Woeful Scot Gov awareness-raising has left parents in the dark about smacking ban

Parents across Scotland will be “caught unawares” when strict new smacking legislation comes into force next month, with many believing light physical discipline is still acceptable, campaigners warn.

Be Reasonable Scotland points to a lack of public awareness-raising about the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019, which was passed eleven months ago and comes into force on 7 November.

Under the legislation, all physical discipline by parents is considered an assault following the removal of the reasonable chastisement defence. Parents who continue using smacking will face social work and police intervention.

Woeful awareness-raising

A letter from a Scottish Government official to an inquisitive local authority in June, obtained under freedom of information laws, states that Ministers “are not planning a national marketing campaign” on the smacking ban – despite the major cultural change it represents.

The letter claims that awareness-raising can be achieved by “other means” including circulars to different organisations, a factsheet aimed at parents, a new page on the Scottish Government website and the government’s flagship parenting site Parent Club.

All of these resources fail to mention that smacking will be a criminal offence except the obscure page on the Scottish Government website, published this week. It states:

“If a parent or carer physically punishes or disciplines their child they can be prosecuted with assault. Under the current law, depending on what happened, the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ may be available to them”.

“The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 will change the law and remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence from 7 November 2020. This means that all forms of physical punishment of children will be against the law in Scotland”.

Lack of funding

The Scottish Government set aside just £20,000 for awareness-raising – far less than in the smaller jurisdiction of Wales. Welsh Ministers ringfenced almost £2,759,000 to raise awareness about its smacking legislation, which comes into force in 2022.

In October last year, during the final debate on the smacking bill, SNP Children’s Minister Maree Todd was asked whether £20,000 was ‘really enough’. She replied: “absolutely”.

Be Reasonable comment

Dr Ashley Frawley, a sociologist and ally of the Be Reasonable campaign, commented:

“There’s a strong argument that the Scottish Government has failed in its duty to raise public awareness about the smacking ban. With just over a month to go until the ban is implemented, nothing has been done to update families. The only resource which comes close to telling parents the truth is an obscure webpage tucked away on the Gov.scot site which very few people visit.

“Unlike other cultural changes such as the smoking ban, there has been no marketing to bring the public up to speed. Many parents will simply be caught unawares. The situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis which has left parents disconnected from the usual channels of communication – schools, nurseries and clubs, where discussions over parenting often take place.”

Smacking ban “cold, hard facts”

Be Reasonable also obtained a document from Social Work Scotland discussing police and social work responses to smacking allegations after 7 November.

The document stresses that even when there is no identifiable risk to a child, social workers and police officers will still be compelled to act.

A section on new principles to be followed by social workers states that when concerns about smacking “fall short of the significant harm threshold, this must not stop the provision of proportionate coordinated support”.

Another section confirms that the details of families where smacking has occurred will be entered into a national police database and shared between professionals:

“Police Scotland advise that any allegation of assault on a child may result in an entry on the vulnerable person’s database. If appropriate, that information can then be shared with partner agencies, including Social Work, and existing Police Scotland processes on referrals to social work will apply.”

It adds that entry into the vulnerable person’s database will still take place if no prosecution has occurred and parents have only received a police warning: “The nature of the disposal, including by recorded police warning, is not a factor in this process.”

Dr Frawley added:

“This Social Work Scotland document reveals the cold, hard facts about the smacking ban that Ministers don’t want to admit. Parents who use even the mildest forms of physical punishment can expect social work intervention and the entry of their details on a Police Scotland blacklist. This negative intervention will be highly traumatic for families.

“In the coming years we can expect to see false allegations of smacking by parents trying to get one over on each other, police and social work intervention in perfectly good families, and overburdened child protection professionals struggling to identify at-risk children amidst a heavy smacking-related workload.

“Evidence from other countries shows that those most affected by lowering the bar for intervention of the authorities into family life are BAME communities and immigrants, simply because they are more likely to be in contact with services. In Norway, the child of an immigrant mother is four times more likely to be removed. It is no surprise that the first person convicted in Ireland for allegedly smacking his daughter in public was an immigrant.

“The activists and politicians who championed a ban on smacking may be congratulating one another now but they will live to regret their actions. Sadly, it will be good, loving parents in Scotland who pay the price.”


Notes to editors:

The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots coalition of parents, academics and politicians. Find out more on the Be Reasonable Scotland website.