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Reformatory CP - August 2001

Orlando Business Journal, Florida, 3 August 2001

Spare the rod and keep the cash donor

Children's home abandons 35-year tradition of spanking

By Susan Lundine
Senior Staff Writer

ORLANDO -- Spanking has been abandoned at Edgewood Children's Ranch, the upshot of concern expressed by one of the nonprofit's major contributors, Heart of Florida United Way.

"We have a saying out here now," says Joan Consolver, executive director of the children's home for the past 34 years. "You can paddle a boat. You can paddle a canoe.

"But you can't paddle a kid."

The ranch, located off of Old Winter Garden Road near Ocoee, serves as a temporary home and school for 73 boys and girls, ages 6-17, with behavior problems, some of whom have been abused.

About one year ago, United Way began getting some complaints about the corporal punishment meted out there, says Brian Quail, United Way's president.

So the fund-raising agency asked the ranch to keep a log for a year, detailing how often that type of discipline was used, as well as a determination of how effective it was.

That kind of request is not necessarily unusual for United Way. "We go in and assess programs," says Quail. "We have accountability and oversight."

Consolver was not surprised. Over time, she says, society has become lenient. Public schools no longer paddle children, and even psychologists are divided on the issue, she adds.

"Normally we used corporal punishment on the littler boys with short attention spans," says Consolver. "The ones for whom simply seeing the paddle might be enough. It was quite effective in the smaller children, and their parents had signed a release allowing us to do it. But we never used it on a child with a history of abuse."

Whenever a child would misbehave, she says, a report with a recommended punishment was written by a staff member, then reviewed by a department head and by Consolver.

"So there was plenty of time to look at the incident," she says.

However, in keeping the log, the ranch discovered that less than half of 1 percent of the children needing discipline got corporal punishment even though "the type of child we get is pretty hard to manage," says Consolver. "They're used to running in the streets.

"But in reviewing the log, we saw that the children it was used on had gotten spanked several times in a six-month period for the same type of incident. Because it was the same child, we had to ask ourselves if something else might be more effective."

When the year ended in June, "we had to decide if it was worth it to jeopardize our ministry when it was such a minute number," she says. "So we decided it was best to discontinue it."

After all, she points out, even public schools no longer use corporal punishment due to liability issues.

Now when they misbehave, the children will be faced with disciplinary methods that include doing physical exercise, doing extra chores or getting "a good, stern talk," says Consolver.

Edgewood Children's Ranch also is increasing its use of positive reinforcement for good behavior, she says. "Here, it's cool to behave."

United Way gave Edgewood $140,000 in funding last year, and has increased that by 4 percent this year to $145,600.

Although the fund-raising agency asked Edgewood to review its policy, it never withheld any funding during that time.

"They simply asked us to review it and keep a log for them, which is something that's never been done here before," she says. "Being a United Way agency often means doing a lot of paperwork, but when you're done, you know you're a better agency for it."

Quail is pleased, as well.

"The ranch does a great job. We asked a question and they responded, and it was a good outcome."

Copyright 2001 American City Business Journals Inc.

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