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No-Touch Policies and Practices – Do they have a Place in Early Childhood Education?

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the importance of touch as part of caregiving and teaching children

Physical Contact With Children and No-Touch Policies and Practices.

When touch is barred from or minimised in early childhood programs as a result of explicit or implicit policies, it is usually with the intention of protecting both children and staff. Prior to the 1980s, no-touch policies in educational settings were uncommon; but that changed with the widely publicised child abuse cases of that era. Sometimes touch is not entirely forbidden, but it is still highly regulated. Teachers might, for example, be encouraged to hug only from the side instead of from the front, or to offer a high five instead. Implicit policies my be just as restrictive, for example, when a female teacher looks with concern at a male colleague about to hug a crying child, she sends him an implicit no-touch message.

Frances M. Carlson, 2006, Essential Touch: Meeting the Needs of Young Children, published by NAEYC. 

the importance of touch as part of caregiving and teaching children

The following article was first presented at a forum on Teachers Touching Children at the University of Auckland a number of years ago. It includes substantial discussion of why and how no-touch policies developed in education and a collection of correspondence and references.

For families and employers of teachers it raises interesting questions as to what expectations you should have of teachers, what is appropriate touch and in what circumstances, and what is best for young children.

“The Disappearance of Caring in New Zealand Education” keynote address by Sarah Alexander to a University of Auckland Symposium (6/11/1999). Later published as a chapter “Moral panic in New Zealand: Teachers Touching Children (pp. 87-97) in a book edited by Alison Jones (2001). Touchy Subject: Teachers Touching Children. Dunedin: University of Otago Press.

Moral Panic in New Zealand: Teachers Touching Children

By Sarah Alexander

I went to our local primary school at lunchtime to collect my soon-to-be five-year-old son who had spent the morning there for familiarisation. In the playground I spotted him and his teacher coming towards me holding hands. I walked up to meet them and held my son’s other hand and all three of us walked towards the classroom. On the way he lifted his legs in the air and swung like a monkey, supported by the teacher and I. He had an enormous smile on his face and he seemed very happy. He looked at his teacher and said, “That’s what I do when mummy and daddy are holding my hands”. Later in the car he reflected on his morning “I love Mrs …” he declared with admiration and pleasure. “Oh, and I also love you and daddy, and my sister [a toddler],” he added as an afterthought. As a parent I was pleased that he was forming a relationship with his teacher. I felt assured that he would go to her for help and that she would not hesitate to comfort him physically if needed. I could see that the caring and friendly relationship she fostered with children supported the development of respect rather than fear or disrespect.

When I think back to this occasion it illustrates very nicely the personal importance that teachers assume in the lives of young children, and that children (and parents too) benefit from teachers who have positive physical contact as part of their relationship with children. Unfortunately, such relationships are becoming more difficult for teachers.

A moral panic about touching has pervaded the early childhood and primary school education sectors since the early 1990s. I was not surprised when talking to my son’s teacher to learn that although she had physical contact with children in her new-entrant’s class as part of normal human interaction, she never felt personally safe from accusations of child abuse. While some teachers, like my son’s teacher, refuse to let the moral panic impact on their daily teaching and caring for children, others feel they have no choice but to avoid any form of physical contact with children unless under supervision or in an extreme emergency.

Teachers are receiving messages from the media, their colleagues, their teacher-educators, and teacher unions about the dangers of touching, but there are no countering messages to give support to teachers who want to be able to teach children effectively and have caring interactions. I believe the moral panic has already gone far enough. The message of this chapter is that extremes can be harmful to children and to teachers. A balance needs to be found between the protection of teachers on the one hand, and children’s emotional, physical, and intellectual needs on the other. Touching is a touchy subject – in the current climate of the fear of accusation of abuse, teachers are being encouraged to believe that any form of touch, regardless of children’s needs, could be potentially construed as abuse.

