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Spankings tied to likelihood of child protective service visits

By Kathryn Doyle

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents who spank their babies are at greater risk of eventually having Child Protective Services called in to protect their kids than parents who do not spank, according to a new study.

"A few other studies have shown that parents that spank their children are also more likely to engage in harsh physical punishment and abusive parenting behaviors," said lead author Shawna J. Lee from the University of Michigan School of Social Work in Ann Arbor.

It seems plausible that discipline that starts out as spanking may, in some cases, escalate to abuse over time, Lee told Reuters Health in an email.

Research has shown that spanking doesn't result in kids listening to their parents' directions any more closely. It has been linked to more aggressive behavior and more acting out as the child grows up.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse spanking for any reason, and suggests time-outs as an alternative.

"The collective research over the past 20 years on spanking and physical punishment clearly indicates that hitting your child is related to a wide range of negative outcomes and hasn't shown any benefit to the child," said Tracie O. Afifi, who studies physical punishment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

In the new study, Lee and her colleagues analyzed data from a previous study that had followed 2,800 families with a newborn baby in 20 U.S. cities for five years. In three-quarters of the families, the child's parents were not married.

For their report, the researchers considered interviews conducted with the mothers when the child was first born, and again at ages one and five.

At one year, mothers were asked if they or their partner had spanked the child for misbehaving in the past month.

When kids were five, mothers reported whether Child Protective Services (CPS) had ever contacted them about any child in the household.

According to the results published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, 30 percent of the one-year-olds had been spanked by their mother, their father or their mother's current partner in the past month. Ten percent of families were contacted by CPS when children were between age one and five.

Spanking was more common in the group that was ultimately contacted by CPS.

Among the families with no CPS calls, 29 percent of kids had been spanked, compared to 38 percent of kids in families with CPS involvement.

Families with CPS involvement were also more likely to have lower household incomes. Mothers in those families tended to have lower education levels and higher rates of depression than mothers in families without CPS calls.

Many parents don't know that spanking is harmful, or they try not to spank but then become frustrated and do it anyway, Lee said.

"For many parents who use corporal punishment, they continue with the same practice although it is not effective in changing the child's behavior in the long-term," said Deborah D. Sendek, from the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University in Minnesota. Sendek was not involved in the new study.

"As the child gets older, the parents tend to use more force and hit more frequently, which can cause an injury bringing them to the attention of CPS," she said. Plus, older children who have been spanked may develop problems concentrating, trouble with schoolwork, bullying behavior or conflict with authority, which can lead to a CPS referral as well, she said.

But spanking may be only one factor that contributes to CPS involvement, in addition to poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, parental stress and depression, Lee said.

"Child behaviors that are frustrating or annoying to parents often reflect the normal development of a young child who is curious and in the process of learning about the world (and) is 'testing out' theories about how things work," Lee said. "When parents are frustrated, I advocate for trying to redirect their child to other activities or giving them something else to do."

"Parents should not spank their children - in particular, babies and very young children," Lee said. She encourages parents to discuss the issue with their pediatricians, ask for resources and consult the American Academy of Pediatrics "Connected Kids" initiative (http://bit.ly/1gHgmqj).

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1fXdeqm Child Abuse & Neglect, online March 3, 2014.

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