Campaigners urge ban on smacking by minders: Call for health department to clarify guidance after court ruling

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The Independent Online
CHILDCARE organisations called yesterday for the law to be changed to ban smacking by child-minders and all others who care for children outside the home.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Wilson had said magistrates were entitled to overrule a borough's 'inflexible' policy. Anne Davis went to court because Sutton would not re- register her when she refused to sign an undertaking not to use corporal punishment.

Gill Haynes, director of the National Childminding Association, said that yesterday's ruling would cause 'chaos' as parents attempted to sort out whether child-minders smacked or not. 'We will be asking health ministers to ban physical punishment within day-care settings by law,' she said. 'Physical punishment has no place in the childcare environment.' And that, she believed, had been the Department of Health guidance under the Children Act which now badly needed clarifying.

Child-minders did not need to smack, she said, and while 'some people might think that we are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill . . . we believe the many thousands of parents who choose a registered child-minder for their childcare needs will be disappointed by this decision.'

Jim Harding, of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said that the judgment had caused 'considerable confusion', which was only compounded when John Bowis, the junior health minister, said that the department's guidance was there for local authorities to use 'with discretion'.

Mr Harding said: 'It is all very well to say guidance does not have the status of law. It hasn't. But it is guidance you ignore at your peril.' The case highlighted the need 'for the Government to end the increasing confusion over what is appropriate behaviour for child-minders'. The judgment was 'bad news for child protection . . . we know of instances where children have been injured outside their home when cared for by others'.

Mr Bowis acknowledged the need for balance, given a case where a Surrey child-minder left a baby brain-damaged after shaking it, and said the judgment would be studied closely.

Mrs Davis claimed the result as a victory for 'hundreds Eof thousands of ordinary mothers whose experience and common senTHER write errorse is recognised as of more practical use than the unrealistic and unrepresentative theories of the experts of the anti-smacking brigade'.

She said that she was talking about smacking not hitting children. She had told social workers that as a Christian dedicated to discipline in a loving family environment she reserved the right to smack children in her care with the consent of their parents.

If a parent did not give that consent, she said yesterday, she would not accept the child, as all children being cared for had to be treated equally. 'It is a victory for all those who believe that the choice of discipline is a parent's responsibility and not that of the state.'

Peter Newell, co-ordinator of Epoch, the campaign to End Physical Punishment of Children, said: 'It is disappointing, but just a small step backwards in the accelerating progress towards giving children the legal protection that the rest of us take for granted from being hit.'

The National Children's Bureau said that 96 per cent of local authorities took the same stance as Sutton, requiring a commitment from child-minders not to use physical punishment. The issue was not parents' right to use reasonable corporal punishment, but the legal right and responsibility of local authorities to set national standards.

Mr Justice Wilson, giving the High Court's ruling, said that if the Government wanted to bar child-minders who refused to give an undertaking not to smack, it should lay regulations before Parliament.

Little monsters, page 22

Law report, page 36