The Roanoke Times, July 15, 2000

(Virginia) Sides debate how best to punish children; Is corporal punishment of foster children harmful or just another option for parents?
By Lisa Applegate

Child advocates are shocked that foster parents might soon be allowed to spank or shake children, and so is one member of the state board that approved the change.

State Board of Social Services Vice Chair Brian Campbell of Charlottesville said he was "furious" when the proposed change in corporal punishment regulations went before the board at a meeting last month.

"I've talked to everyone that I know, and no one supports it," he said. "I don't want to get the report a couple years from now that says a foster parent went too far with their discipline and a child is dead. That potential exists."

Department of Social Services Commissioner Sonia Rivero said the change merely offers a choice for people who believe spanking is an appropriate way to discipline children.

"People do know the difference between beating someone and spanking them," she said.

The board voted in June to change the policy that prohibits any type of corporal punishment. Foster parents or people going through the adoption process are not allowed to spank, pull, or shake a child.

The new regulation would prohibit jerking, "harsh" shaking and "abusive" spanking.

A 60-day public comment period - which could sway the board's decision - begins Monday.

Rivero said the regulation pertains only to private child placement agencies, and they have the right to reject the new policy. If an agency accepts the change, it must help parents develop the best method of discipline for their child, she said.

"When you have a child coming from a physically abusive home, it would be inappropriate to grab them harshly at all," she said. "An agreement must be reached between the foster parent and the agency. I, as the state, am not in a position to decide what is the appropriate discipline for every child."

Sometimes, agencies don't know what a child has been through, said Anne Carpenter, executive director for ABC Adoption Services Inc. Carpenter often helps parents adopt children from other countries, where it is harder to find out how a child has been treated.

Like other agencies, ABC trains parents to use forms of discipline that emphasize communication and non-physical punishments, such as having children sit in "time out" for several minutes.

When she trains foster or adoptive parents, Carpenter asks them: "What does it say to a child when you hit? That that's the way you ultimately solve your problems. One minute you're saying, 'I can spank you,' and the next, you're saying, 'Don't hit your brother.'"

Rivero said she first considered changing the policy when several "regular upstanding members of the community" told her they were not accepted as foster or adoptive parents because they wanted to be able to spank their children when necessary.

Marge Savage, adoption program manager for Commonwealth Catholic Charities in Roanoke, said most parents are fine with the ban on corporal punishment. In 10 years, Savage has only seen one couple change their mind because of the rule.

Statewide groups - including the American Civil Liberties Union and Prevent Child Abuse, Virginia - and child advocates such as pediatricians and social workers have formed a coalition to protest the change.

Steve Jurentkuff , executive director for Prevent Child Abuse, Virginia, said he didn't know about the new policy until last month.

"It wasn't publicly known until that meeting in June," he said. "We'd like to see some good discussions to really understand what is it they're trying to accomplish."

Vice Chair Campbell said the Department of Social Services "sprung" the proposal on the board one week before it met. But Rivero said Campbell and the rest of the board had the proposed changes two or three weeks before meeting.

Campbell is trying to persuade the board to hold public meetings in addition to reading comments sent to the Department of Social Services. He hopes the board can vote again after hearing those comments.

If the board chooses to do nothing, the law will take effect Nov. 1.

Comments can be sent to Doris Jenkins, Child Welfare Licensing, Virginia Department of Social Services, 730 E. Broad St., Richmond, VA , 23219.

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