April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States since 1983. In 2016, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation that: “During National Child Abuse Prevention month, we recommit to giving every child a chance to succeed and to ensuring that every child grows up in safe, stable, and nurturing environment that is free from abuse and neglect.”

Child abuse and child maltreatment as “all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. (World Health Organization)

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define child maltreatment to include “WORDS or overt actions that cause harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child. Neglect is a failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, or emotional needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.”

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act at a MINIMUM defines child abuse and neglect: “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation” and/or “an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

What is the purpose of designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month? It is imperative that communities continue or heighten awareness of being supportive of families, to take an active role in preventing child abuse and neglect, and take positive actions to promote child and family well being.

What science says about using physical force to punish a child? There are debates about whether spanking your child is an effective use of discipline. Many states, “I was spanked and I turned out OK.” The 2004 news of Adrian Peterson using a tree branch to hit his four-year old son and such stories always brings the “debate” to acceptability of physical punishment on our own children.

Researchers from Tulane University found that children who are spanked frequently at age three are more likely to show aggressive behavior by the time they are five than kids who are not. Yes, spanking may stop problematic behavior, says Sandra Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, but that is because the child is afraid. In the long term, physical punishment will only make kid’s behavior worse.

A 2009 study concluded that children who were frequently spanked (at least once a month for more than three years) “had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders.” A 2012 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”

Yet, even the growing and increasing evidence that corporal punishment on children have detrimental effects on children, only thirty-one states have instituted bans on corporal punishment in school. Of the nineteen other states that still allow it to continue, Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi still use this form of disciplinary action regularly.

The United States Supreme Court case of Ingraham v Wright, on April 19, 1977 decided on this issue and ruled 5-4 that corporal punishment in public school did not violate constitutional rights. The case centered on James Ingraham, an eight-grade student at a public school in Florida, who in 1970 was paddled by the principal, while being restrained by the assistant principal and the principal’s assistant. Ingraham was hit more than 20 times and required medical attention.

A complaint was filed (1971) on behalf of Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, another student at the same school who had also been paddled. The complaint alleged that the use of corporal punishment violated both the Eighth Amendment ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that requires prior notice and an opportunity to be heard.

Evolving social understanding and studies of corporal punishment continue to affirm the ongoing studies of physical punishment on children and the long lasting psychological and medical effects. In recent years, international human rights agencies have been pushing for tougher legislation around the world to prevent children from being the subject of undue violence, in any form.

The line of what is reasonable discipline and what is abuse is of course, the question that parents, school administrators, the criminal justice system and all of us have to ask. As a parent myself, I have always been passionate about children’s rights and well being and the conclusion seems to get clearer everyday—life lessons are not being taught when discipline is angry and painful, instead it leaves the child with increased anxiety and the inability to trust parental figures.

Ongoing topic NEXT WEEK: FILING A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESTRAINING ORDER IN COURT FOR THE PROTECTION OF CHILDREN.

Any questions or comments email me at cicastaneda@sbcglobal.net or call my office at 310-601-7144.

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