Despite court ruling, survey finds child welfare advocates oppose corporal punishment

July 23, 2015

Keith Brannon
Phone: 504-862-8789

Nearly a month after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that parents have the right to use corporal punishment to discipline their children, a new survey finds that most leading child welfare professionals think spanking is harmful for children and leads to more aggressive behavior.

Tulane University researcher Catherine Taylor surveyed more than 500 mental health professionals, physicians and other members of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), a national organization for professionals who work to prevent and respond to child abuse, this summer to gauge their opinions on corporal punishment, including spanking, and whether they felt comfortable advising parents on this topic.

Almost 75 percent of respondents said spanking is harmful for children and a majority believe it is a bad disciplinary technique; leads to the child being more, not less, aggressive; seldom or never leads to better self-control and sometimes leads to the child being physically abused.

Surprisingly, most professionals aren’t aware of the emerging consensus against spanking. An overwhelming majority of members believe that spanking is harmful, yet most don’t think their colleagues share their feelings as strongly. For example, although 46 percent said they strongly agree that spanking is harmful, only 25 percent think that their colleagues felt this way. Also 60 percent strongly feel spanking is a bad disciplinary technique, yet only 30 percent felt their colleagues agreed.

“As child health professionals, we need to do a better job of getting the word out to change our social norms about the use of spanking and other forms of corporal punishment,” said Taylor, survey co-author and associate professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Taylor and Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, will present the survey findings July 24 at the 23rd Annual APSAC Colloquium in Boston. 

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000