Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thinking about adoption statistics

It's common knowledge that adoptions have declined steeply. This source of statistics is new to me. It shows adoptions peaked at 3,967 in 1971. By 2008 the number was 259. Another table shows adoptions falling to 100 in the 2011/12 financial year.

It's interesting that the first set of data  frames the rise in adoptions as an aberration, and the decline as a return to normal (my words). But it ignores that pre-adoption many children were placed in orphan asylums. At December 31, 1928 (randomly chosen) there were 2,906 children in orphanages and a majority had living parents. Was that state of affairs 'normal'?

Societal values are constantly changing. It may be in  the future the practice of adoption grows again as we begin to accept that some children are not better off with their birth parent.

Friday, June 28, 2013

MSD annual statistics released

The annual statistical report (available to view on-line) has just been released by MSD. Frustratingly, the data is always a year old by the time it has been compiled. When next year's edition is published it won't even include the new benefits that begin in two weeks. But it is fairly comprehensive.

Domestic violence - what works (or doesn't) in reducing recidivism

Just reading over a 2012 Corrections review of the literature regarding what works in reducing domestic violence recidivism. Some interesting passages include:

Internationally, the domestic violence landscape is dominated by two approaches. The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project programme (DAIP,
commonly known as the Duluth programme) is a feminist psycho-educational programme developed in the early 1980s.  It has arguably been the most influential domestic violence programme and remains a prominent intervention with domestically violent men. [The Duluth Programme is based on a feminist psycho-educational model.  An analysis of violence from this perspective suggests it is a result of socio-political forces that are influenced by patriarchal philosophy.  Programmes focus on teaching clients about power and control elements that cause domestic violence.]  Increasing dissatisfaction with the feminist approach and the inability of the socio-political stance (particularly in relation to patriarchal values) to adequately explain female or same-sex violence, led to growing agreement that the current approaches are limited in their success.

No wonder then:

Overall, the research provides more information on what does not work
rather than on effective ways to stop family violence.
Back to the increasing dissatisfaction with the Duluth programme:

 This, coupled with advances in the “What Works” literature, contributed to a gradual shift towards including cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT) modalities. These two models are the only ones that have been subjected to replicated empirical testing... CBT is based on the idea that a person’s mood and behaviour can be improved by changing dysfunctional thinking.  CBT interventions are generally structured and short-term, and concentrate on present difficulties. Within CBT, domestic violence is conceptualised as a consequence of problems with the person’s thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and behaviours.  Cognitive behavioural interventions for domestic violence assume that violence is a learned behaviour that can be replaced with taught non-violent behaviours.

So what's happening in NZ?

 In New Zealand, very little information is available on the content or success of domestic violence programmes.  A 2003 publication refers to both Duluth and CBT as having influenced local programming....Domestic violence strategy in New Zealand is guided by the Family Violence Ministerial Team, which is advised by the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families. The current focus of the Taskforce is on allocating resources to interventions with proven impact. As a result, the Ministry of Social Development is moving towards results-based accounting while the Ministry of Justice has reviewed its funded programmes. The Ministry of Justice review was completed in 2010. The associated literature review found no conclusive evidence that programmes are successful, but the authors believed that it was premature to conclude that the programmes cannot work.

So what next?

 ... existing literature supports the importance of developing Kaupapa Māori programmes that address the impact of colonisation and include the whanau and broader community. This is consistent with the Department’s Māori Strategic Plan and the Māori Reference Group’s E Tu Whanau Ora framework, but stands in contrast to current domestic violence approaches.  Interventions for Māori would need to be localised, strengths-based kaupapa Māori programmes that support not only the offender but also the community and risk factors in that community. 

The patriarchal, socio-political, approach doesn't work but the impact of colonisation strategy will?

The paper goes on to examine a number of international studies into existing programmes that show, at best, recidivism reduced by 15 percent.

Babcock, Green and Robie (2004) conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies published between 1984 and 2003 that evaluated treatment effectiveness for domestically violent males.  Only methodologically rigorous studies were included.  Selection criteria included presence of a comparison group, a follow up period beyond treatment completion and not relying on offenders’ self reports.  

The authors identified no significant difference in the effectiveness of Duluth- type and CBT interventions.  They believed that this might be due at least in part to the two models being almost indistinguishable in many contexts.  Quasi-experimental studies based on partner report produced the largest effect sizes, indicating that treated offenders showed a 15% reduction in recidivism compared to non-treated offenders. More rigorous experimental studies showed that recidivism was 5% less likely by men arrested and referred to an intervention programme than by men arrested and sanctioned without intervention.  The authors cautioned that, while a 5% decrease in violence may appear insignificant, the cost and impact of domestic violence is such that even a small difference would justify intervention.  

But it gets worse:

Feder and Wilson (2005) conducted a meta-analysis of controlled studies that involved randomization of participants and official reports to measure recidivism.  The analysis focused on the effects of post-arrest mandated interventions on reducing intimate partner violence.  Ten North American
studies (four experimental and six quasi-experimental) were included in the
analysis.  All ten used a psycho-educational, feminist oriented and/ or cognitive behavioural approach.  Programme duration ranged from 8 to 32 weeks.  

