Report to Friends -- July 1, 2000


Dr. Robert E. Fathman's letter to The Virginian-Pilot, 7/1/00

Nadine Block's letter to The Virginian-Pilot, 7/1/00

Laurie A. Couture's letter to The Virginian-Pilot, 7/1/00

Jordan Riak's letter to The Virginian-Pilot, 7/1/00

Send your letter to the Editor of The Virginian-Pilot now! Write:

Respond to the poll: "Should foster parents be allowed to spank children in their care?" at

Comments on the regulations can be mailed to:

Doris Jenkins
Child Welfare Licensing
Virginia Department of Social Services
730 E. Broad St.
Richmond, VA 23219.

Governor James Gilmore, III
State Capitol, Third Floor
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Sec. Claude Allen
Secretary of Health and Human Services
P.O.Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

The regulations are scheduled to be printed in the Virginia Register on July 17.
Virginia state board votes to allow foster parents to spank children,
By Elizabeth Simpson, The Virginian-Pilot, July 1, 2000

Foster parents from private agencies may soon be allowed to spank their foster children as long as the swats aren't legally abusive.

The state Board of Social Services voted to change its rules -- which prohibit spanking of any kind -- at a June meeting. The regulations would take effect Nov. 1, after a 60-day public comment period that begins July 17.

The staff of the state's Department of Social Services proposed the change. Commissioner Sonia Rivero said the new regulations would help parents distinguish between abuse and discipline, and quell people's fears of being accused of abuse if they spank or grab a child.

``We want to make sure that parents who are willing to provide loving homes will not be turned away,'' Rivero said Thursday.

Board member Holly Korte said she first was surprised by the suggestion that spanking be allowed, but was convinced by the state's staff that it would help in recruiting foster parents.

``Otherwise, I think we close the door on people who would be great foster parents,'' said Korte, a teacher at Great Neck Middle School in Virginia Beach.

But several child-advocacy groups, child-placement agencies and organizations that represent poor families have attacked the new regulations. The critics say they're concerned the state would allow foster parents to strike a child, especially given that many foster children have been physically abused in the past.

``There are some places where you have to draw the line because if you don't, it opens the door for abuse,'' said Kent Willis, executive director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union.

These groups will meet in Richmond next week to figure out what they can do to reverse the regulations.

``I want foster parents to be recruited because they love children, not because they want to hit them,'' said Betty Wade Coyle, executive director of the Hampton Roads Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

Current regulations explicitly forbid spanking. The new regulations prohibit spanking ``when abusive.''

The state's legal definition of abuse is any action that ``creates a substantial risk of death, disfigurement or impairment of bodily functions.'' Generally, if a spanking does not leave a mark or cause an injury, it's not abuse.

The revamped definition also changes the prohibition against shaking to a ban against ``harsh shaking.''

Directors from three local child-placement agencies say they will continue to prohibit foster parents from spanking children or using any kind of corporal punishment.

``We are firmly opposed to it,'' said Margaret Robertson, executive director of Catholic Charities of Hampton Roads. ``Virginia has come such a long way in training parents in alternative methods of discipline. This would be a step backward.''

Lutheran Family Services and United Methodist Family Services directors also said they would continue to prohibit foster parents from spanking.

A staff attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, Nechama Masliansky, said the new regulation would require ordinary citizens to make difficult legal judgment calls, often in the heat of the moment.

But Rivero said that the change in the corporal punishment definition is only a small part of an overall revamping of the regulations, and that critics are taking the section out of context. The new regulations also require foster parents to work with the private child-placing agency to develop the best discipline plan, she said.

If spanking was deemed inappropriate for a particular child, it would not be included in the discipline plan. But if it could give a child needed structure, it would be acceptable, as long as it wasn't abusive.

In a letter submitted in support of redefining corporal punishment in the regulations, Regent University professor Lynne Marie Kohm cited the importance of making a distinction between abuse and ``loving corporal punishment,'' which she said can give a child inner strength and discipline.

``Abusive corporal punishment has no place in a loving home,'' wrote Kohm, who teaches family law at Regent. ``Discipline is a loving act that may be carried out in corporal punishment, such as spanking, which is done in the context of love and security.''

