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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Texas Judge Video - VERY HARD TO WATCH

Likely nobody has missed the news videos on YouTube or of the actual Judge William Adams beating of his then 16 year old daughter. The essential history is that the daughter posted these videos which she indicates she recorded secretly some 7 years ago.  She now posts them in order to get help for her father who suggests that the beatings were not as bad as they appear.

No matter what the motivations for posting the video might end up being, it is hard to believe that this family court judge can be defended. Yet, he suggests just such a defence in that he lost his temper and that he was just disciplining his daughter for doing something illegal.

This case raises the very difficult question of whether or not corporal punishment is a valid form of discipline and, if it is, under what conditions. It is a broad debate with vigorous proponents on both sides. There are those who will point to the Bible passage which suggests that if your spare the rod you spoil the child. They also believe that they are behaving in accordance with their religious beliefs and should not have any interference in that regard.

There are also places in the world where such punishment is deemed culturally normal.

It is my understanding that in the United States, all 50 states permit the use of corporal punishment.

On the other side, there are those who argue that such methods are behaviourally unsound and constitute poor parenting practice. The psychological and social work literatures suggest that it tends to correlate to negative outcomes for children, particularly the more severe the punishment.  They also suggest that it leads to short term compliance as opposed to long term behavioural change. The literature also suggests that it leads to poorer relationship skills; poorer ability to self regulate; more propensity to see violence as a solution.

For child protection workers, it is hard to watch this video and see any punishment that would constitute an appropriate parental response. It is clearly in anger and done in a way that terrifies. Yet, child protection laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and thus, this apparently horrible example of parenting might be legal. Thus, the ability to intervene or protect is determined by social, community, cultural and, in particular, legal norms.

In Canada, there is some reasonable legal guidance from a Supreme Court of Canada decision. s.43 of the Criminal Code of Canada permits parents and teachers a defence when they use reasonable force to correct a child. But what does that mean? The SCC stated:

¡Not reasonable force means that:
l(a) Corporal punishment for children under the age of two is not reasonable and is harmful to them as it has no corrective value given the limits of their cognitive development;
l(b) Corporal punishment of teenagers is not reasonable and is harmful because it can induce aggressive or antisocial behaviors;
l(c) It is not reasonable to use implements or objects such as belts, straps, or rulers, etc., due to the physical and emotional harm the use of such objects cause;
l(d) It is not reasonable to strike a child on their face or head due to the harm these physical acts can cause; and,
l(e) Corporal punishment must not be inhumane or degrading or harmful and there must be no lasting bodily harm.
¡Reasonable force means that;
l(a) A parent can only use minor corrective force of a transient and trifling nature,[7]
l(b) Corporal punishment must be for educational or corrective purposes and not be motivated by anger, frustration, or abusiveness; and,
l(c) Inflicting corporal punishment must be limited to the use of the open hand. 

This is not a perfect decision and still is open to much debate. But it does offer some level of direction for Canadian child protection workers.

Corporal punishment will remain a hotly debated topic. In my view, it is very hard to defend what is seen on the video with the Texas judge. Hopefully, the good that comes from this will be that USA states will begin to consider how to better manage this issue.

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