3.2.3 Family characteristics

Factors such as parents having a criminal history or being criminally active 1, low standards of care and supervision of children 2, home environments in which there is a high level of interpersonal conflict 3, frequent changes of mother’s partner, and domestic violence, have similarly been identified as contributing to the emergence of persistent offending in the children raised in such environments. 4

Another factor for which the link to later criminality in children is particularly

well-established by research is harsh and inconsistent discipline 5,6.

Some children, not victims themselves of severe physical punishment or violence, may nevertheless be affected by witnessing violence in the home. Fergusson and colleagues examined the effects of childhood exposure to violence between their parents 7. They found that children exposed to inter-parental violence are at increased risk of mental health problems, substance abuse, and criminal offending.

Although data is not available on all of these factors, what data exists suggests that Māori children are indeed over-represented on these kinds of variables. Key findings include the following:

  • surveys of crime victims in New Zealand have found that Māori women are significantly more likely to be repeat victims of domestic violence than were women from other ethnic groups 8;
  • Māori children are disproportionately represented in national statistics for maltreatment and injury. The rate of hospital admissions for intentional injury for Māori children aged under five been 1994 and 2004 was consistently about twice the rate than that of children of other ethnic groups 9. Death from intentional injury also occurs at a significantly higher rate among Māori than non-Māori 10;
  • Child, Youth and Family rates of substantiated notifications of child abuse or neglect are considerably higher for Māori than non-Māori (Figure 6 below);
  • Māori children are more exposed to the risk of fatal child maltreatment associated with having a step-parent, as Māori children are twice as likely as New Zealand European to be raised in a family situation where unrelated persons - such as a new partner to the mother - are resident 11. In the five years from 1999 to 2003, Māori children died from maltreatment at an average annual rate of 1.5 per 100,000 children, more than twice the rate for children of other ethnicities 12.
Figure 6: Substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, by ethnicity 13

Figure 6: Substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect, by ethnicity

Ministry of Social Development. The Social Report 2004

1 See, for example, Farrington David P (1996), ‘Individual, family and peer factors in the development of delinquency’. in Hollin C R & Howells K (eds.) Clinical Approaches to Working with Young Offenders. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Lewis, Dorothy Otnow, Yeager Catherine A, Lovely Richard, Stein Abby & Cobham-Portorreal (1994) A clinical follow-up of delinquent males: ignored vulnerabilities, unmet needs, and the perpetuation of violence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 4: 518-528.

5 Caspi Avashalom, Moffitt Terrie E, Silva Phil, Stouthamer-Loeber, Magda, Kreuger Robert F, & Schmutte Pamela S (1994). Are some people crime-prone? Replications of the personality-crime relationship across countries, genders, races, and methods. Criminology Vol. 32 No. 2 pp 163- 195.

6 Stewart Anna, Dennison Susan, & Waterson, Elissa. (2002) Pathways from child maltreatment to juvenile offending. Trends & Issues in Crime & Criminal Justice, No. 241, Australian Institute of Criminology.

7 Fergusson David M & Horwood L John (1998) Exposure to interparental violence in childhood and psychosocial adjustment in young adulthood. Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol. 22, No. 5, 339-357.

8 Morris A & Reilly J (2003) New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 2001. Ministry of Justice, Wellington.

9 Children at increased risk of death from maltreatment and strategies for prevention. (2006) Report of Child, Youth & Family, Wellington.

10 Ibid.

11 Children living in households with an adult unrelated to them were almost 50 times as likely to die of an inflicted injury as children living in households with two biological parents.

12 Child, Youth & Family (2006) Wellington. op.cit. p.5.

13 The Social Report 2004, Ministry of Social Development, Wellington.