Smack Ban On Foster Carers ‘Is PC Gone Mad’

Social workers were accused yesterday of “political correctness gone mad” after it was revealed that councils and agencies will not let foster parents smack children but don’t object if they have a criminal record.

The inconsistency was highlighted by John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of campaign group Justice for Families.

His spoke out after a couple from Somerset were prevented from fostering children for insisting that they could smack their own daughter “as a last resort”.

David and Heather Bowen told a fostering panel that they would never smack a foster child but might chastise, Emma, aged nine, “once or twice a year”. The couple were told that they would not be allowed to take in children because of their approach to “behaviour management”.

Somerset county council, however, advertises on its web site that foster parents can have a criminal record, be homosexual, disabled, on benefits, be of any age and religion and be married or single. Many local authorities and agencies have introduced similar “no smacking” rules for all potential fosterers.

Mr Hemming, the MP for Birmingham Yardley, said: “There are very strange senses of priorities in children’s services. Children in care may be allowed to go and prostitute themselves so as not to infringe their human rights, but are prevented by health and safety regulations from making toast for each other.

“Those people who work in public family law seem to believe that they create their own law – and they are a law unto themselves.”

Smacking is legal but the law was toughened in 2004 after pressure from campaigners. The Children Act removed the defence of “reasonable chastisement” from parents who left more than a “transitory mark” on a child. Causing a bruise, reddened skin or psychological injuries can result in an assault charge and five years’ jail.

However, earlier this year the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which advises magistrates and judges, recommended light sentences for parents who did not intend to hurt their child.

Today almost three-quarters of the 75,000 children in care in the United Kingdom live with foster families.

The British Association for Adoption & Fostering, a charity which offers guidance to local authorities, has no specific policy on whether foster parents should be able to smack their children.

A spokesman said: “Our only guideline is that foster parents abide by the law.”

But many authorities and agencies have, like Somerset, brought in their own no-smacking guidelines and the private companies that place many children in foster homes have introduced similar rules.

Foster Care Associates (FCA), which claims to provide “quality care in a family setting”, states on its website that foster parents cannot smack children in their care.

Mr Bowen, 41, from Taunton, is a school governor while his wife, 47, is a special needs adviser. They are appealing against the county’s decision.

Mrs Bowen, who urged other potential fosterers not to be put off, believes there is a stark difference between abuse and chastisement.

She believes one member of the fostering panel, who had strong anti-smacking sentiments, was responsible for the couple being rejected.

“We said we would not dream of smacking a foster child, using the analogy that neither would we dream of smacking a guest child. They pounced on that saying: ‘You would not treat a foster child as part of the family?'”