The president of WA’s Children’s Court has warned parents against smacking their children, saying it normalises violence and there are “smarter ways” to discipline them.

In a rare and wide-ranging interview, Judge Denis Reynolds also cautioned against giving children alcohol — even in small amounts and under parental supervision — because it reinforced the impression that underage drinking was acceptable.

Yesterday, as Judge Reynolds was appointed one of 15 ambassadors for WA children, he said the growing number of fathers on fly-in, fly-out rosters was creating a generation of teenage boys who were going off the rails because of a lack of positive male role models.

WA luminaries, including child health expert Fiona Stanley, Rio Tinto chief Sam Walsh, anti-bullying researcher Donna Cross, the Governor’s wife Tonya McCusker and former West Coast Eagle David Wirrpanda, were appointed ambassadors for the next two years by Commissioner for Children and Young People Michelle Scott.

Giving his views on the big issues affecting WA’s young people, Judge Reynolds said smacking could lead to more serious physical abuse.

“Once you introduce smacking or an act of violence as the normal response, it can escalate and get out of hand very quickly to the point where it’s just too late and people wish they didn’t do whatever it is that they have done,” he said.

Attempting to “teach” children to drink responsibly under parental supervision was also “a serious mistake” that would lead to them drinking in volatile environments with no adult supervision.

Judge Reynolds said binge drinking was responsible for most of the problems faced by children in his court and he had seen alcoholics as young as 10.

Although the growing problem of teenage binge drinking cut across all demographics, Judge Reynolds said most children charged with serious offences were from low socio-economic backgrounds.

For boys whose fathers worked away, there was a risk they would “get connected with other young males who are not going to school, engaging in anti-social behaviour, drinking too much, using cannabis and when you add up all of those things it inevitably leads to getting into trouble and that can be serious trouble”.

Another ambassador, paediatrician Trevor Parry, agreed the FIFO lifestyle was leading to a “growing father deficiency”.

He also raised concerns about children as young as 11 using drugs and alcohol. More were being robbed of their childhood
because they were having sex at a younger age, fuelled by the sexualisation of children in the media.

In a speech at the ceremony appointing the ambassadors, WA’s Chief Justice Wayne Martin supported comments by Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan this year, when he urged the courts to lock up repeat juvenile offenders sooner to increase their chances of rehabilitation.

“Sometimes the seriousness of the offences will be such that detention is the only realistic means of breaking that cycle,” Justice Martin said.

Judge Reynolds said his appointment as an ambassador reinforced his sense of duty and commitment to work hard for more support, prevention and diversion programs for children, particularly Aboriginal children who were over-represented in the justice system.

“As a community we need to support our children to achieve their hopes,” he said.

“For some of our children it is more basic than that. We need to support them to gain a sense of identity and positive self-worth to be able to hope.”

Dr Parry called for “integrated early years centres” to provide detection, prevention and early intervention for children.

He said there should be a Minister for Childhood and an Office of the Child to avoid children being left out of Government decision-making.

The West Australian

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