Robin DeJarnette, government relations director for the Family Foundation, said the group believes parents who are adopting a child should not have to agree to avoid spanking a child. ``We believe those are decisions that are best left with the adoptive parents.'' However, she said the organization has not taken a stand on whether foster parents in general should be allowed to spank.

State Board of Social Services members have already begun receiving letters and phone calls about the change.

Board member Brian Campbell said he believes a public hearing should be conducted on the matter. Campbell was chairman of the board at the time of the June meeting, and could not vote unless there was a tie. The regulations passed by a 6-to-1 margin.

Campbell said he was angry that the Department of Social Services staff sprung the issue on the board.

``I've been on the board for six years, and I've never dealt with anything that has caused me to lose more sleep,'' said Campbell, who is now vice chairman. ``I'm torn and uncomfortable with it.''

Campbell believes corporal punishment can be appropriate in a family setting, but questions whether it's proper to allow spanking of children who are wards of the state.

``We may be treading on thin ice,'' he said.

Based on feedback from the 60-day public comment period, the board can decide to discuss the issue again, hold a public hearing or go forward with the regulations, which are scheduled to be published in the Virginia Register on July 17.

Rob Geen, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said the regulations are very unusual, given the American Academy of Pediatrics' position that spanking is not an effective form of discipline.

He pointed out that some states -- Oklahoma and Nevada, for instance -- have passed so-called ``spanking bill of rights'' laws that explicitly give parents the right to spank.

Those laws, however, don't cover foster parents, said Geen, who has researched foster-care systems across the country for the Washington-based Urban Institute.

``I think they're opening a can of worms.''

Deborah Jordan, a Suffolk mother who is a foster parent for Lutheran Family Services, was surprised by the change.

``I think that's a risky thing to do,'' said Jordan, who uses time-outs and withdrawal of privileges to discipline her three foster children. ``Some people might use that to their advantage. Some people think a spanking is a beating, and others just a pop.''

Reach Elizabeth Simpson at 446-2635 or

Date: July 1, 2000
To: The Virginian-Pilot
From: Robert Fathman, Ph.D.

Dear Editor:

How sad that a child removed from the home of his or her birth parents will now be placed in foster homes where they can be hit/spanked by the foster parents [story June 30th].The Virginia Board of Social Services has just ruled that these foster children can now be spanked "as long as it is not abusive."

That term was apparently not even defined well.Can they be hit with a paddle?A belt?The buckle end of the belt?An electrical cord? Can they be struck in the face?And just how hard can the child be spanked?Are bruises allowed?Who would even know if the child gets a bruise in a non-visible place like the buttocks?The regulation would allow such spankings as long as they don't put the child at "substantial risk of death or disfigurement."Gulp!I guess bruising is ok!Try proving in court that a bruise put the child at substantial risk of death or disfigurement.

The state Board of Social Services should be taken to the woodshed on this one.They blew it.In nine countries in Europe now it is illegal for parents to hit or spank children, and children are being brought up with respect and order in their lives. There is no movement in these countries to bring back spanking.In fact three more countries in Europe are considering such legislation, and Israel also just banned parental spanking.Certainly foster parents can discipline children in ways that are not violent, that do not risk injury to the child, that teach these children to resolve problems in life without hitting.

The Board of Social Services is going against a national and international trend to take violence out of the lives of children in all settings.They need to re-think this one.Good discipline is instilled in the mind, not the behind.

Robert E. Fathman, Ph.D., Co-Chairman
EPOCH-USAEnd Physical Punishment of Children
5805 Tarton Circle North
Dublin Ohio43017h. 614-798-0031 w. 614-766-6688

Date: July 1, 2000
To: The Virginian-Pilot
From: Nadine Block

Dear Editor:

It is unfortunate that the Virginia Board of Social Services voted to change its rules to allow spanking of children in foster care. Spanking is an at-risk behavior, especially in the hands of people who have no family relationship to the child. Spanking is most often done in anger and can quickly escalate into abuse. If it implements this rule change, the State of Virginia will be taking a backward step. Each year, more states ban corporal punishment of children in foster care because it is an unsafe practice and because it is morally wrong to hit children who have been removed from their own homes often for reasons of child abuse and neglect. Our organization surveys state regulatory agencies annually to determine if corporal punishment is used in child care settings including foster care. Survey results are posted on Progress). We urge all Virginians to speak up against this unwise decision by the Board during the public comment period which begins July l7th. Otherwise, abused children will be subjected to more physical punishment beginning November l, 2000.