In contrast to the earlier review (Babcock et al 2004), evidence from the Feder and Wilson (2005) study was mixed.  They found a 7% decrease in recidivism beyond traditional criminal justice interventions, such as probation or community service. When using partner reports as the outcome measure (which is arguably a higher and more accurate estimate of violence recidivism), they found no benefit from domestic violence intervention programmes.  
And even worse:

A number of studies have found increased recidivism in programme non-completers.  
And in conclusion:

The current state of knowledge about domestic violence is not sufficient to
promote any specific treatment modality or programme.   How and why domestically violent offenders desist remain unclear, with the focus of most
studies being on the more general question of whether treatment has resulted in any desistance at all.  Studies on domestic violence programmes are therefore of limited value in guiding future interventions beyond, as noted earlier, to tell us what does not work. 
Well I suppose that's something.

The paper finishes with "Some thoughts on the relative lack of success of domestic violence
programmes," which summarised, question length of intervention, the appropriateness of type of intervention for level of offender and the offender's "idiosyncrasies", the one size fits all inadequacies, lack of whanau support, drop out from programmes, delivery integrity, programmes rolled out too quickly and too extensively, inadequate funding and lack of consequences for non-compliance.

As it stands there is little positive to be said about domestic violence interventions.

Food Stamp foibles

From time to time you hear people proposing food stamps for New Zealand. My position is they'd be better than cash but still come with their own set of problems. The following from NCPA today lay those problems out:

Food Stamps Are Unsuccessful

June 27, 2013
In recent years, enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased dramatically, rising from 26 million beneficiaries in 2007 (one in twelve Americans) to nearly 47 million in 2012 (one in seven Americans). Costs have increased dramatically as well, rising from $35 billion in 2007 to $80 billion in 2012, making it the second most expensive means-tested federal welfare program. As such, it is vital to understand the serious flaws in current food stamp programs, says Andrew Montgomery of FreedomWorks.
  • Ineffective at reducing hunger: A report compiled by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that while SNAP has had some positive results, "The literature is inconclusive regarding whether SNAP alleviates hunger and malnutrition in low-income households."
  • Subject to large scale fraud and error: The GAO reports that despite great progress, "The amount of SNAP benefits paid in error is substantial, totaling about $2.2 billion in 2009."
  • Lack of transparency: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not disclose product purchases or how many total SNAP dollars are spent on each product, nor does the USDA disclose how much money retailers make off of SNAP.
  • Form of corporate welfare: Food stamp programs guarantee large corporations consistent cash flow, creating a powerful corporate lobbying group that seeks to prevent cuts or changes to SNAP.
  • Overlap and inefficiencies: A report compiled by the GAO found that, "The 18 food assistance programs show signs of program overlap, which can create unnecessary work and lead to inefficient use of resources." Indeed, administrative costs equal about $5.5 billion per year, or about 10 percent of the value of food stamps distributed.
  • Create dependency: The goal of any government welfare program should be to get people back on their feet, not to keep them in poverty and hunger. Current food stamp programs have little work required as a condition of assistance, encouraging the relatively well off to freeload off the system and those in need to remain in poverty.
Source: Andrew Montgomery, "10 Reasons Food Stamps Need to Be Reformed," FreedomWorks, June 13, 2013.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NZ's own Spirit Level

Tomorrow New Zealand's version of The Spirit Level will be released.

 “This book is a timely addition to the work of British Health researchers Wilkinson and Pickett, Sir Michael Marmott, the New Economics Foundation historian Tony Judt, economist Joseph Stiglitz and others, which demonstrates beyond doubt that income inequality is causally related to many of society’s social ills..."

The Spirit Level Delusion: Fact checking the Left's New Theory of Everything can be found here.

A review:

 "If you haven’t read a book that made you laugh out loud on the bus or the Tube in a while, try Christopher Snowdon’s superb release, The Spirit Level Delusion. But the book’s subtle humour is not the reason I am recommending it. The Spirit Level Delusion is, above all, a book that delivers and goes well beyond the promise of its subtitle – 'fact-checking the left’s new theory of everything'... It may well be that the next big battle for a free society will be fought against the new anti-wealth egalitarianism. Christopher Snowdon has provided defenders of freedom with powerful ammunition."
— Kristian Niemietz, Institute of Economic Affairs

Why women earn less

Some research from the US that would merit a similar exercise here if the data were available. Overall women earn less but generally due to the choices they make.

