The Virginian-Pilot, September 14, 2000

Spanking regulations begin Nov. 1 unless board acts

Officials and citizens alike left an emotional public hearing last week believing that controversial state regulations to allow foster parents to spank their foster children would be postponed until early next year for further review.

But they were wrong.

Rufus Adkins, a member of the Board of Social Services, decided to ask the attorney general this week whether the regulations -- which were suspended in July -- would remain on hold until the board voted on them again.

He found out that they will go into effect Nov. 1 unless the board takes action or the Department of Social Services withdraws them before then. Because of that, Adkins, a Richmond pastor, is proposing a vote by the board at its next meeting, Oct. 18 in Abingdon. He wants to keep the current rules, which prohibit corporal punishment, while the board studies the issue. Adkins said he opposes allowing foster parents to use corporal punishment. But he also believes the board needs more time to get information from the Department of Social Services and make a final decision.

Three other board members -- Robert Spadaccini, Brian Campbell and Phillip Jones -- also said Wednesday that they support postponing the new regulations until the board can review public comments and information from Social Services.

``If we allow the issue to be tabled until January, that effectively installs the new regulations,'' Jones said. ``We need to take action on it and let the regulations rise or fall on their merits.''

At last week's hearing in Richmond, Commissioner Sonia Rivero said the board would probably not address the issue until next year. In the meantime, public comments would be compiled and distributed, and the Department of Social Services committee would prepare another presentation for the board, she said.

The Board of Social Services approved the regulations -- which were proposed by the department -- at a June 14 meeting in Peaks of Otter. Since then, however, board members have seen a firestorm of protest. In July, 32 agencies formed the Coalition for the Protection of Children in Foster Care to fight the change.

The regulations -- which pertain only to foster parents from private child-placement agencies -- would eliminate the ban on corporal punishment. Foster parents could spank or use other forms of physical discipline as long as the punishment did not rise to the level of abuse.

The regulations were suspended in July to allow for a Sept. 5 public hearing in Richmond, and a public comment period that ended Wednesday. The attorney general's office ruled that because the comment period ended before Nov. 1, the regulations will go into effect that day unless the board takes action or the Department of Social Services withdraws the regulations.

Stephen Jurentkuff, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse, Virginia, said he will attend the board's October meeting and encourage members to take action.

``It would be a terrible travesty if these regulations went into effect,'' Jurentkuff said. ``It would be extremely confusing.''

Reach Elizabeth Simpson at 446-2635 or

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