In this chapter I focus on the early years of education encompassing early childhood services and primary schools, and with reference to the New Zealand context. First, I overview the leading causes of the development of the moral panic in New Zealand education and discuss the current climate. Then I outline the main policies on teacher contact with children and give some examples of how these policies are making teachers feel torn between their own need for self-protection on the one hand, and being a caring and effective teacher on the other. In conclusion, I offer some predications of what might happen if the current situation remains unchallenged. I also offer recommendations for changing the climate of fear.

The Moral Panic

During the 1980s a key topic in professional development for New Zealand teachers was learning about sexual abuse and how to identify children who had been sexually abused. Considerable resources were given to awareness-raising and training. This reflected efforts by public and community agencies within society to make child abuse and protection a leading social issue. Brian Pearl, representing the Education Department, said at a national conference looking at child abuse prevention in 1987:

I think it is fair to say that since 1982 awareness of child abuse and hopefully child protection in New Zealand has come of age. Up to 1982, notwithstanding some very fine work that was going on, many people in our society, including those in child-related activities like teaching, educational psychology etc., could not or would not believe that here in New Zealand we had a major problem with child abuse. Any horror stories that we did hear about seemed to be the province of our American or British cousins (p.15).

I entered teachers’ college in the early 1980s and participated in many workshops and read widely about child abuse. A slogan I heard often was “all men are potential rapists”. “Girls can do anything” was another slogan. Like many of my friends, teaching colleagues, and lecturers, I read the feminist magazine Broadsheet, and believed, as did researchers Andrews and Merry in 1987, that the abuse of children was simply another “example of the way we structure our worlds, with women and children ‘fair game’ for men” (p.53). The politicisation of child abuse made it very difficult for men, particularly fathers and male teachers, to interact and to be intimate with children. Prior to the early 1990s the spotlight was on child abuse in the home setting, and significant attention had yet to be given to schools and early childhood settings as potential places for abuse. In New Zealand society, teachers were trusted professionals. Moreover, most teachers and child-care workers were women, and the focus on child abuse was mainly on sexual abuse, considered at the time to be a largely a male problem.

Ivan, who started kindergarten teaching in 1984 and in recent years left kindergarten to retrain for primary teaching, recalled the following experience during an interview that was part of my study on male early childhood teacher experiences in 1997:

… probably my worst situation was at an area staff meeting. We had a woman come in as guest speaker. I think she was from rape crisis. We had a few lesbian teachers in the Association and it turned into an anti-male meeting. They were going to castrate all rapists and blah blah blah … The whole thing got totally out of control. The window was open behind me. I was seriously thinking of getting out of it (p.27).

Changing attitudes towards gender roles in the early 1980s saw small numbers of men, like Ivan, being welcomed into kindergarten teacher training at Teachers’ Colleges. As Ivan found, though, working with young children was still considered women’s work. Despite men’s involvement being welcomed by a kindergarten movement keen to challenge sex-role stereotyping for children, some women were not pleased to see men become teachers. As a female kindergarten teacher said:

Before the abuse cases came up things were different – it was exciting. People would ring up or come around and look and say “Wow, you’ve got a male staff member, how wonderful!”. Then after the abuse cases I hear new parents say “Oh, you’ve got a male staff member” in a disapproving tone (p. 29).

As the feminist movement grew stronger in New Zealand and more women entered paid employment, supported by equal employment opportunity, the proportion of female to male primary school teachers increased. In 1971,62.2 percent of primary teachers were women. By 1998 this has increased to 79.5 percent.

By the mid-1990s the focus on child protection and teachers as trusted professionals had changed. Teachers had become people who needed to be watched, and teachers and the teachers’ unions responded by focusing on teacher protection from allegation of abuse. The main reason for this trend towards distrust can be traced back to the high-profile Peter Ellis case, and the changing nature of schools and early childhood centres as places with greater public and community accountability. With the educational reforms, schools and early childhood services have had to become more accountable to their communities, and especially to parents, management committees and boards of trustees. Teachers find that they can be questioned about whatever they do. The status of individual professional judgement and experience is diminished. The government and Ministry of Education have largely regarded the problem of sexual abuse allegation as the responsibility of teachers, schools and early childhood services and their boards or managers.

