This change is being brought about by the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020, and cannot come soon enough for children in Wales, says Maggie Kelly, Cwlwm representative and national development manager, Early Years Wales.
The following article was published in Nursery World on Thursday, November 26, 2020 and reprinted in smalltalk magazine (with permission) - spring 2021 edition.
As a representative of Cwlwm, the partnership which brings together the five leading childcare organisations in Wales, we are committed to delivering the best possible outcomes for children and families across Wales.
While physical or any form of punishment is already prohibited in childcare and play settings, this legislation will help our sector and we look forward to being able to support parents around the new legislation through guidance and strategies to manage behavioural issues in more positive ways.
It is important to be clear this legislation does not create any new offence; it simply removes an outdated legal defence rather than putting anything new in. There are misconceptions that a new criminal law will be created. There won’t.
The legislation simply clarifies a grey area for those of us working with children, parents and carers, by making it crystal clear the physical punishment of children is no longer legal in Wales.
Jersey, Scotland and over 55 other nations around the world have already implemented their own legislation, which makes physical punishment illegal, and it can’t come soon enough for Wales as far as we’re concerned.
Our Cwlwm partnership gives us a stronger voice as a sector, covering not only Early Years Wales but also Mudiad Meithrin in partnership with Clybiau Plant Cymru Kids’ Clubs (CPCKC), National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA Cymru) and the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY Cymru). We each have our own specialisation, but this legislation reflects the hard work we have all been doing in support of promoting positive parenting and positive discipline.
Society has undoubtedly changed and attitudes to physical punishment towards children are already changing, but these attitudes cannot be taken for granted.
The legislation complements this approach and will hopefully dovetail with initiatives in time to create a truly positive environment for parents to parent in Wales. There is a huge increase in parents who believe it is no longer acceptable to physically punish children. According to the Children’s Commissioner for Wales for example, between 1998 and 2015 the number of adults surveyed who thought it was sometimes necessary to smack a child fell from 88 percent to 24 percent.
However, I think today it is much more acceptable for parents to say they don’t know all the answers and to ask for help. Times change and fortunately nowadays help is available for parents who are struggling. Today there is an initiative here in Wales called ‘Parenting. Give it Time’ and I am very sold on its effectiveness in offering practical and simple solutions for parents who think they need some extra guidance, aren’t coping or are doing something wrong. I’ve shared links with my own daughter who lives in England and has three-year-old twins. She has found it very useful. It offers reassurance to parents on everyday things, such as feeding, sleeping, development and offers tips such as how to take a step back or take 10 breaths. It’s about normalising the experiences and making it easier to talk about them. We need to bring parents with us on the journey after all, if this is going to work.
There is some anxiety among parents about what will be outlawed, as some perhaps still believe a small clip around the ear did them no harm. We are talking about the rights of the child and all forms of physical punishment will be outlawed whether it’s a smack, slap or a push.
However, we are certainly not about shaming parents who may have smacked their children. Sensible actions to protect a child from harm will of course still be allowed, such as stopping a child run out into a road, stop them sticking their hand in a fire, but there is a big difference between protecting and then subsequently physically punishing a child. We are all working in the best interest of the child. How can we be working in their best interest if we cause them harm in some way? Education will be key as part of raising awareness of this legislation to not only inform parents and carers of their rights, but also for children to be aware of their own rights as there is a balancing act at play here and we have to get it right.
We will have a role in Cwlwm to support all the work which is being done by Welsh Government and we will be looking, as individual organisations, to update our own procedures and look at new training as required. 2020 may have been an odd year but it was a good year for putting children centre stage here in Wales. Passing this law helps to protect children’s rights and removes any ambiguity about what level of physical punishment is considered reasonable. It’s going to be important to tell people that it’s ok to change their attitudes, but similar to the smoking ban in public places here, it can take a long time and hard work to do so. It’s also going to be important to inform people who visit Wales as the legislation will apply to anybody living in or simply visiting the country.
In operational terms there may be some additional pressures on our workforce in the short term, but as physical punishment is already outlawed in the settings we operate in, I think this will be minimal. However, we have the luxury of time before March 2022 to educate, inform and implement these changes which can only be a good thing.
If you work with children in the childcare and playwork sector including day care, childminding, sessional care, crèches, out of school/holiday provision, staffed playwork provision and Flying Start provision or if you are a Nanny, the information above has been produced to tell you everything you need to know about the change in law.
You can download the PDF here: https://gov.wales/ending-physical-punishment-wales-factsheet-people-work...