The Virginian-Pilot, July 18, 2000

Stop the pain for foster children; don't allow spanking

Twenty child-advocacy groups have joined to fight a change in state regulations that would allow state-paid foster parents to spank the children under their care.

Good. Every effort should be made to protect the children, many of whom have been physically abused for years. The last thing they need is for the state to pay foster parents who will keep a child only on condition that they be allowed to hit him or her.

The state Board of Social Services voted last month to allow corporeal punishment that is not abusive. Unless the board changes its mind, after a period of public comment, the change will take effect Nov. 1.

What will count as non-abusive corporal punishment? Different foster parents will have different opinions. As a result, different foster children will suffer different degrees of pain.

They shouldn't have to suffer from physical punishment at all. Hitting teaches hitting. It teaches that might makes right. If hitting taught discipline, these children already would be model citizens.

The new group is called the Coalition for the Protection of Children in Foster Care. One member is Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. Its executive director, Steve Jurentkuff, says: ``The best protection for foster-care children is to keep the current regulation that prohibits all forms of physical violence against them.'' He's right.

One reason given for allowing spanking is that more persons might then agree to be foster parents. These are not the people we want to be foster parents.

Marge Savage, adoption program manager for Commonwealth Catholic Charities, says that in 10 years she has seen only one couple change their minds about being foster parents because her organization prohibits spanking.

So why remove the prohibition? Department of Social Services Commissioner Sonia Rivero says the change would merely offer a choice for people who believe spanking is an appropriate way to discipline children. ``I, as the state, am not in a position to decide what is the appropriate discipline for every child,'' Rivero said.

But she, as the state, has a responsibility to protect foster children from physical abuse. If she doesn't believe that, she should be replaced by someone who does.

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