Nadine Block, Executive Director
Center for Effective Discipline, 155 W. Main Street, #1603 Columbus, OH (614)221-8829

Date: July 1, 2000
To: The Virginian-Pilot
From: Laurie A. Couture

To the Editor,

I am mortified at the irony of Virginia's relapse into the days prior to child protection: Beginning in November, 2000, in a century when there are more laws to protect adults from assault than ever before, children will have less protection than ever before. Those children who have been removed from unsafe homes and placed into the foster care system in order to ensure their safety will now, ironically, be placed in a system in which they are at risk for legally approved assaults. Now, the very children who already have serious emotional and behavioral difficulties resulting from violent parenting will, rather than receive therapeutic care, be placed in the "care" of those who can further exacerbate these violent tendencies by further assaulting these children. This is an outrage and one of the most irresponsible relapses I have had the displeasure of witnessing.

I am recruiter for Specialized Foster Care in the state of Massachusetts. In Virginia, I guess my job would no longer be necessary: my job partly entails extensively training foster parents to develop positive, therapeutic, non-violent methods of guiding the behaviors of traumatized children. It would be unthinkable in the agency for which I work, for a foster parent to ever be allowed to re-traumatize a child by using emotionally and physically violent means to control a child. Three decades of research has shown spanking to be ineffective and dangerous to the physical, sexual and emotional development of children. It is only effective at destroying the parent-child bond and creating rage and acting out behaviors in children. In traumatized children, this risk is even more profound. I hope that in this time of human rights protection and adult demand for legal assurance of protection from bodily harm that children will be reconsidered for these rights as well. No one needs these rights more than children who have already been denied them the most--our foster children.

Laurie A. Couture
Homefinder/Recruiter for Specialized Foster Care
Graduate Student of Psychology
Exeter, New Hampshire

Date: July 1, 2000
To: The Virginian-Pilot
From: Jordan Riak

Dear Editor:

Our reaction to the news that the Virginia Board of Social Services plans to lift the prohibition against battery of foster children is one of shock and disbelief.

“Spanking”--the familiar euphemism for battery of children--does for a child's development precisely what wife-beating does for a marriage. Caretakers who use it, and persons in positions of authority and influence who condone or promote it are waving a flag that announces their incompetence and their ignorance.

The number of countries that give children the same protection as adults against assault and battery has grown to ten: Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Norway and Sweden. Sweden was the first, forbidding anyone, including parents, from hitting a child in 1978. Since then an entire generation of Swedes has grown to adulthood without the dubious benefits of spanking, and nine other countries have decided to imitate Sweden's excellent example by enacting similar legislation. Never has there been a country to first abolish spanking and later rescinded the ban, and in the countries listed above there is no debate about the possibility of returning to the old ways. As for corporal punishment in schools, not one European country permits it. By contrast, 23 states in the United States still allow teachers to batter children in their pelvic area with wooden boards.

Were the discovery of a cure for cancer to be announced in Europe tomorrow morning, every American would know about it by tomorrow evening. We'd demand immediate access to the new wonder drug. The respectful, caring, nonviolent treatment of children by their parents, teachers and all other caretakers is also a wonder drug that has been tested and proven, and is beyond debate. Tragically and ironically, it is stubbornly resisted by the very people who need it most. In the U.S. there is virtually a media blackout on this information. The Virginia Board of Social Services' current move to reintroduce the right of foster parents to spank children is a socially retrograde step. If they pursue this course, they will have perverted the very meaning of "social service."

Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir.
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
P.O. Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507-7033
Tel: (925) 831-1661; Fax: (925) 838-8914
Web site: "Project NoSpank" at

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