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Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association

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Physical punishment in the Home – thinking about the issues, looking at the evidence -
The response of the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association (CPHVA) Northern Ireland  
Q. What is the goal of effective discipline in children?
The goal of effective discipline in children is to:
  • Teach them what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in society
  • To instill socially acceptable moral values
  • To stop problematic behaviour
  • To encourage children to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
Q.. What are the ways in which this goal can be achieved?   This goal can be achieved by:
  • Good parental example
  • Praising and giving attention when children behave well
  • Ignoring minor misdemeanours
  • Distracting children when they are misbehaving
  • Using other forms of discipline including taking away privileges e.g. withholding pocket money, not allowing the viewing of favourite programmes on television or removing games/toys.
Q. In the light of the evidence and of your experience, do you think that physical punishment by parents is an effective form of discipline?  
  • Physical punishment is only effective in the short term. It does not teach children to take responsibility for their own behaviour and therefore is not effective in the long term. It also gives children the message that violent aggressive behaviour is acceptable.

Q. In the light of the evidence and of your experience, do you think that physical punishment by parents is an acceptable form of discipline?  

  • In light of the evidence that now exists about the long term detrimental effects that physical punishment can have on children coupled with the evidence to indicate it’s ineffectiveness as a means of disciplining children it is no longer acceptable in today’s society.  
Q. If you are a parent, please tell us about the people or organisation who have been most helpful to you with any discipline problems you have faced. Organisational response.   Q. In your view, what services (whether provided by the private, public or voluntary sectors) are or would be most useful in helping parents to deal effectively with discipline issues?    
  • The health visiting service provides advice and information on an individual basis to parents of children particularly in the 0-5 years age bracket. They also frequently provide evidence based parenting programmes to parents individually (Child Development Programme) and in groups at different stages of children’s development. Many community and voluntary groups also run effective parenting programmes. ‘Newpin’ and ‘Surestart’ projects also offer parenting support
Q. Do you have any comments about this analysis of the requirements of international human rights law?  
  • Children should be afforded the same rights as adults under the law. They are much more vulnerable than adults are and less able to articulate their rights if those rights are been violated. If physical punishment were to be made illegal it would send the message to those parents who are likely to use excessive force when disciplining children that it was unacceptable. Parents however, need to be given support in learning more appropriate ways to discipline their children. The State has a duty to ensure that a range of suitable options are in place for parents to choose from if they need help in this matter. Parenting programmes should start in school so that every citizen is given factual information about effective methods of bringing up children.    
Q. Do you agree with the assessment of the Office of Law Reform that further reform in addition to the limited amendment of the defence of reasonable chastisement in the criminal law in R v H is needed to bring us in Northern Ireland into line with our human rights and equality obligations?  
  • Yes, We agree that further reform is needed.  
Q. Which option for reform of the defence of reasonable chastisement (removing or limiting the defence) do you think represents the best way forward?
  • We do not support any approach, which condones physical punishment. We do not believe that requiring the court to consider any checklist of acceptable people or methods of physical punishment no matter how detailed will help protect children or support parents. If we accept that it is wrong to inflict physical punishment on an adult then it is equally wrong to do so on a child who is infinitely more vulnerable in terms of physical stature and in her ability to defend herself.  
Q. In your view, is there merit in including a statement of rights and responsibilities of the type outlined in this chapter in our family law?
  • We agree that the Children’s Order should include a statement on the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents and emphasising that physical punishment is both unacceptable as a method of discipline and constitutes and unlawful act.    
Q. If such a statement were to be included, what would it say?  
  • It should indicate that parents have a duty to safeguard their child’s health, development and welfare and have responsibility for providing guidance in matters of acceptable behaviour and moral standards without resorting to any form of physical punishment to achieve this.    
Q. What in your view, would be the effect of such a statement in law?
  • It would send a clear message to parents and society at large that children have equivalent rights to adults. Parents would also be clear about the significant responsibility that being a parent entails in the eyes of the Law. It will also put an onus on the State to put proper support measures in place to help parents in their role and to assist them in choosing more effective means of disciplining their children.

Q. Do you agree that the main equality impacts of this issue are on children and those with dependents?

  • Yes.
Q. Do you have any comments on the other equality impacts identified or anticipated?
  • Change in the legislation to ban physical punishment or restrict it’s use will have an impact on those people who provide health and social services to families in terms of training and support, particularly in the initial period following a change in the law.
Q. In order to mitigate the equality impacts identified, or to better promote equality of opportunity in relation to the objectives you have identified, which of these options do you think has a role to play?
  • a. Abolishing the defence of parental reasonable chastisement of children in Northern Ireland
  • b. and encouraging the development of parenting programmes
Q. Do you have any comment on this new TSN assessment? To ensure that all parents are able to access parenting programmes a number of options could be considered:
  • Commencing parenting programmes in secondary schools
  • Linking maternity or other benefits/payments to mandatory attendance at parenting programmes
  • Ensuring that there are culturally appropriate programmes available in premises that are accessible and acceptable to parents
  • Parents literacy/ learning abilities are given due consideration when developing and delivering parenting programmes.
Professional Officer, Northern Ireland, January 2001