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Am I allowed to physical chastise my child such as smacking them?
- AuthorJasmine Lees
The issue of smacking a child as a form of punishment or as a way to control a child’s behaviour is a contentious subject which divides public opinion. The issue has recently hit the headlines after Scotland introduced a law banning the smacking of children in November 2020. Parents and carers of children under the age of 18 were previously allowed to use physical force as a way of chastising their children if it was considered reasonable. Research from 2015 suggests up to 80 per cent of UK parents have used physical punishment to discipline children. 
What is the legal position in England and Wales?
England and Wales have different laws than Scotland and as such there are different rules in relation to the smacking of children in each part of the UK. In January 2020, Wales banned the smacking of children and this will come into force in 2022.
In England, parents and carers are legally able to use the defence of “reasonable chastisement” when smacking their children under section 58 Children Act 2004 but there is an important caveat to this defence. Where the use of physical force on a child leaves a mark or causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches then the parent or carer may be arrested in relation to child abuse, assault and ultimately may face criminal charges.
Local Authority involvement
It is often the case that parents may physically smack their child without anyone outside the family home being aware of this. However, if marks are seen by professionals, this is observed by a witness or the child discloses this to another person or at school for example, a referral may be made to the Local Authority and to the police.
The Local Authority may become involved with a family whereby they believe a parent or carer is using physical force on a child due to the significant risk of physical and emotional harm to that child. Research from 2017 found that adults who have been smacked as children were more likely to have mental health problems and experience issues with substance misuse.
They may want to complete home visits to observe the routines and boundaries within the home and to consider how the children’s needs are met by their parents or carers. They may also be concerned about the parents / carer’s mental health and their ability to regulate their emotions around the children and the communication within the home. They may also be concerned about the high risk of a serious non-accidental injury being caused to the child or sadly even the risk of a fatality.
The Local Authority may complete a parenting assessment of a parent’s ability to care for the children and will speak with the various professional agencies involved with the family such as education, health and any other service. If deemed necessary, the Local Authority can provide further support services to work with the family such as Early Help, Multi-Systemic Therapy or Functional Family Therapy to work on routines and boundaries in the home or any systemic issues.
How Johnson Astills can help?
If you have Local Authority involvement with your children at Child Protection level ranging through to Care Proceedings in the Family Court then Johnson Astills can assist you. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please visit either of the above offices or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.