The way to tell when disciplining a child has gone too far is when a child is left bleeding or with cuts, burns or bruises, the state’s top child welfare official said Thursday.
Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said in a statement that she felt “compelled to address a question many are asking” about child abuse but didn’t specify any particular case she was addressing.
“Reasonable, constructive discipline is a healthy part of parenting and an essential element of child rearing, but it crosses into abuse when it leaves a child cut, burned, bloody or bruised. We’re referring to something more than a mere ‘spanking,’ ” she said.
The statement comes amid a controversy over the arrest Tuesday of Schaquana Evita Spears, a 30-year-old Baton Rouge mother booked on two counts of cruelty to juveniles after she admitted to striking three of her sons with a cord, leaving two of them with cuts and one bloodied. She said she “whipped” the children after she found out they broke a neighbor’s window and stole some $1,700 worth of equipment, including a hoverboard, video game systems, a computer and other items, according to an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office report.
Spears, who was released late Tuesday night after a judge reduced her bail, attracted defenders from across the country, including state Treasurer John Kennedy, who wrote an open letter to Walters calling for leniency on Spears.
“If you are planning to keep or take these children away from their mother simply because she disciplined them for stealing, that would be a ludicrous step to take,” Kennedy wrote in the letter.
“In biblical times, sparing the rod led to a spoiled child. In modern times, sparing the rod leads to an imprisoned child,” he wrote.
Spears, a single parent, said Wednesday she is working to regain custody of her six children, who are being cared for by their grandmother. Spears did not respond to a query Thursday.
“We are terribly upset she was arrested in the first place,” said Spears’ attorney, Brenden Craig. “We think the arresting agency would have been better served taking more time to investigate. I suggest they could have applied for a warrant, but they didn’t do that. They slapped the cuffs on her.”
Casey Rayborn Hicks, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, the agency that arrested Spears, said she does not have a response.
Craig said just because Spears’ children had cuts or were bleeding does not mean his client is guilty of a crime.
“She was doing everything a mother should do,” he said, adding that his client loves her children. “What occurred did not constitute abuse.”
Craig said he could not comment on the custody status of Spears’ children.
Walters said the Department of Children and Family Services encourages anyone with questions about child development and appropriate discipline to call Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana’s “Kidline” at ( 800) CHILDREN, which is available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.