One of the most significant events for teachers of young children in New Zealand has been the charging in 1992 of child-care worker Peter Ellis and (initially) some female co-workers for the sexual abuse of children at the Christchurch Civic Child Care Centre, considered a model early childhood centre and well known for its liberal ideals. Ellis maintained his innocence. The charges against the women were dropped before the main trial. In a television interview at the time, one of the women said that the focus in the case had been on child protection, and asked “but what about the protection of workers?’”. Peter Ellis was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Several subsequent appeals to have his conviction overturned failed. Media attention to the case was considerable. It sent shock waves through the whole education community. Even after his release from jail Ellis’s case remained very much in the political and media spotlight.

A few cases of child abuse (including physical and/or sexual) come to light in schools and early childhood services every year. None have been on the same scale as the Ellis case, and none have received anywhere near the same intensive media coverage and scrutiny. Nevertheless, these cases continue to reinforce public perception that (all) teachers are not to be trusted not to abuse children. Individuals have been targeted as ‘abusers’ simply for being teachers. For example, after media coverage surrounding the trial of a Wellington Hospital child-care teacher for sexual abuse, a teacher who had no connection to the case was faced by a violent intruder at home. The teacher recalled:

I have been assaulted because I am a male early childhood worker. I had never met him …He came to the door with a nametag on his shirt and said he was doing a survey and asked what I did. I said childcare worker and he just burst into the house and started beating me up. He was saying, “I know what you are doing” (p. 31).

Until my 1997 study of men in New Zealand early childhood teaching, showing that the sex abuse issue was affecting male teacher employment, retention, and teaching practices, there had been no official acknowledgement of the impact of the issue on teachers. A representative from the early childhood and primary teachers’ union, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI), at the time of the research told the press that salary levels and conditions were the main issues for teachers. Some months later, the Minister of Education, Wyatt Creech, was quoted as saying that the “highly publicised sexual abuse cases had generated dreadful PR for male teachers … [but] he doubted the government could do much to aid the situation” (EDUVAC, 1997, p.1).

In April of 1998 one teacher took a brave stand by speaking out through the media about how bad the situation had become for teachers. His personal story showed the damaging effects of social bias against men working with young children and just how vulnerable all teachers are to accusations of abuse. This was John Edgar, a primary school teacher who was acquitted by a Hamilton District Court jury after seven boys alleged he had touched their genitals. Edgar appeared on national television to tell men that the risks of being a teacher were too great, and he advised those already in teaching to get out. He said that his career was ruined and that after this experience he would never teach children again.

As a professional group, teachers have largely shied away from publicly examining the controversial issue of child abuse in schools. It is accepted that teachers are very vulnerable to accusations of abuse, despite the evidence that abuse is far more likely to happen outside of the classroom and early childhood centre than within. It seems to be accepted that the withdrawal, or limiting, of physical contact will protect a teacher from accusation. But as John Edgar’s story showed, teachers do not have to touch children to be accused of abuse. The effects of such cases on teachers and potential teachers, and the subsequent costs to children’s emotional well-being and education have not been publicly considered.

The Ministry of Education has done little to effectively reverse the damage of the moral panic about touching children. NZEI, the primary teachers’ union, has done an admirable job of looking after its members through the development of a code about physical contact and representing teachers who face allegations, but NZEI also has unwittingly helped to reinforce and fuel teacher concerns. The moral panic has redefined teachers’ identity (as dangerous), and is having a seriously limiting impact on their interactions with children. The lack of analysis and questioning has led, as Richard Johnson (1997) argues to a strengthening of control and a fuelling of the moral panic about touch in schools, which in turn has then justified and increased the need for greater surveillance and concerns about litigation.

The Current Climate

As I have explained, teachers are no longer trusted professionals, and this has made them feel, and be, more vulnerable to allegations of abuse. Teachers are also now much more accountable for their actions and there is reduced acceptance of teachers’ professional integrity and judgement in how teachers respond to children’s behaviour and interact with them.

