Psychologist Nigel Latta last week presented another installment in his television series on social problems in New Zealand. He gave the terrible statistics on child abuse and family violence and drew on research showing predictable links with poverty and alcohol. However he studiously avoided the leading risk factor – revolving door families.
These are the families where mum’s latest boyfriends come and go, and both mum and her children are at hugely increased risk of violence and abuse. The evidence is now so clear about this step-increase in risk that it even has its own name – the so called “Cinderella effect”. This is the new social science term for the danger posed to children when a non-biological parent joins a household.
In 2009 the Office of the Commissioner for Children undertook a review on death and serious injury to children in New Zealand. It concluded that there were a number of risk factors for child abuse including poverty, low maternal age, and drug and alcohol issues. However of all the factors, having a non-biological parent in the home returned the highest increase in risk. It increased the risk by 8 to 12 times (Green Paper submission page 4) . This was twice as high as the increase in risk associated with poverty.
Nigel Latta in his programme was quick to highlight poverty but completely ignored the impact of our casualised relationship culture. However the truth will out. The episode included social workers visiting a male on home detention for threatening his ex-partner. Another young woman is asked about her first experiences of family violence. The answer – her mother’s boyfriends.
Latta closed with the positive assertion that family violence and child abuse is an issue we can do something about. He is right. However it will need leadership that has courage to face the evidence – all of it.