Welsh Government tells public to call the police and social services if they see a loving parent smacking their child

The Welsh Government has told members of the public to call the police or social services if they see or suspect a loving parent is smacking their child, in new guidance published this week.

The document, Ending physical punishment in Wales: frequently asked questions, says:

“What should I do if I see a child being physically punished or if I am concerned about a child? If you are concerned that a child is being physically punished you can contact your local social services department. You can also call the police in an emergency or if a child is in danger.”

It also says [emphasis added]:

“Changing the law does not of itself criminalise anyone. It is an individual’s actions in relation to the law that may lead them to receiving a criminal record. If an adult physically punishes a child in their care after 21 March 2022 they could be reported to the police. The action the police take will depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

“In all cases the police and/or CPS will apply two tests – is there evidence to charge and is it in the public interest to do so. They will also consider what is in the best interests of the child.”

This new guidance directly contradicts public claims made during the passage of the legislation. In a 2018 document, Removing ‘the defence of reasonable punishment’, used as part of the consultation process by ministers and officials, the Welsh Government stated:

“Will this criminalise some parents? We understand this fear. But this hasn’t happened in other countries that changed their law. In New Zealand, the police data shows no rise in reports or in parents being prosecuted for ‘light smacking’.”

Also in 2018, then First Minister Carwyn Jones (who admitted to smacking his own children [audio]) said:

“It will not criminalise parents.”

In June 2016, Communities and Children Secretary, the late Carl Sargeant, said:

“Let’s be very clear here: this isn’t about legislation to criminalise parents. What we want to do here is give people the opportunity to have positive parenting experiences.”

Simon Calvert, a spokesman for the Be Reasonable campaign, commented:

“The Welsh Government have been all over the place on smacking as they have tried to sell the policy. They repeatedly told the public the legislation would not criminalise loving parents, yet their impact assessment says the bill for the ban could top £7.8 million, including nearly a million (£964K) for extra policing. Why do you need extra policing if you are not criminalising anything? It went on to admit there were many unknown costs, including the cost to social services, the family courts, the CPS, and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) Cymru.

“Only now, when we are just months away from implementing the ban, do they finally drop any pretence that this ban will not criminalise loving parents. They are telling the public to ring the police or social services if they see, or suspect, a parent has tapped their child on the bottom for misbehaving. Why has it taken so long for this administration to come clean?

“They are criminalising smacking by removing the reasonable chastisement defence from parents. The only thing the defence protects is parenting actions that are, by definition, reasonable. Unreasonable chastisement of any kind is already illegal. Removing the reasonable chastisement defence doesn’t criminalise beating children. That’s already against the law. It criminalises reasonable chastisement.”

Be Reasonable has previously highlighted a series of misleading claims made by the Welsh Government, which included saying that the police in New Zealand saw no rise in reports or in parents being prosecuted for ‘light smacking’. Yet again, the Government’s own impact assessment contradicted this claim:

“There is however, data available in relation to New Zealand, where there is a legal system (as in England and Wales) based on a common law jurisdiction. New Zealand Police have published data for three months prior to enactment of their legislation, and over a 5 year period following enactment. This data identifies incidents of smacking and minor acts of physical discipline and whether or not prosecutions followed investigation of these incidents. This data is therefore relevant (subject to the caveats explained below) to our consideration of the potential impact on the police and on the court system.”

It went on to acknowledge that complaints to the Kiwi police doubled over the first five years of the ban. (Page 57)

The FAQs also reiterate that there is no evidence that an occasional gentle smack does any harm to a child. Asking if physically punishing a child causes long-term harm, it says:

“there is no definitive evidence that ‘reasonable’ physical punishment causes negative outcomes for children…”

Mr Calvert continued:

“We repeatedly warned that making actions that had hitherto been legal illegal, would criminalise parents. And everyone knows that a loving mum who taps her toddler on the back of the hand is not harming her child. Yet, Government Ministers ignored these facts, pressing on with a policy that was purely ideological and not remotely grounded in the real world. They also ignored their own polling which showed most people oppose a smacking ban, instead using a smaller self-selecting survey to try and justify their actions. They were committed to banning smacking past the point of reason. They seem quite prepared to see innocent parents prosecuted so they can pat themselves on the back and show the world what good, progressive politicians they are.”

Be Reasonable previously released a graphic collating polling on the ban which consistently shows widespread public opposition. However, the Government directed journalists to so-called ‘research’ which they claimed showed 81 per cent of parents were opposed to smacking, despite it differing from all the other official surveys including their own much larger survey of 1,298 people. The larger survey carried out as part of the #TalkParenting exercise, found nearly two thirds (64 per cent) think smacking shouldn’t be banned, while only 30 per cent think it should.

Mr Calvert concluded:

“We all want children to be safe and well cared for. But we need solutions that work and which support hard-pressed parents instead of criminalising them. It is not too late to stop this pernicious and costly ban that will see loving parents facing arrest or prosecution for making the kind of sensible, loving choices that our own parents made when we were little. Even if acquitted, a parent could have their livelihood wrecked as the information will be recorded on police databases and made available to employers such as schools and hospitals, stopping them from working with children or vulnerable adults.”