There exists no educational rationale for teachers holding back from, or constantly checking, their physical contact with children. The reason for these new practices is fear. Some would argue that this fear is exaggerated, unnecessary and irrational, while other teachers who have experienced an allegation or know of teachers who have been accused of abuse would say that the fear is rational and necessary. It is a fear that teachers tell me niggles away in them. It is an ever-present worry that sometime, someday, they may be (mis)perceived to be touching or interacting with children inappropriately and investigated for abuse. The example given by an early childhood teacher explains this point well. He said:

There has been a case of suspected abuse at this centre. I remember when I was first informed about it, I went home and all those paranoid thoughts flashed through my mind -what am I doing here? What is the media going to do with me? The whole incident ended when it was discovered that it was innocent playing – between two children (p.31).

A fourth-year primary student teacher confided that he wanted to be a caring teacher whom children can trust, but when a child looked to him for help he felt paralysed to respond in any way other than through talk. He said he finds it stressful because he cannot work with a “clear mind”. He cannot be himself, and feels that often he is putting on a performance. He worries about the time he spends evaluating himself compared with evaluating his teaching.

Men working in primary schools and early childhood centres can experience greater stress and mistrust because sexual abuse is most often associated with male offenders. In my study of male early childhood teacher experiences I asked the men about the initial reactions of family, friends and others to their decision to become a teacher. Reactions included:

Martin: My mother keeps telling me to get out, she is trying to protect me from the stigma, from any sort of accusation.

Richard: Male friends joked, “Oh child molester”. They thought I was a ‘girl’.

Female teachers did not experience the same kind of responses from their friends and families. It was interesting that when I asked teachers why few men work in early childhood centres, as many as fourteen out of the forty male and female teachers talked about management suspicion of the motives of men wanting to work with children as a barrier to male employment. For example, Irene said:

We were looking for a long-term reliever and the person that we thought was most suitable was a male, but one committee member said that she didn’t like the idea of having two males because two males could end up in the bathroom with children. As far as we were concerned they were two people. Two people in the bathroom was what our policy said. People do have to have an element of trust. Females can abuse children too and I think people lose sight of that (p.21)

Judith Duncan (1999,1998) has documented the effects that sexual abuse protection policies have had on female kindergarten teachers’ work through increased surveillance, and has noted a tension between the teachers’ own sense of self-trust and a perceived lack of trust from parents and the community. She indicates that anxiety about child abuse in educational institutions is affecting female teachers, and that the issue is not confined to male teachers alone.

Teachers are finding that due to the climate of mistrust it is very difficult to achieve what they hoped to achieve in entering the profession – that is, to be effective teachers. Initial goals in becoming teachers are difficult to realise and job satisfaction can be lower as a result. Most teachers are very cautious, and feel unable to properly care for children in certain ways – for example allowing a child who is sad to sit closely beside them, or physically help a child in trouble. The result of this is that teachers are teaching children not to value physical contact, and to see any form of touch as something that is akin to abuse.

Through being cautious and distant, teachers are also showing children that they as adults cannot be trusted because they cannot be alone with or close to a child. In addition, to maintain a ‘safe’ distance from children, early childhood teachers are encouraged to keep strict boundaries between the early childhood centre and children’s homes, which makes it very difficult for teachers to build a strong link between settings to enhance children’s learning and provide support. In short, the moral panic about touching is creating a deep contradiction between what teachers know is good and vital for them to be doing in their work with children, and their own needs for self-protection.

It could be argued that the moral panic about sexual abuse is merely a precautionary aspect of contemporary culture, and the fear it generates is useful in protecting women and children. After all, why is it that today you are less likely than previously to find a workplace with at least one pornographic picture on the wall? Why is it that many workers are asking friends and colleagues not to send them dirty jokes on their work e-mail? It probably has more to do with fear than respect for women or for work-place rules.

But is fear of accusation detrimental to schools and early childhood centres? As a young student studying education at university, I was taught that education is about leading and supporting social change for the improvement of children’s education and welfare. I was taught that to be an educator is to be a critical thinker and someone who is not afraid to speak up on educational issues. Fear, especially for male teachers, makes it difficult for teachers to speak up about the policing of touch, and its threat to their everyday lives as teachers.


