Govt must outline true costs of smacking ban on beleaguered children’s services, AMs say

Assembly Members have demanded answers on the true impact of a smacking ban on children’s services in Wales, including how many extra children will be taken into care if a ban is introduced.

Julie Morgan, the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services was challenged by Janet Finch-Saunders following a statement on ‘improving outcomes for looked after children’ yesterday (Tuesday 2nd July).

Mrs Finch-Saunders asked with the crisis engulfing social services in Wales, “Is there really a case for the defence of reasonable chastisement to be removed?” Regrettably this was not answered.

This morning, Assembly Member Darren Millar submitted three questions to the Welsh Government, which he argues must be answered by Ms Morgan. The questions are:

1. How many additional children does the Government expect to come under the remit of the care system in Wales in the first five years after the reasonable chastisement defence is removed?

2. How many additional families will be subject to social services engagement in the first five years after the reasonable chastisement defence is removed?

3. Please provide an estimate of the additional monetary and staffing costs for social work departments in Wales in the first five years after the reasonable chastisement defence is removed.

The news of the intervention has been welcomed by the Be Reasonable Campaign, which believes that the ban is costly, will criminalise loving parents for disciplining their children and is completely disproportionate.

Jamie Gillies, a spokesman for the Be Reasonable campaign, commented: “Assembly Members are right to be concerned about the plan to ban smacking. The repeated assertion that this change will not criminalise loving parents is frankly for the birds. The CPS has confirmed that parents will be treated as suspect and that smacking could become an issue in divorce cases. While Police figures reveal as many as 1,370 new smacking crimes could be recorded in the first five years if the reasonable chastisement defence is removed.”

He continued “In the last nine years, there has been a 15 per cent rise in children who are looked after by the state. A 149 per cent increase in court applications to remove children into care. And a 30 per cent increase in real terms expenditure on children’s services by local authorities. So it’s important that questions on how the proposed ban will impact on the over-stretched social services are answered.

“The Welsh Local Government Association and other groups who oversee children’s services in Wales have warned of the dire consequences of increasing pressure on these services, which are already stretched to breaking point. And yet the Government has failed to give any idea of how social work will be impacted by a smacking ban in the explanatory documents on its Bill.

“It is disappointing that the Minister ducked a question on the impact of a ban yesterday when quizzed by Janet Finch Saunders. It is vital that they provide a full response to the questions tabled by Mr Millar.”

The Be Reasonable Campaign previously raised concerns about how information about parents who are suspected of smacking, or where authorities decide to take no action, will still be recorded on the police database and used by authorities. In a letter from Welsh Childrens’ Minister Julie Morgan she said: “…The National Law Enforcement Database (LEDS) will be set up to replace both the existing Police National Database (PND) and Police National Computer (PNC). Currently, conviction information is held on the PNC, and records on non-conviction information (e.g. intelligence, non-statutory out of court disposals such as community resolutions) are held on the PND.”

It goes on: “…Removing the defence of reasonable punishment in Wales does not create a new offence; the offence of common assault already exists in common law across England and Wales, therefore it should be possible to report incidents of common assault against children, either as conviction information (e.g. if a caution has been accepted by the perpetrator) or as non-conviction information.”

Non-conviction information, or “intelligence” includes allegations made against a person that did not result in any arrest being made, and concerns passed on to the police from other public bodies (i.e. schools or social services).

Mr Gillies concluded: “Removing the defence of reasonable chastisement is an ill-conceived policy that does not stand up to independent scrutiny. We know the cost of banning smacking already exceeds £3 million, while the CPS has warned that parents will be treated as suspects, might not be able to reside together during a prosecution and could even be used in divorce cases by feuding spouses.

“Day by day the charge sheet against this ban grows. Not a single area of public life will be immune from the effects of the ban, which will see parents arrested and prosecuted and families broken up. This is why we argue that the Government must ditch their plans and focus attention on helping parents instead of turning them into criminals.”