Protecting the innocent or creating a nanny state? The fevered debate surrounding changes in the laws governing the smacking of children has divided the nation this week.
The issue of where the Government's responsibility ends and a parent's jurisdiction begins has stirred opinions, and this week's announcement that anything beyond 'moderate smacking' is to be outlawed has met a mixed reaction. SELENA O'DONNELL reports.
THE programme leader for the Blacon branch of Surestart, a national Government-run scheme aimed at improving educational and social standards for families, believes new laws on smacking fall short of the mark and fail the children they are supposed to protect.
Paula Worthington - who also has concerns about how the laws, which state any incident leaving a visible mark or bruise on a child will be investigated, will be applied and policed - said: 'It's no different from what we have now, it's not gone far enough. Moderate smacking? I don't think that people know what that means. As a programme, we believe it's wrong to physically assault a child. Full stop.
'It would come down to health visitors and social workers to report - but bruises or scratches being detected isn't always realistic as there isn't always someone around in that child's life.'
In the absence of a total ban, Paula believes the most positive way forward is to concentrate on the motives of parents who may be tempted to use physical chastisement as an instinctive reaction to their child's behaviour, as opposed to a last resort.
'You only have to look at domestic abuse that starts in pregnancy and how that creates a pre-disposition to hitting the child later on,' she said.
'We see a real need for the education of parents regarding these issues, to help them find different ways of handling challenging behaviour. We run parents groups and concentrate on stages like terrible twos, etc, and come up with possible alternatives.
'We see children all the time for whom hitting other children is part of their lives. At the end of the day children learn behaviour, and they learn that from the models in their lives, which are their parents.'
Offering parents advice on practical alternatives to smacking is something special needs teaching assistant Natalie Wright, mum of sixmonth-old Nancy, agrees with.
'I think that there are other techniques you can use,' she said. 'Different tones of voice, rewards and consequences and, most importantly, being consistent in these methods.
'Working with the type of kids I do, the whole school has to be based around rewards but with clear sanctions in place, such as detentions. They need to feel encouraged by rewards for their good behaviour.
'Too many times smacking a child is a release of the parent's anger and stress, all they are succeeding in doing is humiliating the child, hurting the child, many times without the child actually knowing what they've done wrong.'
However, Natalie, who works in a specialised unit for Emotional Behaviour Disorder (EBD) diagnosed youngsters, fears Government intervention could result in an infringement upon a parent's right to raise their child in accordance with their own beliefs.
She said: 'I personally wouldn't smack my child, but I don't believe that people should be governed about it. However, I do agree that some people abuse their position as a parent. Children have a right to be protected, just not to a ridiculous point.
'I think there will be a big problem with children claiming 'so and so did this to me', there could be accusations everywhere.'
Chester-based solicitor Nigel Tomlinson, personal injury specialist for Hillyer McKeown, and dad-of-four, says the amendment, which has been labelled a 'fudge' by the Children Are Unbeatable Alliance, is unwelcome.
He said: 'It will prove extremely problematic and the existing law of 'reasonable chastisement' leaves the responsibility where it should be - with the parent - and also leaves enough scope for any prosecuting council.
'It will be impossible to enforce and will prove a problem for police and parents, it is open to massive abuse and leaves room for malicious complaints being made.
'I am 100 % behind the protection of children and I agree that you can't teach a three-year-old not to hit by hitting them, but the proposed new law is impractical.'