Q: A social worker friend of mine, who works for the State of Missouri Children’s Division, told me that I could get into trouble if I spank my child, but I’ve been told by others that it actually is not against the law to spank a child. So, this has left me quite confused. Could you tell me if this is against the law or not? My child is exhibiting significant behavior problems and I’ve spanked him before; but, I don’t want to end up in jail for it.
A: This is a good question and a valid concern. It remains legal to spank a child in both the states of Kansas and Missouri, but there are guidelines to the intervention (I'm addressing both states because I have offices in both Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri). But, the Missouri Children’s Division and the Kansas Division of Children and Families both have rules against spanking. This is very confusing for most people as they wonder who carries the most weight between the actual law and the state's child protective agencies. If you are not involved with the child protective agencies (i.e. have an open case or investigation in process), then you should be fine parenting your child in accordance with what the law allows. But, if you have an open case with either of the child protective agencies, then you must comply with their rules, which are also enforced by the family court.
A widely accepted safe practice is spanking with only the use of your hand, as it is considered to be physically abusive if you use any object in delivering the spanking or if you leave any bruises. But the real question is about the effectiveness of spankings with modern children living in modern times. There’s also the issue of spanking children who might be exhibiting negative behaviors as the result of a psychiatric diagnosis (e.g. ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, etc.). Spanking a child who is exhibiting symptoms of a mental disorder is truly abusive—and ineffective. Those children's negative behaviors will persist, despite your spanking. I have written many articles for this column covering many negative behaviors and specific, appropriate forms of behavior modification interventions designed to extinguish those negative behaviors (e.g. See the series titled "What am I gonna do with this kid?!"). Natural consequences implemented as behavior modification interventions teach the necessary life lessons that children need in order to develop into healthy and productive adults. Spankings don’t teach those specific lessons.
Below are the specific laws and statutes for the states of Kansas and Missouri. I strongly suggest reviewing them before continuing to spank your child. Thank you for your question and do take care.
Abuse includes cruel and inhuman corporal punishment.
§ 21-3609. [Criminal Code]
21-5602. Abuse of a child. (a) Abuse of a child is knowingly:
(1) Torturing or cruelly beating any child under the age of 18 years;
(2) shaking any child under the age of 18 years which results in great bodily harm to the child; or
(3) inflicting cruel and inhuman corporal punishment upon any child under the age of 18 years.
(b) Abuse of a child is a severity level 5, person felony.
(c) A person who violates the provisions of this section may also be prosecuted for, convicted of, and punished for any form of battery or homicide.
[Missouri Revised Statutes]
Discipline including spanking, administered in a reasonable manner, is not abuse.
§ 210.110. [Civil Code]
Force justified if by parent/guardian/other person with care and supervision of minor if- -- Person believes force necessary to promote welfare of minor, and -- Force used is not designed to cause or believed to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious physical injury, disfigurement, extreme pain, or extreme emotional distress.
210.110. As used in sections 210.109 to 210.165, and sections 210.180 to 210.183, the following terms mean:
(1) "Abuse", any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those responsible for the child's care, custody, and control, except that discipline including spanking, administered in a reasonable manner, shall not be construed to be abuse;
Use of force by persons with responsibility for care, discipline or safety of others.
563.061. 1. The use of physical force by an actor upon another person is justifiable when the actor is a parent, guardian or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor or an incompetent person or when the actor is a teacher or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor for a special purpose; and
(1) The actor reasonably believes that the force used is necessary to promote the welfare of a minor or incompetent person, or, if the actor's responsibility for the minor is for special purposes, to further that special purpose or to maintain reasonable discipline in a school, class or other group; and
(2) The force used is not designed to cause or believed to create a substantial risk of causing death, serious physical injury, disfigurement, extreme pain or extreme emotional distress.
2. A warden or other authorized official of a jail, prison or correctional institution may, in order to maintain order and discipline, use whatever physical force, including deadly force, that is authorized by law.
3. The use of physical force by an actor upon another person is justifiable when the actor is a person responsible for the operation of or the maintenance of order in a vehicle or other carrier of passengers and the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent interference with its operation or to maintain order in the vehicle or other carrier, except that deadly force may be used only when the actor reasonably believes it necessary to prevent death or serious physical injury.
4. The use of physical force by an actor upon another person is justified when the actor is a physician or a person assisting at his direction; and
(1) The force is used for the purpose of administering a medically acceptable form of treatment which the actor reasonably believes to be adapted to promoting the physical or mental health of the patient; and
(2) The treatment is administered with the consent of the patient or, if the patient is a minor or an incompetent person, with the consent of the parent, guardian, or other person legally competent to consent on his behalf, or the treatment is administered in an emergency when the actor reasonably believes that no one competent to consent can be consulted and that a reasonable person, wishing to safeguard the welfare of the patient, would consent.
5. The use of physical force by an actor upon another person is justifiable when the actor acts under the reasonable belief that
(1) Such other person is about to commit suicide or to inflict serious physical injury upon himself; and
(2) The force used is necessary to thwart such result.
6. The defendant shall have the burden of injecting the issue of justification under this section.