At a recent event celebrating the Equal Pay Act, President Obama once again repeated the myth that women earn 77 cents on a man's dollar, says Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute.
In reality, the 77 percent figure is bogus because it averages all full-time women, no matter what education and profession, with all full-time men.
  • Even with such averaging, the latest Labor Department figures show that women working full-time make 81 percent of full-time men's wages.
  • For men and women who work 40 hours weekly, the ratio is 88 percent.
  • Unmarried childless women's salaries, however, often exceed men's.
  • In a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women between the ages of 35 and 43, women earn more -- 108 cents on a man's dollar.
  • In 2012, female White House staffers made 87 cents on a man's dollar, according to an analysis of published salaries by the Daily Caller.
Women make less than men because they choose more humanities and fewer science and math majors at college. Then, when they graduate, more enter the non-profit or government sector. In addition, many choose to work fewer hours to better combine work and family. In May, 2013, according to Labor Department data, 23 percent of women worked part-time, compared to 11 percent of men.
To solve the pay gap, the president reiterated his call for passage of the misnamed Paycheck Fairness Act sponsored by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). The bill has no chance of becoming law in this Congress, as it failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Congress in the first two years of the president's term. If the bill were passed, the threat of litigation about pay differences between men and women and minorities and whites would raise the potential cost of employment, discouraging hiring.
Source: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "Women and the Unequal Pay Myth," Real Clear Markets, June 18, 2013.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A new DPB trend?

Recently Treasury released a Working Paper which analysed benefit flows in the social security system. A couple of numbers caught my eye.

The aim was to look at flows on/off/between benefits pre- and post- GFC (pinpointed at QMay2008).

The benefit is coded and in the case of the DPB, additional information provided  such as age, whether there were dependent children or other income.

The two lines I queried with the author of the paper were these:

DPB18_nc_no with 363 average entrants pre and 1096 average entrants post GFC
DPB30_nc_no with 504 average entrants pre and 1393 average entrants post GFC

Did he have any knowledge of why people on DPB with no children and no income featured far more entrants post GFC? I had my suspicions, but I never received a reply.

I believe these are people going on to DPB - Care of the sick and infirm. And it occurred to me that as some people were made redundant, they wouldn't be able to pay for care for an ageing, ailing parent.

So I asked MSD some relevant questions.

1/ How  many people were receiving DPB Care of Sick or Infirm at March 31, for each year 2006 through to 2013? Their table:

The numbers on DPB - Care of the Sick and Infirm have doubled since 2006.

4/ Does MSD record the relationship status between the carer and the individual being cared for, and if so, how many carers are providing care for a parent?

Just as they don't record the relationship status between a DPB caregiver and dependent child. That presents a huge gap in their knowledge.

The letter did contain a sentence about the increase: "A reason for this increase is that in 2004 the policy was clarified and confirmed that DPB - Care of sick or infirm can be paid to a parent who is a required to provide full-time care and attention at home to their dependent child who would otherwise need hospital care."

But as the Treasury analysis shows, at least half of the inflow had no dependent children.

4,000 extra DPB Care of the sick and infirm represents about $70 million more per annum.

Given their new actuarial approach to the benefit system, you'd think the Ministry would be a bit more on to what looks like a developing trend.

When you think about it, another consequence of DPB-driven family breakdown could feasibly be an increasing incidence of adult children of single mums, quite probably single daughters, trying to look after both themselves and their ageing parent.

Fix worse than the problem

A small majority of Wellington City Councillors want to ban alcohol off-licence sales after 9 pm to curb drunkenness, particularly among youth. Much of the debate I've heard has gone straight to the matter of whether this is fair on responsible drinkers. Of course it isn't. But the following editorial from today's DomPost puts the often overlooked question: will such an action actually solve the problem?

The eight Wellington city councillors who voted to ban off-licence alcohol sales after 9pm in the hope of curbing the harm from people guzzling booze before they hit the pubs have overlooked one very important point – their targets are not stupid.
The move will not stop the pre-loaders from getting a head start before they go out for the night. If anything, it is likely to see them start drinking excessively earlier in the evening, causing more problems than it will solve while penalising every responsible drinker from one end of the city to the other.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Taxpayer funds CPAG court fees

You will know from past posts that the Child Poverty Action Group went back to the court late last month, this time the Court of Appeal, arguing that the In Work Tax Credit should be paid to beneficiary families with children. They want a ruling that the government is unjustifiably discriminating.

What I didn't know was that the Court of Appeal fees were waived on the grounds that the case is of significant public interest and the appellant's own stretched circumstances. The original application for a waiver was refused by the Deputy Register but that decision was subsequently reviewed and overturned by J Wild.

The new judgement says that the taxpayer should pick up the fees as the case is of genuine public interest.

There you go. Just one more item to add to a long list of taxpayer funded activities many not only have no interest in, but disagree with.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Who are the 'persistently deprived'?

Here's an interesting graph from a Treasury briefing paper to the Ministerial Committee on Poverty.

Many people spend some time with low income and/or in hardship (the overlap is only around 50%). The Committee wanted to know about those people who spend a long time experiencing persistent deprivation (can't afford food, clothing, power, medical services etc).

So  Treasury commissioned a paper which, amongst other offerings, analyses the portion of the population that is persistently deprived by age, ethnicity, educational qualification and, finally, family type. The mark above each column represents the group's percentage in the total population. So, if you look at ethnicity, of the total population Maori make up 13-14 percent, but of the deprived population they make up 30 percent. Looking at family type, of the total population sole parents make up 11-12 percent but of the deprived population they make up around 41 percent.

Unsurprisingly the Briefing ends with this comment:

"Solo parents are perhaps the group to be most concerned about."


(Further analysis showed that there was only a "modest" link between low income and deprivation finding "only a third of those who had seven years of low income had been in deprivation at any point".)