2 Dec 2008

Line between spanking and abuse difficult to determine

The Arizona Republic - December 2, 2008

by Pat Kossan

When does spanking a child slip into abuse?
That's a question prosecutors could be mulling after an 8-year-old boy was charged with shooting his father and another man Nov. 5.
Excessive spanking is the first inkling of a motive for the killings inside the child's family home in St. Johns. The boy told a Child Protective Services worker in an interview after the shootings that he had vowed that the 1,000th spanking would be his limit, according to police records.

Because of the boy's age, The Arizona Republic is not identifying him or his family members by name.
Every state has its own definition of what constitutes abuse, said Wendy Shepherd, co-chairwoman of the Greater Phoenix Child Abuse Prevention Council.
"So, in one state, you can slap a child and it's legal; in another state, it's only legal if it doesn't leave a mark," Shepherd said. "It's really hard to answer the question of when does it become abuse. There's that gray area, and there's no such thing as an expert opinion. Intent has a lot to do with it."
Arizona CPS officials received no reports regarding the St. Johns family before the double homicide, said Liz Barker, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which oversees the child-welfare agency. The child was in the agency's care briefly after his arrest, she said.
Physical abuse makes up about one-third of Arizona CPS reports, Barker said. Neglect reports are far more common.
"In terms of Child Protective Services, if a parent physically disciplines their child and causes an injury, leaving marks such as bruising, at that point in general terms it may be considered abuse," Barker said.
State CPS workers evaluate each family on a case-by-case basis, interviewing both parents and children.
"We ask a lot of questions," Barker said. "We ask what kind of discipline is used, when it is used and how frequently."
CPS workers try to assist parents to find alternative ways of disciplining children.
"We do not ever recommend physical discipline," Barker said. "There is always a possibility you could unintentionally harm a child. It's just not appropriate."
The message to parents is mixed about the potential harm spankings can do to their children.
For example, 22 of 50 states, including Arizona, permit spanking in schools. Yet only 35 governing boards in Arizona's 227 districts allow corporal punishment, said attorney Chris Thomas of the Arizona School Boards Association. Even where spanking is permitted, it is rarely used and highly regulated.
Surveys of parents about spanking their children range wildly. A parent's attitude on discipline could be shaped by culture or even religion.
For example, some Christian churches condone spanking and find evidence of support in the Bible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics tells parents spanking should be used selectively and infrequently. The only way to maintain its shock value is to intensify the spanking, which can quickly escalate into abuse.
The National Mental Health Association reports that occasional gentle spankings from parents do not harm a child's social or emotional development. Intense repetitive spankings, however, can lead to depression and anger and may lead to aggressive behavior in children, the association said.
In the end, parents are just looking for something that works, said Holliday Milby, a Glendale family psychologist.
Many parents, especially parents who don't live together or live with grandparents, are not consistent in their discipline, so more passive forms of discipline, such as giving time-outs or taking away privileges or toys, don't work.
Other parents are afraid to spank kids, fearing their own anger or other people's reaction. Some parents are overwhelmed by guilt after they spank a child and end up giving the child what he or she wanted in the first place, Milby said.
But even frequent spanking doesn't lead to the kind of violence seen in the shootings in St. Johns, Milby and others said.
"Even if you spank a child, that doesn't mean a child is going to pick up a gun and shoot you," Milby said. "Something else has to be going on."
Reporter Dennis Wagner contributed to this article.
This article was found at:

No comments:

Post a Comment