The Mum – Laura

After her husband left her Laura had to raise her three boys on her own. Laura gives her children clear boundaries on behaviour. Positive behaviour is rewarded on the star chart. Poor behaviour results in the loss of gold stars, a ‘time out’ or, in exceptional circumstances, a smack on the back of the legs.

Laura catches her son Lewis, 5, taking money from her purse again. Laura reminds him that she has previously told him that this is wrong and so this time she is giving him a smack. She tells him “not to do it again” and gives him a cuddle and tells him she still loves him.

At school Lewis mentions the incident to his form teacher. The school contacts social services who turn up at Laura’s door accompanied by the police demanding entry. They tell her she is “this close to being charged with assault”.

Over a three year period social services conduct intensive monitoring of Laura and the boys. They interview family and friends – and Laura’s ex-husband - to assess if she is a fit mother. Laura feels constantly undermined but powerless to object for fear of losing her children.

She loses confidence as a parent and is reluctant to discipline her children at all. As a result the boys’ behaviour goes rapidly downhill and, feeling guilty at the affect his actions have had on his mum, Lewis’s performance at school starts to deteriorate.

The Teacher - David

David teaches English and PSHE. He is married to Claire and has a two-year-old, Ryan.

While waiting to cross a busy road outside the house Ryan pulls his hand away and starts to run out in front of a car. David quickly pulls him back and lifts him up to tell him off. He reminds Ryan why he mustn’t do that. Ryan starts to cry that ‘Daddy has hurt his arm’. A neighbour hears Ryan and calls the police.

David is charged and convicted of assault against a child. He is fined and given a suspended prison sentence. He loses his job and is listed as unsuitable to work with children. He is unable to work as a teacher again.

David and Claire start to find it difficult to make their mortgage payments. Unable to find new employment David struggles with depression affecting his relationship with both his wife and son.

The Social Worker – Glen

Before the change in the law Glen had a caseload of 17 young people and families. In almost every case there is evidence of serious abuse and neglect. Three months after the change in the law his caseload has more than tripled due to the dozens of reports of parents using reasonable chastisement.

Because of the time he spends investigating accusations of smacking against good parents he is no longer able to give his original case work the attention he knows it requires. Unable to manage the workload Glen has been signed off work with stress for 6 weeks.

The Safeguarding Expert – Emma

Emma has been a senior manager at a children’s charity for over ten years. In her current role she is responsible for developing the safeguarding policy for the charity across all its sites in Scotland. She has three children below the age of eight.

Out with a friend she recounts a recent incident at a friend’s home where eighteen-month-old Sophie had found her keys and was about to put them into an electrical socket. Emma tells her friend that having pulled her away she felt she had to give her a smack on the hand to get her to understand that she must not do it again.

The conversation is overheard and reported to the police. The investigation lasts six months during which time she is suspended without pay. She is eventually prosecuted, convicted and fined £1000. She loses her job and is banned from working with children for seven years.