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Ending physical punishment of children in Wales

Michelle Moseley 21 Mar 2022

Michelle Moseley, Education and lifelong learning adviser at RCN Wales tells us what the change in law means for the welfare of children and young people, and her continued involvement in the process.

Today, 21 March 2022, is a historic moment for children and their rights in Wales. The law has now changed to make physical punishment of children illegal in Wales.

 

 

This is something that I have been passionate about championing for years. The new law is named the ‘Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment (Wales) Act 2020. This is underpinned by the UN Convention on the rights of the child which states that children have the right to be protected from all types of violence (Article 19) as well as have equal protection within the law. The new legislation will make the interpretation of it clearer not only for professionals but for parents, carers, and the public. There will be a clear boundary as defining what ‘reasonable punishment’ is, is often a grey area. The law will apply to any adult who is responsible for a child as well as visitors to Wales and the removal of the defence of reasonable punishment will be applicable to criminal and civil law.

 

 

With a background in children’s nursing, health visiting and as a previous lead nurse in safeguarding, the rights of children and young people have always been at the heart of my practice. I continue to champion children’s rights both professionally and personally. I became involved in this change of law process in 2019, as an RCN Wales Nurse of Year alumni. My Nurse of the Year award was in ‘Safeguarding’, and I was approached to attend the National Assembly of Wales Children and Young People’s committee to provide evidence on behalf of RCN Wales members.

 

I have therefore followed and been involved in this journey ever since, subsequently being part of the strategic implementation group as well as the training, operations, guidance, and diversion task and finish group. There has been a multi-professional approach to the development of clear processes in relation to this change in law, involving all essential agencies. It has promoted partnership working and has been structured in such a way that the voice of each partner agency has been recognised and heard.’

 

Children come into this world as blank canvases so to speak, and their early experiences shape their future behaviour and interaction with the world around them. Professionals are now aware of the impact of adverse childhood experiences on children and young people as well as taking trauma informed approaches to practice. This is particularly relevant to those health care practitioners working with parents and families in the early years. For example, midwives, health visitors, school nurses and children and young people nurses. Although, the law change is of course applicable to all, as we know, safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility.

 

Physical punishment is already illegal in many areas, for example: schools, children’s homes, local authority foster care homes and childcare settings. Any form of physical punishment can cause trauma – a ‘tap’, a ‘smack’, a ‘hit’, a ‘punch’ or a ‘shake’. The physical punishment of children is often seen as a loss of control of the adult who is caring for them. Is it reasonable to hit someone? Should children have different rights to the adults around them? So, removing the defence of reasonable punishment enables the children and young people of Wales to be protected in the same way as the adult population.

 

The discipline of children is about setting the right example, showing children how to cope and manage situations. Parenting is complex. There will be times when parents need to walk away from situations and take a very deep breath (whilst maintaining the safety of the child of course). Parenting will successfully continue without physical chastisement and support is available for parents and carers especially from the health visiting service as they are essential in delivering intervention in the early years. Children deserve the best possible start in life and the Welsh Government recognises the importance of the rights of the child and their ongoing protection from any type of abuse.

 

 

Further information about the change in law can be found on the Welsh Government website gov.wales/endphysicalpunishment

 

There is information for parents and a fact sheet for healthcare professionals

Information for the healthcare sector (gov.wales)

 

References:

 

Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment (Wales) Act (2020) Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 (legislation.gov.uk) [Accessed 18.03.22]

 

UNICEF (1989) UN Convention on the rights of the child Layout 1 (unicef.org.uk) [accessed 18.03.22]

 

 

Michelle Moseley

Michelle Moseley

Education and Life Long Learning Adviser, RCN Wales

Michelle is an experienced nurse, health visitor, safeguarding children lead and senior lecturer. In 2018 she was the winner of RCN Wales’ Nurse of the Year Safeguarding Award. Michelle joined the RCN Wales adviser team in October 2020.

Page last updated - 21/03/2022