Child abuse has again been in the headlines over the last few weeks, most recently following the release of the Children’s Commissioner’s State of Care report into the treatment of children in the care of Child, Youth and Family (CYF). The report contained a number of recommendations, which the Minister of Social Development Anne Tolley has said will be taken into account in the major overhaul of the agency that is presently underway.
Leading the review is Paula Rebstock, an economist and the former Chair of the Commerce Commission, who has already directed far-reaching reforms for the government into Social Welfare and the Department of Corrections. It is understood that a ‘social investment’ approach is being promoted for CYF, which will put children’s needs at its centre – as well as focussing on what works and how to get best value for money. The report is said to be with Cabinet and is expected to be released in its final form by the end of the year.
However, no matter what structural changes to the child protection agency are introduced, nor what new processes are brought in, the problems of abused and damaged children will continue until the government stops paying women who are not in loving and stable relationships to have babies.
The cycle of abuse is largely intergenerational. Children are shaped by their parents and their home environment. If these are not conducive to good child-rearing practices, society will suffer. The research on this is conclusive.
In spite of the best of intentions of those who influenced New Zealand’s early social welfare laws, by creating an environment in which violence and abuse can flourish, sole parent benefits are one of the single biggest factors in the child abuse equation. But since child advocacy groups and children’s authorities shy away from this issue – reforms in this area have been inadequate.
So why is it that sole parent welfare is not being adequately addressed? Strange as it may sound, a key reason is feminism.
A reminder of the radical nature of the feminist dogma that drove reforms throughout the Western world in the sixties and seventies can be seen in the rhetoric of leading feminist Linda Gordon, a New York University Professor who said, “The nuclear family must be destroyed… Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process.” Or the call of another feminist leader Sheila Cronin: “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.”
New Zealand feminists thought that securing government funding for mothers who left their husbands was the right thing to do. They wanted a regular state income to sustain these women and their children, without the need to work for a living. Their battle led to the establishment of the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) in the early seventies, as a stand-alone ‘wage’ for women escaping violent relationships.
The problem was that over time the perverse incentives built into the scheme created a raft of unintended consequences and detrimental outcomes.
If a couple was having relationship difficulties, instead of trying to reconcile the problems and keep the marriage together – for the sake of the children – the DPB paid the woman a secure state income if she split the family up.
The DPB was only available if mothers did not let fathers have too much involvement in their children’s upbringing. In spite of fathers being society’s strongest protectors of children – and much needed male role models – the system effectively drove them away.
The benefit was essentially only available to mothers who did not work. If a woman tried to take on a job and get back into the workforce and mainstream society – to become independent of the state – the benefit abatement rates were so punishing, that they became a serious disincentive to employment.
While the benefit was paid to a mother to care for her children, there were no strings attached. This meant that if she failed to provide proper custodial care for her children, decent nutrition, appropriate health care, or even regular schooling, there were few, if any, consequences.
Furthermore, built into the system was a simple but destructive incentive – if the mother had more children, she got more money. This meant that even if her lifestyle was totally unsuitable for raising a new baby, she was guaranteed a higher income if she got pregnant and had another child.
In crude terms the feminists had created the environment for baby farming to flourish.
While most women who entered the welfare system stayed for a relatively short time and raised their children well, for a vulnerable minority the DPB became a trap. Over the years, it created the opportunity for unskilled women to secure a regular income – and often a state house – without having to work. Without the stability and discipline that comes from working for a living and contributing to civil society, indolent and destructive lifestyles were all too common. Not only did the children suffer, but so too did the community.
An exposé of the family background of the 13 year old boy who stabbed and killed dairy owner Arun Kumar last year, says it all:
“His mother drank alcohol and consumed drugs heavily during her pregnancy with him, her sixth child.
“Drugs and alcohol, violence, criminal influences, unemployment, little food and clothing in the house, no medical treatment, moving schools, moving houses, truancy”.
“She was using P and heroin daily, ‘shooting up’ in front of the children; gang members raided the family home.
“A neighbour alerted CYF that the boy, just 3, and a younger sibling were left in the care of their sisters, aged 12 and 13. The older children, who were not enrolled in school, then left the pre-schoolers home alone.
