- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

NORFOLK, Va. Foster parents in Virginia 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," Miss 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 Miss Korte, a teacher in Virginia Beach.
Several child-advocacy groups, however, 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.


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