Sunday, October 01, 2017

Child institutional abuse probe’s approach under fire

Under influence from an unscientific nut

The $500 million royal commission into institutional child abuse is promoting “ethically dubious” and potentially harmful ideas about the counselling of sexual abuse victims and the reliability of their testimony, senior experts in the field have warned.

Several leading national and international researchers say the long-running inquiry has adopted a misguided victim-advocacy role and published misleading, inaccurate research that could potentially undermine the $4 billion redress scheme for abuse victims.

Richard Bryant, director of the Westmead Trauma Stress Clinic, said the royal commission ­appeared to be advocating counselling practices that were potentially dangerous and contradicted guidelines endorsed by the ­National Health and Medical ­Research Council.

His concerns were echoed by several experts in psychology, including emeritus professor Don Thomson, chairman of the ethical guidelines committee of the Australian Psychological Society, and Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California Irvine, an internationally renowned memory researcher who described some of the ideas endorsed by the commission as “brain babble”.

Harlene Hayne, vice-chancellor of the University of Otago in New Zealand, said one of the commission’s recent reports contained “a level of error that would probably cause you to fail an undergraduate memory course”.

The criticisms centre on two royal commission reports, one on the proposed compensation scheme, the other examining the effects of childhood trauma on memory.

The compensation report draws extensively on the advice of Cathy Kezelman, president of the victim-advocacy organisation the Blue Knot Foundation and co-author of a 120-page counselling guide that advocates “trauma-­informed care”, an approach the royal commission adopted. Its central idea is that counsellors focus on their clients’ underlying trauma rather than their presenting symptoms.

Dr Kezelman is a former GP who underwent psychotherapy in her 40s and developed multiple personalities while recovering “repressed memories” of being raped and tortured as a child by her father and a pedophile cult led by her grandmother.

She cites her nine years of psycho­therapy as an example of trauma-informed care, and has forged a close relationship with the royal commission, which praised the clinical expertise of her organisation in its report and suggested trauma-informed care could play a valuable role in the compensation scheme.

In today’s Weekend Australian Magazine, Dr Kezelman’s brother, Claude Imhoff, an emergency physician, refutes his sister’s story of pedophilia, saying he lodged a formal complaint against her psychologist in 2012, arguing that her treatment triggered “false memories” of abuse and caused immeasurable harm to her and his family.

The issue of whether people can entirely forget incidents of childhood abuse and then recover repressed memories of them years later has split the psychotherapy professions in recent decades, with many experts arguing there is no empirical evidence to support a phenomenon. Professor Bryant said the trauma-informed approach advocated by Dr Kezelman directly contradict best-practice guidelines endorsed by the NHMRC, which encourage counsellors to focus on treating symptoms.

He said her counselling guidelines advocate ethically dubious and potentially dangerous therapy techniques such as helping clients retrieve “implicit memories” that are hidden from consciousness, a technique that caused a rash of false and bizarre reports of child abuse in the 1980s and 90s.

“Does the royal commission really want to advocate policies that are contrary to the NHMRC?” he asked. “If funds are going to be made available for people who have been damaged, I think it would be ethically irresponsible, and would further compound the damage to the victims, if the system promoted or even ­allowed psychological services that are not evidence-based.”

Professor Loftus described aspects of the guidelines as “brain babble”, saying if they were widely adopted, “I foresee a world of hurt in Australia’s future”.

Dr Kezelman defended the guidelines, saying they had been endorsed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of ­Psychiatrists and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. The chairman of the RANZCP’s faculty of psychotherapy, Michael Daubney, said current counselling methods often did not meet the complex needs of people who had suffered extensive interpersonal abuse in childhood, a gap that trauma-­informed care could fill.

The royal commission report stipulates it is not advocating any particular counselling model for the compensation scheme, but recommended Dr Kezelman’s organisation be involved in ­accrediting counsellors for the scheme: she now sits on the advisory panel devising it.

The inquiry’s chairman, judge Peter McClellan, has described her as an “old friend” of the commission and appeared with her at conferences and media events, including one scheduled for today when Dr Kezelman will introduce the judge’s speech to a psychotherapy conference in Sydney.

The other royal commission report to have attracted strong criticism is a 185-page review of the effects of childhood abuse on memory, which states among its findings that young children are not highly suggestible and do not appear to be more susceptible to misinformation than adults.

Professor Thomson said these assertions are contradicted by decades of research, a view supported by Professor Hayne and Deirdre Brown, from Victoria University of Wellington, two leading child psychology researchers.

Professor Hayne described the report as sloppy, inaccurate and potentially harmful to the cause of abuse victims. She was concerned a government inquiry was promoting such an erroneous, falsely optimistic view of children’s reliability, potentially undermining years of study into their vulnerabilities as witnesses. “Maybe they misguidedly have the view that this is an advocacy exercise,” she said. “I can see how this report could be misused and would lead to greater harm to children, if it leads to the belief they don’t have special needs as witnesses.”