“The 8-year-old boy was struck by a car on a pedestrian crossing and flung 4m in the air. He was knocked out, suffered a seizure, fractured skull and a brain-bleed. Four days later, the youngster was discharged from Starship Hospital. An occupational therapist established he suffered a ‘traumatic’ brain injury and wrote a referral letter to ACC for rehabilitation. Despite this, the boy never received treatment.
“He was only 9 and making suicidal comments.
“The mother’s criminal history – 50 convictions dating back to 1991 – as well as nine aliases – including a five-month stint in prison when her son was 5. Her rap sheet includes shoplifting, stealing cars, receiving stolen property, false cheques, burglary, common assault, wilful damage, possession of methamphetamine utensils, resisting police, cultivating cannabis, wilful trespass, drink driving, stealing bank cards, and breach of bail.
“Their mother was selling synthetic cannabis from her home on Great North Rd, where her son lived and his friends often stayed the night to get stoned. Addicted to synthetic cannabis, the boy was often a ‘zombie’ according to his brother.”
Asked during the trial whether anybody was doing anything to help the boy with his addiction, his brother explained, “My mum done something to help him with his addiction – she was giving him marijuana.”
Thanks to the feminist movement, the sole parent benefit funds unstable, violent and abusive women, many with chronic addictions, to have and raise children. Many such children will be referred to child protection services; some will be taken into state care. According to a 2011 Cabinet paper, children with a CYF notification are fifteen times more likely to end up with an adult conviction that results in a Corrections-managed sentence as young adults, than their peers with no such notification; around 30 percent of children in state care will be charged with criminal offences as teenagers.
The children’s lobby refuses to address one of the root causes of the child abuse crisis – entrenched sole parent welfare dependency – because most are ideologically committed to feminism.
When I was a Member of Parliament, I fought for shared custody for children caught up in family breakdown, to ensure they were able to retain contact with both their mother and their father – unless there was a compelling reason why one parent was not fit – thereby largely avoiding the dangerous sole parent benefit. But the Labour Government’s feminist MPs admitted that they would never agree to ‘shared parenting’, because it would mean that sole custody and the DPB would no longer be automatically awarded to a mother, and they weren’t prepared to give away their hard fought feminist ‘rights’.
However, if society and the government are really committed to reducing the horrendous child abuse problem in New Zealand today, such ideological millstones must be pushed aside, to make way for positive changes for mothers and their children.
This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Lindsay Mitchell, has researched some of the statistics that highlight the danger of long-term welfare:
“Children who appear in the benefit system under the age of two make up 83 percent of those children who have a substantiated Child, Youth and Family notification for abuse or neglect against their name by age five.
“That is a staggering correlation. Furthermore, the risk factors for child maltreatment amongst long-term beneficiary parents are extraordinarily high (notwithstanding the majority of beneficiaries do not abuse their children.) Children who spend 9 or more years in the benefit system are almost 13 times more likely to experience a substantiated finding of abuse or neglect than non-beneficiary children.”
The reality is that child abuse is and remains a complex and difficult problem. If we look at the causes, one factor that stands out is that sole parents in this country are still supported by a stand-alone benefit. In most other countries where child abuse is not such a problem, mothers are supported through employment-related benefits that reinforce their need to get a job and re-engage in mainstream society. Abolishing the stand-alone sole parent benefit, in favour of support linked to work was one of the recommendations made by the Welfare Working Group during the 2011 reforms. Sadly, it was not adopted.
Meanwhile, women receiving state welfare continue to have more children. According to government figures, in the six months to March 6,347 children under the age of one were added to an existing benefit – that means on average, over 1,000 new babies a month are born to women on welfare. This will keep the mothers in the benefit system longer, potentially subjecting their children to poorer health, education and social outcomes.
Until sole parent welfare is linked to the unemployment benefit and income levels are capped, regardless of the number of children, the cycle of abuse will not be broken; the problem of damaged children committing horrendous crimes against society will continue.
Finally, in her article, Lindsay found that when it comes to domestic violence, women on welfare were most at risk: “Women who were beneficiaries had risks over four times the average for all women. Benefits can’t be shown to be a cause of violence. But they strongly correlate with the incidence of it.”
Last month a first principles review aimed at reducing the incidence of family violence in New Zealand was launched by the government and public consultation is now underway. If you have suggestions to share, we would encourage you to make a submission by 18 September.
THIS WEEK’S POLL ASKS:
Should women on welfare be paid to have more children?
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