Hard News by Russell Brown

139

See you Latta, Bob ...

I was unduly rude on Twitter when I heard Nigel Latta had been appointed to John Key's commission on the smacking law. I should have been able to separate Latta's professional competence from his entertainment work, which I don't greatly like.

It is clearly that professional competence on which Latta has drawn in offering what ought to be a final repudiation of Family First's dishonest campaign against the child discipline law.

Latta declared he didn't find the actions of police and other agencies inappropriate in any of the cases he examined -- and indeed would have wanted to know why those agencies had not intervened if they hadn't.

He was also kind enough to provide notes:

Father charged for shoulder shake of defiant daughter refusing to get out of bed.

What was reported by Family First: Father had been having problems with 15-year-old girl stealing money, sneaking out and coming home late. One morning after coming home at 4am shouting match took place when father tried to wake her up at 6am. Father shook her, she alleged father punched her at least three times. No medical treatment was needed, but father was taken away in handcuffs and eventually convicted and discharged on condition of counselling.

Agency information: Police called by daughter who accused father of punching her. Police attended and took father to station. CYF investigation identified breakdown in relationships within the family and the daughter was seriously challenging her parents.

Parents did not want support and said they would handle the situation by laying down clear boundaries. CYF took no further action, but advised daughter on what action to take if there was another incident.

Father was dealt with by the courts.

*Step-father charged for smacks

What was reported by Family First: A mother and step-father were having problems with 14-year-old and secretive behaviour with boyfriend. When the step-father tried to confiscate ring, she started to scratch and he had to physically restrain her and gave her three smacks on the bottom. Daughter complained to teacher she had been put in a headlock, tied to a post with a dog lead and hit with an electric fence pole. Step-father was advised to plead guilty to smacks and other charges were dropped.

Agency information:Police received complaint that 14-year-old had been beaten up by step-father, put in a strangle hold and tied up with a dog lead. Step-father admitted attempting to tie girl up and hitting her on the bottom. Step-father charged with assault and discharged without conviction.

CYF investigation identified significant concerns about the safety of the girl and she was removed from her mother's and step-father's care.

* Grandfather charged and convicted for tipping child out of a chair to get a "move on".

What was reported by Family First: A grandfather was convicted of assault after tipping his grandson out of a bean bag after the 11-year-old refused to turn the TV down. The boy called 111 and despite protestations from the grandson and grandmother the grandfather was arrested and held in cells for two nights. The man was advised to plead guilty to avoid cost and hassle by lawyer.

Agency information: Police called over alleged assault by grandfather after he acted aggressively and tipped boy off chair causing him to heavily strike his head on a metal pole.

It was also alleged that the grandparents argued and he hit her with a pair of trousers. The grandmother feared for her safety and that of her grandchild.

The grandfather was removed from house and charged with assault and convicted.

CYF said there had been previous involvement with the family, but there were no ongoing concerns for the boy's safety.

The case notes provided by Family First to the inquiry vary markedly from the accounts it touted in newspaper ads and shopped to journalists; the CYF notes even more so.. None of this is going to move the zealots. But Latta has demonstrated to himself what he perhaps ought to have known already – that self-serving testimony in cases of family violence is often not to be trusted. And neither, frankly, is Family First.

The Prime Minister's task force has made some sensible suggestions about improving communication with some parents, and I think now is the time for journalists to focus on those. And, it goes without saying, to stop getting Bob McCoskrie on the speed-dial as if his opinion counts for anything at all.

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