The Barnet Safeguarding Children Partnership

BSCP's Physical Chastisement statement

BSCP's Physical Chastisement Statement

This statement was produced further to learning taken from recent local child safeguarding practice reviews and  based upon feedback from across the partnership with the support of partners and independent research.

Click here to access a copy of the statement: here

Definition of Physical Chastisement

Physical chastisement is often associated with smacking, spanking or hitting. Smacking is defined as: hitting someone forcefully with the flat inside part of your hand, producing a short loud noise, often to punish a child (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021). As well as smacking, physical punishment can include, but is not limited to, slapping, pinching, pulling, hitting with an object, making someone eat substances or endure stressful positions for long periods.  

What the law says about physical punishment

It is unlawful for a parent or carer use physical punishment to discipline their child. Legislation under the ‘Offences against the Person Act 1861 – outlines whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or without any weapons or instruments’ and ‘Children and Young Persons Act 1933’ – which states any person who has responsibility for any child or young person under the age of sixteen wilfully assaults or allows them to unnecessary suffering or injury (, 2021).

A common law defence is available to a parent or person acting in loco parentis where the smack amounts to “reasonable punishment”. The legislation states however, ‘Section 58 of the Children’s Act’ states: battery of a child cannot be justified on the ground that it constituted reasonable punishment’.

Whether any form of physical punishment is considered reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case taking into consideration factors which are for prosectors to decide. On the other hand, any form of physical punishment that leaves a mark (no matter how small) or if the child is hit with a fist/closed hand or an object is considered ‘unreasonable’. It would also be deemed unreasonable if smacking became any more than an isolated incident. Any incident that uses enough force to cause injury is consider assault and is not considered reasonable punishment and can result in criminal charges (NSPCC).

A parent can be charged with a criminal offence if they harm their child under the following certain offences: This also includes any other person that is a carer or works with children:

  • an offence under Section 18 and 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (wounding and causing grievous bodily harm)
  • an offence under Section 47 of that act (assault occasioning actual bodily harm) 
  • an offence under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (cruelty to persons under 16)


Physical Chastisement and Cultural Competency

 There are a wide variety of cultural attitudes to parenting, discipline and the use of physical punishment of children. Some parents therefore may be unfamiliar or actively disagree with the legal and moral principles which forbid parents to hi their children. Cultural competency does not collude with oppressive practices that can be disguised as cultural issues.

The long term affects physical punishment can have upon a child

Physical punishment can affect a child’s physical, emotional, and mental health which can continue into adulthood. Physical punishment, including but not limited to smacking, slapping, pushing, or hitting with an implement can cause:

  • injury such as bruises, cuts, reddening of the skin, scratches, swelling or even broken bones
  • anxiety, isolation, feeling victimised, low self-esteem, withdrawn behaviour
  • risk of anti-social behaviour
  • aggression in children including fighting and using violence for attention
  • violent and criminal leading into adulthood
  • An acceptance that violence is OK
  • Breakdown in family relationships increased violence between parents and children into adulthood.


Where physical chastisement/smacking (with no injuries and no implement used) is known to have occurred and comes to the attention, a conversation with the Police should take place to confirm known history and a joint decision made as to the best way to proceed. Ultimately, this is still an offence of common assault, and the defence is not an automatic right.

Contact the MASH or contact 101 whenever any form of physical harm is suspected and whenever a child has suffered or likely to suffer physical harm.

If Police become aware physical chastisement/smacking has taken place, a conversation should be had with the MASH/or child’s allocated worker (where appropriate). Following this professional conversation, a decision will be made about the best way to proceed which may involve police only or other professionals as appropriate.

Reports of smacking will always constitute an offence and any such report of physical punishment should be reported to the police and will be dealt with accordingly. If the defence of “reasonable punishment” is offered the report will reflect this.

Where professionals are aware of an assault on a child or young person resulting in any marks/injury to the child or the child/young person was hit with an implement, this must be reported to police and a strategy discussion convened. This constitutes an offence for which the defence of reasonable punishment is not available.

Where the seriousness of the incident alongside any other information relating to the incident, or other exploration of the situation, suggest the child may be at risk of serious harm then a strategy meeting should immediately be convened.

In relation to children in receipt of Early Help, it is acknowledged that while smacking may occur, it is important to respond appropriately, and smacking should always be discouraged as it is proved that they are better ways to discipline children. This needs to be done with the support of a team manager needs to consider if a strategy discussion needs to happen to think what should happen next.


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