Monday, February 6, 2012

Mike Butler: Step-parents top baby killers

Why is the incidence of child homicide four times higher among Maori than among Pakeha? In his World of Science column in today’s Dominion Post, Bob Brockie pointed to research done by two Canadian scientists, Professor Martin Daly and his wife Professor Margot Wilson, who studied cases of thousands of children killed by their parents from mediaeval to modern times.

After testing for numerous factors that may affect the killings, such as poverty or wealth, family size, birth order, parents’ age, fathers’ personality etc, they found the best predictor of baby killing was having a step parent. This multiplied the risk factor by 50-100 times.

New Zealand crime records were not included in their study since our records do not distinguish between murderous step parents and murderous biological parents.

Brockie pointed to the practice of “whangai”, where a child is raised by step parents or kin members, which traditionally is more about cementing the relationship between families rather than the wellbeing of the child.

Another risk factor not mentioned by Brockie is New Zealand's extensive solo-parent culture, and the large number of serial live-in partners who are in fact step-fathers and step-mothers. Nearly half (43 percent) of parents on the DPB between 2007 and 2010 were Maori.

2 comments:

Ken said...

You only have to look at newspaper reports time and time again of these horrific child deaths to see that the mother and her partner or the mother's partner (not the child's father) are way to often the killers.

MurrayBacon said...

When you suggest that step parents are 50 to 100 times more dangerous, than parents alone, I suspect that you are reacting to newspaper reports. These reports highlight extremely violent homicides and rarely are smotherings reported (mothers tend to use smothering). Also smotherings may be put down to Sudden Infant Death, as it is difficult to prove deliberate homicide.

If our interest is to protect children from all hazards, then we must look at all deaths, not just extremely violent deaths, as reported in newspapers.

Using data from Child Maltreatment 2006 USA
This publication is available on the Internet at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/ index.htm#can.
Table 4.5 Perpetrator Relationships to Child Fatalities:
Listed in descending order.
Mother 27.4%
Mother and father 22.4%
Father 13.1%
Mother and other 11.5%
Daycare staff 3.0%
Female relative 3.0%
Male partner of parent 2.9%
Male relative 1.6%
Father and other 1.5%
Female partner of parent 0.0%

This USA study is well funded and the data are carefully gathered, in accordance with strict definitions for recording data.

NZ does not gather data as carefully and meticulously, unfortunately.

Probably the best NZ data was prepared by Elizabeth Moore.

Elizabeth Moore in her Victoria University thesis Child Homicide in NZ An Analysis of a Small Scale Sample of Cases 1980-2003 dated July 2005 found:

However, in relation to child homicide women do feature quite prominently as offenders. Although the empirical evidence indicates that the rate of women's involvement as offenders is variable. The data from studies that have examined all child homicides indicate that this involvement ranges from 58% in Wilczynski'sEnglish cases, 23% in her Australian cases (Op.cit p.72), 29% in another Australian study(Alder & Polk, 2001,p. 124), to 50% in this present study.

Table 2 (boys and girls combined) 69 total
Mother 30
father 20
Father 13.1%
stepparents 8
extended family 4
strangers 7

I hope this data is helpful towards giving our children the best protection.