Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cindy Kiro caught out

In August 2007 Steve Braunias interviewed the Children's Commissioner, Cindy Kiro. Here is an excerpt from that interview;

I asked if Nia's torturer's fitted a profile of child abusers. Yes, she said: "Impulsive young males. Poverty. Drug and alcohol background. What I call the normalisation of violence within the family. A tolerance for really quite aberrant behaviour, for thinking that it's OK.

Did that profile include being Maori? "There is a particular issue for the Maori community," she said. "It is true that Maori disproportionately hurt children. But out of 88 children killed between 2002 and 2006, 48 were Pakeha. Maori were 28. The remainder were Pacific Island and a few Asian. So I think people need to get a little bit careful when they start on this business."

At the time I questioned the figures on this blog.

In September 2008 another journalist, Keri Welham, interviewed Kiro for the Dominion Post weekend magazine. Welham reproduced the same figures.

I blogged again pointing out that if these figures were correct there had been a very large increase in child deaths since 2003.

This time I decided to investigate. I rang the Office of the Children's Commissioner and spoke with their 'media' person who promised to call me back when she had located the source of the statistics used in the Dominion Post magazine article. I called her again the next day and she told me that the source was not their office but the article by Steve Braunias. At which point I realised I was going around in circles as Cindy Kiro has been the source for the Braunias statistics.

So I wrote to the Commissioner under the Official Information Act. My letter follows and her response below.

So the Commissioner is confirming "the figures are inaccurate" but still not providing a source. In fact, SHE was the source. I contacted Steve Braunias to confirm that the quote was verbal, emailed him the letter from Kiro and he responded,

"The figures were indeed direct quotes from Cindy Kiro, made to me during the course of the interview. I didn’t discuss any aspect of the story afterwards with her, and there was no call made on her to make any kind of retraction. Good on you for following up on those figures, though. Interesting!"

We now have statistics in the public domain that are grossly inaccurate. That a second journalist used them proves people will access the information and treat it as official and accurate. The Children's Commissioner knows they are inaccurate and has a responsibility to set the record straight. That she has failed to do so amounts to a cover-up of her mistake - accidental or otherwise.

Note the Commissioner's letter says that for the period 2001-2005 the death rate was 0.8 per 100,000. That's approximately 7 deaths or 35 over a 5 year period.

In the context of a discussion about child abuse, claiming 88 children were killed over a five year period only one year removed, and that a majority of them were Pakeha, AND never attempting to correct the statement, is quite reprehensible.

I personally believe she used those erroneous figures to rebut claims that child abuse is a Maori problem. Of course child abuse is not exclusively a Maori problem. But more Maori children are killed through maltreatment than would be the case if their statistics reflected their proportion of the population.

According to the New Zealand Herald Cindy Kiro's contract is up for renewal this year. What has she achieved?

1/ a 28 percent overspend of her budget in 2007/08
2/ a reputation for spending too much time overseas
3/ being instrumental in making the highly unpopular anti-smacking legislation a reality
4/ and now a serious dent in her credibility regarding statistical reliability and objective analysis

She should go and so should her department.


luggage79 said...

This is great work Lindsay! Investigative journalism at its best!

libertyscott said...

Indeed, it is a useless entity and has proven itself to have delivered nothing beyond Orwellian control plans for those that treat their children lovingly.

Chaucey said...

Well done for following up on this mis-information.
I wish that she was held accountable for the mistake.