Wellington, Dec 7 NZPA - A review of how the anti-smacking legislation is working has found no evidence that police and welfare staff have responded inappropriately or out of proportion to concerns about child safety.
The review team included well-known television host, author and clinical psychologist Nigel Latta, who was opposed to the law change removing the defence of reasonable force when charged with assaulting a child.
The report today said Mr Latta, Social Development Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes and Police Commissioner Howard Broad found the police and Child Youth and Family (CYF) have effective guidelines for dealing with complaints, but more could be done to reassure parents that they would not be criminalised or unduly investigated for a light smack.
Prime Minister John Key said the findings reinforced his view that the law was working as Parliament intended it.
Mr Latta examined several individual cases highlighted in the media by advocates for a law change, but he said he was personally reassured that the law change made no difference to how the police and social workers did their jobs.
"It would be easy to get that impression from some of the reports that have appeared, but in all of the case studies I reviewed it was clear there were aggravating features involved," Mr Latta said.
"In fact if CYF and police hadn't turned up to those cases I would have been asking why they hadn't."
Mr Latta said there would always be cases where good parents had the authorities on the their doorstep because the authorities had to take a precautionary approach.
"It has to happen because if we don't do that kids will die. I personally want them to over-react.
In many of the reports in the media there was only one side of a story, he said.
One case involved a man claiming he had only hit his six-year-old nephew with a pillow, but it turned out he had more than 70 convictions for violence and robbery.
The report recommended:
* A parent support helpline be set up so that parents with concerns about how they were being treated can be helped;
* Guidelines be published for social workers dealing with child abuse reports that involved smacking;
* Police and others should be required to tell parents what to expect and what rights they have when dealing with the police or CYF; and
* The collection of information on the application of the new law be collected so there was a clearer picture of how the law was operating.
Mr Key said the Government did not want to see good parents criminalised for a light smack and said the law would continue to be monitored.
The law as it stands bans smacking for the purposes of correction, but police have the discretion not to prosecute for inconsequential smacks.
Mr Latta said he believed the helpline would help those who faced the trauma of being looked at by authorities.
In a referendum in August, 87 percent of those who voted said no to the question: "Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"
Before the review Mr Latta said he did not believe that a parent smacking a child, in the common sense understanding of what that meant, should be subject to criminal investigation.