ever present horror of the New Zealand OECD Record as above . It was clear that the MP had the view that their own knowledge of the topic was sufficient to want to exclude such legislation!
We wonder if that NZ MP’s claimed information, ostensibly from their visit to Australia, came from their taxi driver, Government Comm Car driver or perhaps while idly chatting to the receptionist in some Australian Government department foyer.
In the last few days of compiling this particular blog, we have seen recent figures claiming the NZ’s standing in relation to the OECD Countries was now fifth highest in the occurrence of child abuse. Formerly, it was claimed to be the seventh highest rate of child abuse.
For those interested in following up the Australian Legislation, the New South Wales (NSW) Children’s and Young Persons Care and Protection Act is presented in the Web page URL as an informed piece of legislation currently in force in NSW.
Other Australian States’ legislation is also available through the
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au site though a search of the Austlii site will be necessary for each State and their applicable legislation.
We invite you to contact your NZ Government or political party MP’s and refer them to this web page. Ask that they note the need for action in the matter. Keep persistently asking them to keep you informed of their action in the matter.