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Domestic CP - September 2002
Tampa Tribune, Florida, 9 September 2002
Corporal Punishment Debate Looms Over Florida
Pediatrician Recalls Stories Of Abuse
By Kathleen Chapman
WEST PALM BEACH -- Growing up in Brazil, Suzana Montana didn't hear much debate about corporal punishment. Children there were spanked by their parents, sometimes with belts and sticks, because that was the way it always had been done.
Then she moved to the United States and became a pediatrician. She saw children with broken bones. Tiny bodies with huge bruises. Toddlers who had been heaved against walls and furniture.
Now, Montana says, she cannot tolerate any form of corporal punishment, even a light spanking.
"For me, it's at the point where I cannot live with it. It's horrible what I keep seeing in the newspapers ... Things are not going well in Florida. All of these children are dying. Maybe we should not support physical violence against anyone, for any excuse," she said.
Not The Only One
Montana's aversion to physical discipline is shared by many child advocates, who now find their longtime messages and policies at odds with views expressed by Jerry Regier, the new Secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
Florida law, for example, requires foster parents to sign a contract promising not to use any form of physical punishment, including spanking. And some organizations use state money to publicize alternative discipline. It is hard not to caution against it, they add, once you have seen its tragic extremes.
Before Regier started work on Tuesday, he assured reporters his conservative Christian beliefs will not prevent him from following state policies. He said he had spanked his own children, but he distanced himself from an article he wrote in 1988, quoting Bible passages about use of "the rod" and supporting "manly discipline."
Gov. Jeb Bush has backed up his appointee by saying there is an obvious difference between a harmless spanking and child abuse.
Florida law defines child abuse as any action that harms a child mentally or physically, including punishment that causes "significant bruises or welts." But while millions of loving families may be able to use spanking safely, some of the troubled families who come under state watch do not stop at a swat on the behind, child advocates say.
Spanking is legal in every state, and the majority of Americans -- 61 per cent in a 2000 survey -- condone it as a regular form of punishment.
Therapists and psychologists have fiercely debated its effects, with supporters seeing it as the only hope for an unruly generation, and opponents have decried it as a legal form of battery.
As the studies continue, lawmakers have looked for a way to balance parents' rights and children's safety. A central debate for DCF has been how far parents may go before the state has a duty to intervene.
In 1996, legislators reacted to reports of overzealous DCF caseworkers by passing a law that explicitly permitted parents to spank their children as long as they do not cause significant harm. The new law made official a policy that had long been informal practice, experts said.
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