NZ – Sian Elias – Blamesless Babes?

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Blameless babes

10:00AM Tuesday July 28, 2009



Much has been said of late about Chief Justice Sian Elias’ comments in a recent speech where she suggested, as a result of overcrowding in prisons, that some of our prison population serve their sentences outside prisons.

Naturally there was hue and cry over this, but the most interesting points of this speech, from my perspective, are those made about early intervention in the lives of people who are destined to make up our prison population.

Justice Elias ponders why “blameless babes” become the worst sorts of criminals and clog up our prison system.

In fact, as she says, the answers are clear – “the unfortunate reality is that the most influential risk factors will have been present at birth ….. [t]he most effective interventions are the earliest interventions.”

Responding to the Elias speech, another letter writer to a Sunday paper, someone who had worked at a paediatric hospital, says “failure to thrive” is a diagnosis frequently given to babies seen by doctors, where children have no underlying medical problem but are underweight and behind in milestones. (“This [i]s due to lack of nurturing from the mother … she could not provide what she had no knowledge of as she would not have experienced nurturing in her own life.”)

The list of risk factors that turn blameless babes into career criminals will come as a surprise to precisely no one.

Lack of love and care, particularly from a mother figure; cruelty and bad diets are just some, while parental conflict and separation; erratic or harsh discipline; abuse of any kind and instability are others.

A devil of a problem to help solve, but one that our Chief Justice has given some thought to.

She suggests the idea of intervening in the lives of those most at risk at an earlier stage – not intervention by CYFS necessarily – but community-based systems and mentors to help people navigate the choppy waters of parenting.

How ridiculous that when someone of her experience comes up with ideas that are both radically wise and thought-provoking, jumped-up politicians and commentators are tripping over themeslves to tell her she’s out of line, rather than consider the very key points she raises.

Many of us see young lives destined for trouble all around us.

When my son was born at 29 weeks he spent his first seven weeks or so in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at National Women’s. When he was first there, his roomate was a child who held the record for staying in NICU needing acute help for the longest time.

Day after day nurses would care for this little boy while his mother was nowhere to be seen.

When she finally did turn up she complained about having no money for the bus and yet was dressed in the latest fashions and carrying a pretty snazzy mobile phone.

She spent most of the trip berating the “honky” nurses that cared for her son, then fairly swiftly made her excuses and went home to “care” for her five other children.

CYFS tried to deal with this woman with little effect. Her son was brain damaged and would need special care all his life. There was not anyone, nurse or passing adult, who did not feel the urge to disconnect that boy from his cords and monitors and run off into the night with him.

How great if someone had managed to get through to that mother – or to any mother and/or father not up to the job of caring for a young child.

What we need is more ideas of the sort that prevent mass imprisonment at its very root, rather than simply see prisons as a solution to the problem of crime in our community.

They are a poor substitute for a loving and secure early childhood.

– Dita De Boni

Pictured above: The Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias. Photo / Mark Mitchell




3:08PM Tuesday
28 July 2009

Wouldn’t it be interesting if debate started about the question of adoption of babies in this situation. Maybe some of those neglected abused children could have been saved by placement into families who would have loved and cherished them as all children should be. But I guess it’s not PC to bring that up.


Te Atatu South

3:08PM Tuesday
28 July 2009

I agree with the comments of Justice Sian Elias. Too often we see mothers and fathers giving poor support to their young children. It is a certain uneducated group in our society that dont even know how to parent or show any interest to do so. And why would anyone who is so poor and doesnt even own their own home pop out number 4 or 5 without the financial ability to bring them into the world properly.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility and one that requires a good solid plan and actual genuine desire to want the best for their offspring. The basic’s have not changed and for every action we need a consequence. Sadly too many parents dont even discipline the children so they never learn and the cycle repeats.


Glen Eden

3:08PM Tuesday
28 July 2009

A very interesting and thought prevoking analysis of Dame Sian Elias’s speech.

I think you have hit the nail on the head.

Having said that, it is plainly obvious that the present National govt are far more interested in locking people up (the more the merrier), than doing anything whatsoever to stop the problem at the “top of the cliff”. I strongly suspect that the reason for this is because any efforts put towards a real, long lasting solution to this problem won’t show up in any stats that will show the National govt in a good light before the next election.

That is what this is all about the Nats looking good (and supposedly strong on crime) before the next election. Stuff the consequences to society in ten years time – this “pack of useless leaches” that call themselves the National govt won’t be around in ten years time – there lies the REAL issue, and wall that is stopping real solutions to this problem !

concerned mother

Mangere East

3:08PM Tuesday
28 July 2009

Oh Blame the Mother. Why no question as to where the father was, or grandparents? Children are not born into this world in a vacuum.


Mt Wellington

3:08PM Tuesday
28 July 2009

Thanks Dita, excellent comments. This is how I would imagine most intelligent New Zealanders would react to the honest and well-intended comments of our learned Chief Justice. Hopefully new-found executive power will over time mature to allow for a more measured and erudite response from those elected to solve these problems.


Next page


My Comment


When the Chief Justice was first pulled over the coals on this one I must admit I thought she was wrong to say such things.


However she has made some good points but slightly off track and missing the mark.


I am inclined that she is right to voice her learned opinion as does John Minto suggest.


1st consideration in this debate re early caring for Kids is.


NZ FAMILY Law, Social Policy and those that purvey it have been tearing our **Whole Natural Biological FAMILIES** apart for generations.


The first step in recovery is to Enshrine Preferential Equal Shared Parenting deep within NZ FAMILY Law and Social Policy and get rid of ALL Bureaucratic Parenting.


Surrounding Children with Mum, Dad, all 4 Grand Parents and as many of their **Whole Natural Biological FAMILY** where possible from conception, living together or not.


It may well take as many generations to heal our FAMILIES so their needs to be a good look at Sian Elias suggestions in the meantime.


However we must make powerful moves that establish the way fwd is **Equal Parenting** NOT outside FAMILY interference


Onward – Jim

Equal Parenting @ Ration Shed BLOG


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