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Domestic CP - December 2002
Springfield News-Leader, Missouri, 1 December 2002
Corporal punishment not against Missouri law
But DFS says spankings that leave red welts or bruises cross the line.
By Laura Bauer
Missouri law says it's OK to spank your child.
Yet, nearly two years ago, Kim and Jeanie Thomas say they were lectured and ridiculed by a Greene County Juvenile officer minutes before their two boys were taken away from them. They were told that the boys were removed because the couple spanked them.
"He told us, "'It's illegal to spank your children in the state of Missouri,'" says Kim Thomas.
Jeanie Thomas was listed as the "perpetrator" and Kim Thomas as the person who failed to protect his children. That time, it took them nearly nine months to get their young boys back. The family is now in another battle with the state. Their boys were taken away again in January, along with the couple's then-4-month-old baby girl. They haven't had their children for 11 months.
The Thomases aren't the first parents who say they lost their families because they spanked their children. They aren't the first who say workers inside the Greene County system have punished them for using the discipline that was used on them as children.
With no numbers available detailing the specific reasons children are removed from their homes, most evidence is anecdotal. Whose Children Are They, an organization of nearly 300 parents who say the child welfare system has mistreated families, says it has seen more parents punished for spanking.
But while parents cry injustice, juvenile and family services workers say the debate lies in the definition of spanking. A child isn't going to be removed from a home if Mom or Dad swats him or her on the behind, they say.
"You can spank your child, but when you leave black-and-blue bruises on the child, and they are on their legs and back, that crosses the line," said Mickie Stark, director of Greene County Juvenile office. "I can assure you, a lot depends on what the parent construes as spanking."
Said Jerrie Jacobs-Kenner with the Missouri Division of Family Services: "Some folks may call it a spanking, and they may have been spanking the child, but if that leaves marks on the body, where do you draw the line from spanking to abuse?"
That's basically the benchmark for welfare system workers. If a spanking leaves a red mark or bruise, that's too much. Jacobs-Kenner said DFS investigators won't act on a hotline call unless there's an actual mark on the child.
"A lot of parents spank their children and it doesn't result in physical injury," she said. "That's their choice."
The Thomases say their children didn't have any bruises from spanking. The first time they were removed, there weren't any bruises on the boys. The second time, the oldest boy had a bruise on his left arm.
He told school workers and his social worker he got it sledding; he hit a brick on a cold January day while using his new snow saucer. His parents said the same thing: The blackish-blue bruise came from a day of sledding with his brother.
But the Thomases say that after a lengthy interrogation, their son told workers he was spanked by his mother. Workers then told the Thomases they believed the boy received the bruise from spanking. The parents, who say they've tried to rear their kids in a Christian home, insist their spanking doesn't not cross any line of abuse.
"We would never hurt our children," Kim Thomas says. "They want you to admit you are wrong. We don't feel we did anything wrong. We are good parents. We love our children. ... I would never tell a parent they have the option to spank. I would tell them is up to the state's interpretation."
DFS and juvenile officials say they can't talk about specific cases, and therefore can't respond to anything the Thomases say.
They will only talk about their general policies. They admit spanking isn't against the law but also say they don't approve of it as a method of discipline.
"Within foster homes, spanking is not condoned," said Robin Gierer, associate director of DFS. "If we didn't approve it for fostering, how would we condone it for other homes?"
Workers recommend other types of discipline, such as timeouts.
"There are other tools of discipline they can use for their children," said Gierer. "The important thing is for the discipline to be effective, for it to modify behavior. Not for it to be used as an opportunity to vent on the part of a parent."
Copyright © 2002, The Springfield News-Leader, a Gannett company.
Slate, Redmond, Washington State, 9 December 2002
Beat on the Brat
The economics of spanking.
By Steven E. Landsburg
In child discipline, as in pretty much everything else, the rich have more options than the poor. If you're rich (or even modestly middle-class), you can take away the Game Boy, confiscate the car keys, or turn off the Instant Messenger. But for families with no Game Boys, no cars, and no Internet access, that whole range of punishments is unavailable.
If you're rich or middle-class, you can cut your kid's allowance; if you're poor, your kid might need the allowance to live on. When a middle-class kid loses his allowance, he makes do with fewer CDs or video games. When a poor kid loses his allowance, he makes do with fewer school lunches. Depriving a kid of luxuries can be an effective punishment; depriving a kid of necessities can be a form of child abuse.
Spanking, by contrast, is an equal-opportunity punishment; it works equally well whether you're rich or poor. So simple economics suggests that the very poor, with fewer alternatives available, should spank their kids more -- and they do. Professor Bruce Weinberg of Ohio State University has studied this. He found that if you're a kid in a $6,000-a-year household, you probably get spanked every six weeks or so. If your parents' annual income goes up to $17,000, you'll get spanked about once every four months. As income rises above about $17,000, spanking falls off more slowly; $40,000 and $120,000 households are not much different from $17,000 households. That makes sense; in today's America, you don't have to be very wealthy before your kid has a Game Boy, so even a $20,000 household has good non-spanking alternatives.
For allowance withdrawal, the numbers go exactly the opposite way, Weinberg found. If you're a kid in a typical $6,000-a-year family, you'll almost never lose your allowance, but in a family that makes $17,000 or more, you'll lose your allowance four or five times a year.
It might seem like a stretch to explain spanking with economics, but what else could account for these patterns? Well, there's always culture. The very poor are disproportionately black, and blacks physically discipline their children more than whites do. But according to Weinberg, the effect of income persists even after you've controlled for race and other cultural variables.
