The Virginian-Pilot , July 19, 2000

(Virginia) Foster-care rule change opposed
By Elizabeth Simpson

The state's association of foster care parents is opposing new regulations that would allow them to use corporal punishment as long as it's not abusive.

Janet Hodge, who founded the Virginia Foster Care Association 15 years ago, said seven board members of the association met in Richmond over the weekend and believe the current prohibition against corporal punishment should remain in the regulations.

``The children have already been through so much, they do not need that kind of discipline,'' Hodge said.

She said she fears the new regulations -- scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1 -- could lead to increased allegations against foster parents.

The new regulations -- which pertain only to foster parents from private child-placing agencies -- were approved by the state Board of Social Services on June 14. The regulations change what is now a blanket prohibition of any type of corporal punishment -- such as spanking, jerking, pinching, shaking and binding -- to a prohibition of corporal punishment ``when abusive.''

Department of Social Services Commissioner Sonia Rivero has said that the change was made to help foster parents and adoptive parents better distinguish between abuse and discipline. She said the regulations would help ease people's fears of being accused of abuse if they spank or grab a child, and expand the pool of people who want to adopt children.

Critics, however, say the change is confusing and opens the door for foster parents to use corporal punishment that could harm children.

The Board of Social Services conducted a public hearing on the issue the same day board members approved the regulations in June. However, Hodge said the foster parents she knows were not informed about the issue.

She said they'd like a chance to weigh in with firsthand experience. The association includes 350 to 400 members from across the state, but also advocates for the state's approximately 4,000 foster parents.

``It angers me that people might think that foster parents asked for this,'' Hodge said. ``Foster parents didn't know anything about it.''

Board member Brian Campbell said he believes Hodge's complaint is ``absolutely legitimate.'' Further, he'd like to hear what they have to say, and to give others a second chance to comment.

The foster care association is one of 20 organizations that joined the recently formed Coalition for the Protection of Children in Foster Care. The coalition opposes the regulations and is requesting another public hearing on the matter. The coalition also wants the board to vote again.

The coalition, which includes the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Virginia Association of Licensed Child Placing Agencies and the Virginia Coalition of Private Providers Associations, hand-delivered 27 letters to the Department of Social Services on Monday, asking the board to revisit the issue.

Board of Social Services member Robert Spadaccini said he supports a public hearing devoted specifically to the corporal punishment issue. Members of a Board of Social Services subcommittee that met on Saturday discussed having one in September in Richmond, but a final decision has not been made.

``I have an open mind,'' said Spadaccini, who did not attend the June meeting. ``I'd like to hear some dialogue on the issue. I'd like to hear from the people who made the changes and the folks who serve the children.''

Reach Elizabeth Simpson at 446-2635 or

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