The lead author of the report, Jane Goodman-Delahunty of Charles Sturt University, said she was aware some researchers contested its findings but these reflected robust recent research showing children were not as suggestible as earlier studies had reported. She said one aim of the report was to highlight ways to ­address the high incidence of ­“potentially wrongful acquittals” in child sex abuse cases, although it acknowledges the import­ance of careful, non-­suggestive questioning of children.

In a prepared statement, the royal commission said it had commissioned a large number of research reports, and the report co-authored by Professor Goodman-Delahunty reflected the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the commission itself.


Another reason to abolish 18C. Consider this vexatious complaint’s threat to free speech

When the legal affairs editor of this paper, Chris Merritt, sent a carefully worded reply on March 9 to an email he had received two days earlier, that should have been the end of a matter involving what can fairly be described as a mild-mannered response to abusive hate mail.

Instead, the relevant series of emails is about to become the latest chapter in the story of Australia’s notorious anti-free-speech law, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Attempting to single out any one element of this case for special treatment is a difficult task, but it is a laughable indictment of this dreadful law that Merritt, Janet Albrechtsen and Hedley Thomas (to whom some of the original emails were sent) are defendants in this case, rather than plaintiffs.

The reason this is so perplexing is that it was the original recipients who were vilified on grounds of “race, colour, or national or ethnic origin”, not the sender.

And yet the plaintiff is Sokhom Prins — the author of emails referring to writers at The Australian as members of a “WHITE RACIST POSSE”.

Ms Prins.  She is a Cambodian who survived the Pol Pot horror and who now lives in Australia.  She describes Australia on her Twitter account as a "great country, pity about the people".  Racist?

I have always thought the use of capital letters really lends an air of credibility to the written word. It is very effective use of language by Prins.

In a rare display of sensible judgment, the Australian Human Rights Commission dismissed the complaint when it first came across the desk of the bureaucrats whose job it is to decide whether feelings have been sufficiently hurt to usher the complaint through a convoluted series of supervised discussions between the complainant and the alleged offender.

In the letter to Prins explaining the commission’s reasons for dismissing the complaint, officer Jodie Ball stated: “The information you have provided to the commission is confusing and not easy to understand … The commission has spent considerable time trying to make sense of your correspondence.”

That is a lawyerly way of explaining that the Prins document was more of a rant than a carefully considered, quasi-legal statement of complaint.

Despite having been dismissed at the first hurdle, the complaint has now been advanced by Prins to the Federal Circuit Court.

Of course, if you are unable to express your complaint in clear enough language that others can understand, it is pretty unlikely that your claim will be successful. So Prins’s demands for the removal of the offending column (Merritt’s email response to Prins was published in this paper) and $1.6 million in damages are more than likely to be rebuffed by the court.

But the dismissal of this complaint should not be seen as validation of section 18C.

Even if the matter is withdrawn by Prins tomorrow, there have still been significant costs incurred by the defendants.

The time and energy already expended on this case will never be recovered.

And the money spent engaging lawyers is unlikely to be recouped, even if the court makes a costs order against a complainant.

Many of those who are in favour of the state dictating the limits of public discussion via the operation of section 18C will no doubt point to the marginal amendments that were made to the administration of the law earlier this year.

One of those changes was a new requirement that if a case had previously been dismissed by the Human Rights Commission for being “trivial, vexatious, frivolous, misconceived, or lacking in substance”, it could only advance to the Federal Circuit Court with leave of the court.

But Prins filed her complaint before those changes came into ­effect. Some will therefore argue that the new regime will not allow for a vexatious complaint to drag on as this one has.

But that relies on the Human Rights Commission dismissing cases such as this for being vexatious. And while it might seem obvious to the casual observer that complaints of this kind meet that requirement, this is not common practice for the AHRC. That a case may be dismissed for a reason other than being vexatious would not be ­unusual.

Fifty of 55 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act in 2015-16 were dismissed because there was “no reasonable prospect of conciliation”. Just three dismissals in the last year fell under the vexatious category, with another two complaints dismissed for other reasons.

The upshot is that the procedural amendments made by parliament will knock out only a tiny proportion of complaints, without providing sufficient protection for free speech.

This latest example bolsters the argument for the repeal of section 18C.

Newspapers, journalists, columnists and students at university will not be free to express themselves until this dangerous law is removed in its entirety from the commonwealth’s statute books.