Anyway, black parents punish their children more than white parents in all ways. If you're black and you misbehave, you're both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose your allowance than your white neighbor, who in turn is both more likely to get spanked and more likely to lose his allowance than the Hispanic kid down the street. So on average, poor people spank more and withdraw allowances less, whereas black people spank more and withdraw allowances more. The income pattern fails to match the racial pattern, so the income pattern can't be fully explained by race.
It is true, though, that racial differences are more pronounced for spanking than for allowance denial: In both cases blacks punish the most, then whites, then Hispanics, but the gaps between racial groups are much bigger for corporal than for financial punishment.
There are other cultural factors: Boys are punished more than girls, with substantially more spankings and a bit more in the way of allowance withdrawals. Single mothers spank a little less, and withdraw allowances quite a bit less, than other parents. Older and better-educated parents are a bit less likely to spank and a bit more likely to withdraw allowances. Bigger families spank less and withdraw allowances more. But Weinberg's study finds that the poor spank more even after you've accounted for all of these effects. The question is why.
Here's one good alternative to the economic explanation: University of New Hampshire sociologist Murray Straus has published multiple studies concluding that children who are spanked are less successful as adults. If the link is causal -- that is, if being spanked actually lowers your earnings potential -- and if spanking runs in families, then we have an alternative explanation for Weinberg's numbers: Low-income parents are more likely to spank their children because low-income parents are more likely to have been spanked themselves. Or maybe it's as simple as this: Poverty breeds frustration, and frustrated parents lash out at their kids. Does any reader have a better story?
Steven E. Landsburg is the author, most recently, of Fair Play: What Your Child Can Teach You About Economics, Values, and the Meaning of Life.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.
Pittsburgh Valley News Dispatch, Pennsylvania, 16 December 2002
Paddle-maker sees himself on mission
By Michael Aubele
NEW KENSINGTON: Don't do it out of anger. Don't swing too hard and always hug your child when you're done -- when you're done spanking him or her using a wooden paddle signed, "Love Joey."
New Kensington resident Joey Salvati, 39, a father of two, was in the shower about a month ago when he first heard God speak to him about the matter. Whether it was an external or internal voice, he wasn't sure. He tried to ignore it, but it kept coming back, day after day, until he realized he had to do something about it. The message was for Salvati to make wooden paddles for corporal punishment and give them to parents who need help disciplining their children.
"I'm just going all by my heart," he said this week while sitting at his kitchen table. In the next room his mother watched TV in complete disagreement with everything he was doing, certain he would go to jail because of it. Upstairs his son worried that his friends at school would label his father a loon.
Salvati, on the other hand, did not have those concerns. His objective was to obey the message. "I believe it was given to me, and I'm sure I'll be buying a lot of timber," he said confident that many parents will agree with what he's doing. Many people disagree, however, including authorities on child discipline. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Spanking has negative consequences and is no more effective than other forms of discipline. In fact, there's often a gray area between when spanking ends and child abuse begins."
The academy found in 1996 that 44 percent of parents who participated in a survey said they used corporal punishment, and that half of those parents said they were angry at the time. A high percentage of parents admitted to having a high level of anger when punishing their children. In addition, the academy has called for a ban on corporal punishment in schools. Most schools that do allow corporal punishment do not spank children without parental consent.
Riverview Superintendent Charles Erdeljac said corporal punishment is not used in the district.
He also said he's against its use.
"I am supportive of other means to help make a learning situation for younger persons, rather than teaching them that the world is a violent place," Erdeljac said.
Realizing that many people will link the paddles with abuse, Salvati has taken steps to educate parents on using the paddles properly. On a Web site he launched this week with the help of local Web developer Bill Hall, Salvati outlines the proper way to use the paddles.
The first suggestion is for parents to calibrate the force of their swing by testing it on themselves. "There is only one way to measure effectively -- swat yourself on the rump and adjust your swing appropriately," the instructions explain. Also on the site are suggested punishment guidelines. The minimum, one spank, is called for when the child is disrespectful. The maximum, five spanks, is called for when the child does something more serious such as endangering someone's safety or is caught using drugs. Salvati said he did not research the subject or consult parenting experts before launching the site. He is instructing parents with the guidelines he said God gave to him.
Appointment slips are available on the site for parents to download and have their children fill out when they misbehave. Parents are supposed to explain to the child what he or she did wrong and that the child is being punished out of love. "This is all out of love," Salvati said. "A bad person is going to use a baseball bat." Although he has given about 25 paddles away stamped with the words, "Love Joey," above the handle, Salvati said he is going to start stamping the paddles with a red anti-abuse message that reads, "Never in anger."
Salvati said he did not spank his children while they were growing up -- until recently. About a week ago, Salvati said his 15-year-old son, Bobby, was disrespectful and was forced to fill out an appointment slip and endure one swat. "I told (Bobby), 'I'll be damned if I'm going to tell other parents to do this and not use it on you,'" Salvati said. Embarrassed about the incident, Bobby said he's less inclined to misbehave again although his father didn't swing too hard.
"I think it's a good idea because it changes me," Bobby said. Seeing a growing problem with children, Salvati, who said he was spanked on occasion but never abused, thinks parents should give up on the popular Time-Out discipline procedure and take a harder line with their children. Playing on a well-known proverb, Salvati said, "Spare the rod and you spoil the child."
To order a paddle
New Kensington resident Joey Salvati has made 85 wooden paddles intended only for disciplining children and is giving them away. The paddles, which weigh about 13 ounces and are about 2½ feet long, can be ordered Online at http://www.spare-rods.com [site now defunct -- C.F.] at a cost of $5.75 for shipping. Information about using the paddles is included in the Web site. Salvati also has been giving the paddles away in the former Burger King parking lot along Tarentum Bridge Road. He has no plans to ever sell the paddles.
Images and text copyright © 2002 by The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Picture of Joey and Bobby not from this newspaper item but from his website, which has now disappeared.
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