The primary and early childhood teachers’ union (NZEI) code of conduct for physical contact with children in schools has probably had the strongest impact nationally in terms of telling teachers to protect themselves and stipulating what teachers should not do. While clearly not liking the stress and fear teachers are under, the union has reinforced the moral panic about touch in their code of conduct. The code clearly tells NZEI members to accept that they are in a high risk occupation, and states that “any physical contact with students presents a risk to the teacher or staff member” (NZEI, 1998, p. 2). It goes on to explain that contact can be misinterpreted by:

  • The child in contact
  • Other children
  • Adults (staff, parents)

Misinterpretation can lead to:

  • Discomfort
  • Formal complaint
  • Rumours
  • Community action
  • Criminal charges

If found guilty of complaints or charges then employment can be terminated. The code stipulates the situations when physical contact may be required:

  • Physical education and outdoor education activities such as swimming
  • Toileting children
  • Changing clothing
  • Giving comfort and first aid
  • Restraint in the interests of child safety
  • Lifting and caring for children with disabilities
  • In less formal situations such as playground supervising duties (p.3)

It advises that physical contact should be restricted to these times, though warns that with “any type of physical contact between staff member and child there is an inherent risk that it can be construed as abuse” (p.3). A highly debatable point made is that staff should present “good role models and practices in their dealings with children” (p. 3). The example given is that teachers should remove themselves from any contact made by a child and explain the situation “so they do not feel rejected”. However, it is difficult to comprehend that a child, of any age, would not feel even the slightest bit unwanted by a teacher who will not hold their hand or have any physical contact. And how does a teacher explain sufficiently well to a child that they are scared to reciprocate their touch? Some children want to touch and respond to physical contact. A touch can say more than a thousand words, and can often be much more meaningful to young children in some situations.

Attached to the NZEI code of conduct is a copy of the Special Education Service (SES) policy (undated). SES oversees the education of children with special needs. Compared with NZEI’s code of conduct, the SES guidelines leave more to staff judgement and professional discretion. The guidelines focus mostly on staff informing parents and gaining parental permission – for example, to work with a child alone, to implement a toileting programme, and on steps to take to ensure staff protection if it is necessary for children’s learning to provide a ‘physically-guided’ programme. SES also suggests regular supervision and peer review to discuss practices.

The Ministry of Education (1993) guidelines for the prevention of child abuse in early childhood services state that while teachers may feel they are not being trusted because they are required to implement certain policies and practices, it should be remembered that not all adults are safe. What are called the ‘rules’ about touching children are explained as follows:

  1. If a child initiates physical contact in the seeking of affection, reassurance or comfort it is appropriate to respond. It is not appropriate to force unwanted affection or touching on a child.
  2. Physical contact of children during changing or cleansing must be for the purpose of that task only and be no more than is necessary. Encourage children to take care of themselves (p.28).

In addition, the Ministry guidelines state that teachers should always be visible when working with children, and should never be alone with a child or children. The Ministry suggests that teachers should not become part of children’s families’ lives, but instead keep their professional and personal lives separate, because “many sexual offenders groom children and families to win the confidence and trust of children and their families before abusing them”. The Ministry further suggests that teachers encourage parents to drop in frequently and unexpectedly as a way of helping to prevent teachers from engaging in sexual abuse, and that all early childhood services should have a clear complaints procedure.

Policies in primary schools vary. Some schools have very clear policies about touch; these schools subscribe to the NZEI code of conduct for physical contact with students. In schools where there is no official policy relating to touch, teachers can be left unsupported by their boards and colleagues when an allegation of abuse is made. In talking with principals and teachers, I have found few schools which have developed a policy on ‘touch’ – that is, a policy that focuses not on teacher protection but on the importance of and value for children of teachers being able to maintain positive and timely physical contact with children.