Mum infuriated by absurd letter home from preschool

LET’S just say this preschool has some unrealistic expectations about three-year-old children. They didn’t go down well.  One suspects that the authors of the letter are not themselves parents

A mum has shared a baffling newsletter sent home from her child’s preschool with US based parenting site Scary Mommy, Kidspot reports.

Why so baffling? Well, it appears that the staff of the preschool have some pretty unrealistic expectations of a group of three and four-year-olds.

“We made it through a really tough first month with tears, attitudes, unwillingness, not listening, not obeying the rules and especially, too much talking and not enough sitting in seats when asked to,” the October 2017 newsletter of this particular establishment reads.

“We work on this every day at school, but we need help from home, too. We realise kids don’t want to sit and would rather talk and play when they want to; but that’s not how school works.

“Preschool is preparation to go on to ‘big’ school and these things are important there, too. We simply can’t say that our kids don’t like colouring and sitting still because Kindergarten and first grade have a lot of colouring. Please, work five or 10 minutes each day with your child on this and you’ll see improvement. We have seen improvement with several kids already.

“We realise it’s a fast-paced world and parents work, but the adults in the house have to be in charge and help the kids to understand this. Please, talk to your child about the importance of sharing, not fighting, keeping their hands to themselves, and learning to get along with each other. Remind them that once we pick up the toys that we don’t get them back out again, because we are done playing and going on to learning fun things.”


We checked what’s expected behaviour of a preschooler over at Raising Children - an expert parenting advice site supported by the Australian Government and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne — and it’s fair to say, mums have good reason to find this newsletter infuriating.

As children settle into a new environment at a preschool, some tears and separation anxiety is very normal behaviour. Many children at age three are still having tantrums and a good preschool will have effective management strategies to help children communicate their feelings in a more positive way.

Preschoolers have short attention spans — around 30 minutes — so sitting still and listening for long periods of time is simply not a realistic expectation for a group of three and four-year olds.

Children at this age are still learning to follow instructions. They’re easily distractable. It is very normal to have to remind children of rules and expectations several times. After all, that’s how they learn.

Not to mention that unstructured play is shown again and again to be essential to early childhood development.


Angela Hanscom, an paediatric occupational therapist and expert on the important of play for young children, has written repeatedly about the dangers of an ever-increasing push to structured settings in preschool environments in the US. (It’s worth pointing out that in Australia, play-based education is at the heart of most early childhood curricula.)

“It is through active free play outdoors where children start to build many of the foundational life skills they need in order to be successful for years to come,” she writes in the Washington Post.

“In fact, it is before the age of seven years — ages traditionally known as ‘pre-academic’ — when children desperately need to have a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences on a daily basis in order to develop strong bodies and minds.”

She goes on to explain how dangerous it is to kerb children’s free play.

“If children are not given enough natural movement and play experiences, they start their academic careers with a disadvantage. They are more likely to be clumsy, have difficulty paying attention, trouble controlling their emotions, utilise poor problem-solving methods, and demonstrate difficulties with social interactions.”

All of that makes you wonder, just exactly what is this preschool trying to achieve?


Making a point? Activists wearing giant blow up hands emblazoned with Australian flags storm Melbourne council meeting demanding they don't ban Australia Day

Far right protesters dressed in bright blue Lycra waving inflatable Australia flag hands stormed a Melbourne council meeting over Australia Day date changes.

A handful of people draped in Australian flags waving anti-Nazi signs were protesting against Moreland Council's decision to change the date of Australia Day celebrations.

Moreland City Council voted to scrap Australia Day celebrations almost two weeks ago, making them the third Melbourne council to make the controversial move.

The council meeting was interrupted Wednesday evening and a video posted to Facebook shows one man in the gallery being forced to cover his ears because of the noise.

Sombrero wearing protesters carried slogans plastered on black signs including 'no Nazi councils' and 'stop division'.

Protest organiser Neil Erikson posted a video to Facebook saying they 'hit' the council meeting. 'We just burst in there, they closed down their whole meeting,' Mr Erikson said.

The video received more than 8000 views in the three hours it was online and many people commented in support of the protesters. 

Greens Councillor Natalie Abboud shared that she was 'so proud' of the council and gallery who experienced the protest Wednesday evening and thanked them for their 'bravery and patience'.

'Men in Lycra won't stop us from hearing community submissions to the Draft Local Law tonight,' Ms Abboud wrote on Facebook.

'I hope I never have to see a professor with his hands over his ears again.'

However, Mr Erikson is no novice when it comes to storming council meetings in protest.

Mr Erikson stormed Yarra City Council's meetings in protest of them changing Australia Day earlier in September

The 32-year-old interrupted a Yarra City Council meeting early September, just hours after he was found guilty for his role in staging a mock beheading to protest a Bendigo mosque.

The group of protesters were also opposing Yarra City Council's decision to ban Australia Day.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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