In DYFS v. K.T., the Appellate Division reversed a trial Court‘s finding of no abuse or neglect in a case of alleged excessive corporal punishment. In K.T., a mother spanked her 7 year old daughter for kissing a boy and sitting on his lap at school. The spanking left bruises and cuts on the child’s arms, legs and buttocks a full seven days after the event. The trial Court did not condone the parent’s actions, but noted that (1) she was concerned regarding sexual conduct of her young child; and (2) the child was not hit in a vulnerable area (presumably this fact goes to the “recklessness” standard).
The trial Court further noted that the child did not appear upset when interviewed about the incident, and she did not require medical care. The trial Court was also concerned with labeling K.T. as an abuser for parenting behavior that did not harm the child.
The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that this was “hardly a ‘customary’ spanking”. However, in so holding, the Appellate Division appears to have sidestepped the published decision in DYFS v. K.A., in which the Court held corporal punishment is not excessive if the “blows, though undoubtedly painful, did not cause the child any permanent harm, did not require medical intervention of any kind, and were not a part of a pattern of abuse.”
So, the question remains – is there really a standard defining excessive corporal punishment? Or, are we left with the porn analysis – we know it when we see it?
It did not help in this case that, when asked if she knew what she did was wrong, K.T. said, “No, because that’s pretty much how I was raised.” Note, the same result was reached in DYFS v. C.H., where the Appellate Division rejected a parent’s urban cultural view that routine corporal punishment is the way to “keep [a child] out of the streets”. Yet, in K.A., a white suburban homemaker’s repeated punches to a special needs child was labeled an “ill-advised impulse”.
What motivates the Court to determine “excessiveness” will vary from case to case. But, for certain the discipline must be “reasonable in light of the circumstances” – and what is “reasonable” will always be fact-sensitive and subject to debate, causing a lack of uniformity.
Perhaps, that is they way it should be. Perhaps not. That, too, will always be subject to debate.