Amid headlines over allegations of physical and sexual abuse at New Hampshire’s juvenile detention center in Manchester, the New Hampshire Legislature is considering several bills related to child protection. One bill seeks a relatively small addition to state law: a ban on corporal punishment in state agencies.
Proposal to ban corporal punishment
HB 427 is a 2021 bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit corporal punishment in any state programs. The ban would cover foster homes and other residential care settings, including juvenile detention.
According to testimony from Rebecca Ross, the legislative liaison for the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), the department already prohibits corporal punishment in foster care and residential care.
HB 427 is then somewhat symbolic, legally requiring what is already in place for DCYF programs.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a similar bill in 2020, HB 1250. That bill died during the coronavirus shutdown.
Arguments for, against HB 427
Supporters of HB 427 point to significant evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children’s physical and mental health. The American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics both oppose the use of corporal punishment. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children who experience repeated use of corporal punishment tend to develop more aggressive behaviors, increased aggression in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems.”
While current DCYF policies already prohibit corporal punishment, the state can ensure these policies are maintained by passing HB 427.
A legal ban on corporal punishment in state programs may also send a message to parents to avoid corporal punishment at home.
There seem to be few opponents to HB 427; it passed the House Children and Family Law Committee on a unanimous vote.
However, there may be an argument that the bill is unnecessary as there are already policies prohibiting corporal punishment in state programs.
There are also some in New Hampshire who argue corporal punishment is still a reasonable tool for disciplining children.
What’s next for HB 427?
HB 427 passed the New Hampshire House of Representatives on February 24. It now heads to the Senate for a public hearing.
The state is facing many other challenges in the area of child protection, including a lawsuit from 230 Granite Staters that say they were physical and sexually abused at the state-run youth detention center in Manchester over the past six decades. There is also a criminal investigation over these allegations.
Visit our topic page on Child Abuse and Protection to find the latest bills.