Another form of policy is that decided informally by small groups of teachers themselves. Teachers often chat about their fears, share stories about complaints that have been made against other teachers, and informally come to agreements about safe practices. This can be called a ‘staff-room policy’. Policies also vary across different early childhood services and between early childhood services. Like schools, there is often the written policy of the service and the unwritten policy of the teachers or staff. Policies about sexual abuse and touch tend to be more clearly set out and known in services where men are employed. I came across a few cases where men had been told that as part of their employment they should reduce physical contact with children and that they should not change children’s nappies or supervise sleep times. Some male early childhood workers chose to restrict their physical contact with children out of personal choice for their own protection, and their female colleagues understood and did the tasks that involved touching children.


Most teachers, from the novice to the very experienced, are anxious about their actions. A very experienced junior class teacher mentioned to me that without stopping to think she had lifted a child to where he should have been sitting on the mat. But she worried about it for the rest of the morning because she had not asked the child for permission to touch first. Teachers also fret about their lack of touch and concern demonstrated towards children. As one teacher said to me during a casual conversation on the topic: “Teachers are having to force apart the teaching and caring dimensions. But what are the children learning? They are learning that teachers aren’t to be trusted and are cool uncaring people concerned more about the teaching of knowledge than nurturing the child”.

One teacher, who felt she should have quickly picked up and physically comforted a child who had fallen over in the playground, was torn between doing this and the staff-room (informal) ‘no touch’ policy of waiting until another adult was fetched to supervise her contact with the child. Another teacher regretted drawing away from a new entrant who at the end of the day was holding his cuddly, had his thumb in his mouth, and tried to lean against her leg while she was reading to the children. Yet another example is a male teacher who on the one hand felt he should check on the commotion in the boys’ changing shed (a year three class) but on the other hand felt that this would compromise his safety.

These examples illustrate that teacher protection policy and practices are not always in the best interests of children. Children’s rights to privacy, self-respect and immediate attention can be disregarded. I have visited kindergartens where teachers regard it as standard procedure, if it is near the end of session, to keep children with soiled pants waiting until their parents arrive to change them. How physically uncomfortable and how socially embarrassing for children this must be. When my child started at crèche at age 2.5 years I was surprised that nearly every lunch-time when I or his care-giver picked him up he had wet pants, and yet he was toilet trained. I soon realised that the problem was that there was no door on the toilet room and he felt too embarrassed to go toilet with other adults and children in the room. He had to learn to accept that this was the way things were at crèche – the open toilet room was for the adults’ protection.

Predictions and Recommendations

If the moral panic about teachers’ physical contact with children in New Zealand continues to be reinforced by major organisations such as the teachers’ unions, and unchallenged by groups of parents, teachers, teacher education institutions, researchers, and academics alike, then some of the consequences could include:

  • Teachers will experience stronger restrictions and sanctions on their interactions and relationships with children.
  • Teaching will become a purely technical job.
  • Teachers will become like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, people who will not able to express feeling and warmth.
  • Surveillance cameras and other strategies for monitoring teachers will become the norm rather than the exception.
  • The ability of teachers to provide caring role models for children will not be possible.
  • Children’s physical safety will not always be able to be ensured. Children’s emotional needs will not be able to be met by teachers. Children’s respect for teachers will drop. Teachers could even become the topic of playground jokes, like one I heard recently: “Don’t tell your mum the teacher touched your bum”.
  • Fewer children will feel their teacher cares about them and is interested in them as an individual. They will not say to their parents “I love my teacher”. And parents will worry even more about their children’s emotional well-being and safety.
  • Parents are likely to have to engage in coercion or bribery to get their children to attend the early childhood centre or school because to children these will be uncaring places.

