By Hilary White

LONDON, October 31, 2008 ( – Despite the fact that it remains lawful in the UK for parents to spank their children as a disciplinary measure, couples who support the practice are being discriminated against by council officials in charge of foster parenting and adoptions, a recent case has revealed.

An east London couple, identified in court documents only as Mr. and Mrs. A, have been refused permission to adopt a child because of their support for spanking as a form of discipline for children. The couple was rejected by adoption officials after they applied to adopt the half-sister of their adoptive eight year-old son. 

The Newham council in east London told Mr. and Mrs. A. in June that they were not suitable as adoptive parents following an assessment, the Daily Telegraph reported this week. The couple have launched a judicial review in which they claim that social workers had rejected their application after Mr. A. admitted to spanking their son for swearing.

The couple’s barrister said that the Newham council’s decision violated the family’s human rights, and that their son would now unjustly grow up without his sister. The couple are experienced foster parents and have taken in children from all over London.

Newham council refused to reverse their decision even after the couple was supported by an independent fostering review panel.

The ruling of the Newham county council resembles another made earlier this year against a couple who were refused as foster parents because of their support for spanking.

David and Heather Bowen admitted to children’s services at Somerset county council that they discipline their own daughter “once or twice a year” by spanking, although they would never consider this form of discipline for a foster child. The couple, who live in Taunton, Somerset, were then rejected as foster parents after refusing to reconsider their position.

After the council rejected their application, David Bowen said, “Based on the evidence presented to the council, we cannot understand why we are unsuitable and it seems that we have been excluded on the basis that we physically chastise our birth child, in accordance with our beliefs and UK law.

“I’m sure other parents would have just lied.”

Despite repeated efforts of MPs to ban spanking, parent’s rights have prevailed thus far and, according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, almost 70 per cent of parents oppose an outright ban.

The most recent attempt was early this month when a cross-party group of MPs tabled an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill. The amendment, which did not have the full support of the Labour majority, failed to come to a vote when it became clear that the party, already deeply divided, would face a backbench rebellion over the issue.

Four years ago, MPs rejected an attempt to ban all corporal punishment of children, passing instead a measure allowing “reasonable punishment” of children and outlawing punishment which left “physical marks” or caused “mental harm.”

In 2007, after a government review, Kevin Brennan, the Children’s Minister, said that the law would remain as it was. Brennan told MPs at the time, “Whilst many parents say they will not smack, a majority of parents say that smacking should not be banned outright. The Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily.”

In a survey conducted earlier this month, it was revealed that only 45 per cent of parents in England and 43 per cent in Scotland said they would never use corporal discipline for their children. 

The decision of the Somerset county council in the Bowen case was preceded by a similar ruling late last year when they rescinded the foster-care approval of Vincent and Pauline Matherick, a devout Christian couple because they refused to endorse homosexuality to foster children.

The Mathericks, who had looked after twenty-eight children since 2001 with an untarnished record as care givers, were told that their services were no longer required because they held the traditional Christian view of marriage and relationships.

After a storm of negative publicity, the council reinstated the Mathericks and restored their foster child who had been summarily removed. The council later claimed that the matter had been a “misunderstanding.”
  Read related coverage:

UK Christian Couple who Refuse to Promote Homosexuality Forced out of Child Foster Care

Christian Couple no Longer Required to Promote Homosexuality in Fostering Children

UK Christians Retired from Fostering Over a “Misunderstanding” Says Council