Officials, who were consulting lawyers yesterday, believe the action may be necessary after a magistrates' ruling that a child-minder in Sutton, Surrey, had the right to smack. That contradicts government insistence that corporal punishment be banned in schools and children's homes.
Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, made the Government's position clear in a statement after the introduction of the Children Act. She wrote in 1991 to Epoch, the anti-corporal punishment group: 'This department has implemented its policy that, outside of the family, physical punishment has no place in the childcare environment.'
A smacking ban outside the family could be achieved without the need for futher legislation. Fresh guidance or detailed regulations would need to be laid before Parliament
Anne Davis, the child-minder, successfully appealed against being struck off the official register by her local authority because she refused to sign an agreement not to 'smack, slap or shake' children.
A department spokesman confirmed the guidelines were being examined, although the process may be left to the courts if Sutton council appeals. Anne Shepherd, Sutton's assistant director of housing and social services, said a decision on an appeal to the High Court would be taken after legal consultations. The council, whose rules are similar to those of many local authorities, has urged the department to clarify guidance.
Childcare groups have been unanimous in their condemnation of the magistrates' decision. Gill Haynes, director of the National Childminding Association, said the debate was not about the rights of parents but how children should be disciplined by adults outside the home.
'Let us suppose that a child- minder, now acting within the law, administers a slap that damages the hearing of a child. Will that parent, who has given permission to smack, then pursue the child-minder through the courts for assault?'
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