Associated Press, October 13, 2000


RICHMOND - Child advocates say Virginia is ignoring their pleas to reconsider regulations that would allow foster parents to spank, pinch or shake their children for disciplinary reasons.

The regulations, set to take effect Nov. 1, would make Virginia one of eight states to allow physical punishment of foster children as long as it's not abusive. The state defines abuse as any action that ``creates a substantial risk of death, disfigurement or impairment of bodily functions.''

In September, a coalition of 44 organizations sent the state more than 300 letters from the public urging the board to change its mind. Stephen Jurentkuff, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia, said the state has been silent about public reaction.

``I feel like we're not being heard,'' Jurentkuff said at a news conference yesterday.

Patti Huber, a representative of the Virginia Foster Care Association, said the law would promote violence against foster children, many of whom come from abusive families.

``These children come in not knowing us, not trusting us,'' said Huber, a mother of four foster children in Manassas. ``The only protection they have is knowing that their foster parent can't strike them.''

Commissioner of Social Services Sonia Rivero said the new regulations will help foster or adoptive parents by providing written guidelines for disciplining their children.

``For the first time it requires punishment to be openly discussed between the facility and the parents,'' Rivero said. ``That's so necessary because a lot of parents don't know what adequate punishment is.''

Rivero said many people are misreading the regulations as allowing gratuitous punishment of foster children.

Brian Campbell, vice chairman of the Social Services Board, has opposed the regulations since they were passed in June.

``It's too broad,'' Campbell said. ``It says you can shake your child, but it doesn't define at what age. So you could shake an infant if you wanted.''

Robert Spandaccini, a board member, said he has similar concerns and plans to suggest at the board's meeting Wednesday that the regulations be suspended until next year.

If the board does not overturn the regulations, Virginia will join Arkansas, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas as states that allows physical punishment of children in foster care or group homes, according to Prevent Child Abuse Virginia.

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