As Wales prepares for a new law making the physical punishment of children illegal, experts and professionals have shared their hopes it will help to protect children and improve their wellbeing.
From 21 March 2022, the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 will come into force, removing the historic defence of reasonable punishment and giving children the same legal protection from assault as adults.
Professionals representing a range of sectors across Wales have been working together to ensure the new law is rolled-out effectively. This includes preparing organisations for the law change, raising awareness and providing information and advice for parents.
Dr Rowena Christmas, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Wales, said: “The evidence is absolutely compelling that physically punishing a child can be harmful to the wellbeing of both child and parent.
“It offers no benefit that cannot be gained from another method of discipline but is associated with a broad range of harms that can last a lifetime.”
Stephen Thomas, headteacher of Ysgol y Bryn Llanelli, said: "In a world where everyone makes mistakes, adults included, it is crucial we support our children and young people through helping, supporting and guiding them to learn from mistakes.
“Physical punishment has no place in raising children. Providing consistency, good routines and being role models for our children in the values we would like them to display creates good people. "
Pam Kelly, Chief Constable of Gwent Police, said: “March 21 2022, will be a historic moment for protecting the rights of children in Wales. From this day on, physically punishing children will be illegal across the country.
“We fully support this new law. Our role as police officers, while working with other safeguarding agencies in Wales, is to provide support and reassurance to families, not to criminalise them. However, it is important to recognise that discipline and physical punishment of children are not the same thing.
“The safeguarding of children is paramount and police colleagues across Gwent work closely with partner agencies to ensure that the protection and safety of children is a priority.
“We will continue to work with Welsh Government, key stakeholders, other Welsh police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and the CPS to implement the changes.”
Fôn Roberts, Director of Social Services and Head of Children and Families services at Anglesey Council, said: “Children should be able to enjoy their childhood. There are many more effective ways to parent than resorting to physical punishment and as a social services team we are here to offer advice and support parents and carers looking for alternative means to discipline.”
Dewi Rowland Hughes, senior educational and child psychologist and president of the Association of Educational Psychologists, said: “No parent wants to smack their child and there are good reasons not to. Firstly, the negative effect on the carer-child relationship - it damages the bond of trust and causes negative associations. Secondly, it's an abuse of power and a humiliation for the child – to force them to stop doing something you don't like. Thirdly, it's a bad model of how to behave when you're annoyed by something someone is doing, which is not what we want to teach our children.
“Fortunately, there are good, positive alternatives to physical punishment. We can develop positive discipline with our children and so put smacking where it belongs - in the dustbin of history!”
Professor Karen Graham added: “Whether you are a parent or whether you influence parents through providing support, I would strongly recommend that you visit the Parenting. Give it time website (gov.wales/giveittime) to understand fully why positive parenting is the better choice for disciplining children.
“Banning physical punishment is about so much more than preventing smacking; it is about fully supporting more meaningful forms of discipline that build resilience and trust while strengthening your lifelong relationship with your child.”
Ends 9 March 2022
In January 2020 the Senedd passed the Welsh Government’s Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020. The overarching aim is to help protect children’s rights and give all children in Wales the best start in life.
The Act received Royal Assent on 20 March 2020 and a comprehensive multi-media stakeholder and public awareness campaign is now underway before the Act comes into force on 21 March 2022.
The change in law does not create a new offence: it removes a 160-year-old legal defence which sent the message that it was acceptable for children to be physically punished by their parents or those with parental authority. Over the years legislation has limited the circumstances where the defence could be used and limited the settings where children can be physically punished. Physical punishment has been outlawed in schools, children’s homes, local authority foster care homes and childcare settings.
Physical punishment is when you use physical force to punish a child. While smacking is what usually comes to mind, physical punishment can take many forms including hitting, slapping and shaking.
Attitudes towards physical punishment have changed with fewer parents and guardians of young children in Wales supportive of physical punishment. What was seen as okay 30 years ago is less so now.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the basis for the Welsh Government’s policy on children. Prohibiting the physical punishment of children is in accordance with article 19 of the UNCRC – the right to protection from all forms of violence. Once the law commences Wales will join over 60 nations across the globe who have already outlawed physical punishment towards a child.
More information on the legislation can be found here: gov.wales/endphysicalpunishment
More information on positive parenting including resources to help parents, is available through 'Parenting. Give it time': gov.wales/giveittime