My recommendations for change are:

  1. Instead of focusing on ‘no touch’, we should focus on the need for, and the nature of, caring relationships and interactions which may involve touch. In other words, a change from seeing touch as possible abuse to seeing that timely and caring physical contact can hold a range of benefits for children.
  2. As part of this change to the positive, we need to place trust in teachers as trained professionals, and teachers need to assert that trust is vital to their role as teachers. Supervision of teacher actions and the use of any forms of electronic surveillance devices should be the exception rather than the growing norm.
  3. Children’s needs for privacy, respect, safety, care, and emotional warmth should be met and must come before concerns about teacher protection.
  4. Teachers as professionals should be supported to put children first, perhaps through some kind of formal framework or the development of a professional body which takes on this issue.
  5. We need to look at what values children encounter as a result of current policies and practices of ‘no touch’ and to assess whether these are the values that we want members of New Zealand society to have.
  6. Finally, a completely neutral system for assisting teachers to voice their worries and discuss their practices is needed. In the current environment it is hard for teachers to do this without drawing attention to themselves, and others thinking that perhaps they have a problem or are suspect.


Since my presentation of this chapter at the symposium titled “Hands Off! Teachers Touching Children” at Auckland University in November 1999, and subsequent media reports, teachers have been questioning whether they should participate in the moral panic about touching. I was particularly heartened at the response from teachers and members of the public throughout the country who had read and shared an article which set out the key issues and what teachers should do in response to it, by reporter Jon Morgan of the Dominion newspaper (1999). A return to teachers having physical contact with children seems to now be occurring, with teachers challenging the moral panic through their practice.

Teachers are saying that they will have non-harmful positive physical contact with children when helpful for children and the teacher-child relationship. The main difference today seems to be that teachers are tending to define for themselves when and in what situations they will have physical contact with children, developing their own policies of touch. Some schools are also proclaiming themselves to be places where touch is valued.

For example, a publicity catch-phrase for Windley School, and published in Wellington community newspapers, was “Every child needs a lap”.

Should this trend towards teachers saying they will no longer allow fear to rule their interactions with children continue and strengthen, it also becomes less likely that the predictions I offered above on the possible consequences of a path of ‘no touch’ will come true. However, one of the major consequences of moral panic remains in urgent need of address: to make our schools and early childhood services more welcoming places for male teachers and fathers. While the previous government had begun to move on this issue, the present government has to date made no attempt to reverse the downward trend of male participation in teaching. We also have a long way to go to restore public trust in (all) teachers as professionals and as people who truly care about children.


Andrews, L. & Merry, S. (1987). Child sexual abuse and mental health project: A New Zealand project. In M. Abbott and D. Braun (Eds.), Child abuse prevention in New Zealand revisited. The edited proceedings of the child abuse prevention section of Mental Health in New Zealand Society, the Mental Health

Foundation’s National Conference, 1987. Auckland: Mental Health Foundation. Duncan, J. (1988). I spy: Sexual abuse prevention policies – protection or harm. Wellington: Victoria University Institute of Early Childhood Studies.

Duncan, J. (1999). New Zealand kindergarten teachers and sexual abuse protection policies. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15(3) 243-252.

EDUVAC (1997). Growing gender gap in primary teaching. EDUVAC: The Education Weekly 8,311, p.1.

Farquhar, S.E. (1997a). A few good men or a few too many? A study of male teachers. Palmerston North: Massey University.

Farquhar, S.E. (1997b). Of puppy dog tails, sugar and spice: Gender inequality and discrimination in early childhood education. Delta, 49(2), 405-416.

Johnson, R. (1997). ‘No touch’ policies in school: The erasure of physical relationships. The Practising Administrator, 3, 4-5.

Ministry of Education (1993). Prevent child abuse: Guidelines for early childhood services. Wellington: Learning Media.

Morgan, J. (1999). Teachers should touch children – lecturer. The Dominion (Wellington newspaper), 9/11/99, p.3.

NZEI Te Riu Roa (1988, updated). Service and support staff manual – Schools. Code of conduct: Physical contact with children. Wellington: NZEI Te Riu Roa.

Pearl, B. (1988). Department of Education. In M. Abbott and D. Braun (Eds.), Child abuse prevention in New Zealand revisited. The edited proceedings of the child abuse prevention section of Mental Health in New Zealand Society, the Mental Health Foundation’s National Conference, 1987. Auckland: Mental Health Foundation.

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