The media is in a tiz over a police report stating that 45% of children killed in family violence were killed by their mothers. The Herald says “Children are far more likely to be killed by their mothers than any other category of offender,”; Newstalk ZB reports Bob McCoskrie as saying this is “startling”; Stuff ramp it up a bit and begin “Nearly 50 per cent of children who die as a result of family violence are killed by their mothers.”
Well, duh! Don’t they know that children are far more likely to be living with their mothers than any other adult? The “any other category of offender” the Herald talks about include Fathers, Stepfathers, Boyfriends, Grandmothers, and various others. Given there were 33 deaths looked at this is a large number of groups to try and analyse. For the numbers to have any meaning they need to assess the numbers using what are called “case controls.” For example, if they looked at other factors, eg socio-economic, and then assessed the make up of households in that group they may find that children in that group are living predominantly with their mothers and much less with Fathers, Stepfathers, boyfriends etc. The numbers may only reflect who they are living with, not some kind of “evil mother” syndrome.
What use, really is such a report? How will it help prevent further deaths? I suspect the answers are “little” and “it won’t” but this will not prevent endless ours of hand wringing in the media. Surely, we can do better.