SAN JOSE – A Court of Appeals in California has unanimously tossed out child abuse findings against a Santa Clara County mother who spanked her 12-year-old daughter with a wooden spoon.
The Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday that the county Department of Social Services judged inappropriately when it determined that Veronica Gonzalez abused her daughter by disciplining her with the object. Social Services had wanted to add Gonzalez to the Department of Justice child abuse database, and a lower court upheld the opinion.
However, the three-judge panel ruled this week that Social Services violated the mother’s rights to administer “reasonable discipline” under the law as the parent. It noted that while abuse can occur in some instances, this case did not appear to warrant the mother being labeled as an abuser.
“Nothing in the record suggests the mother should have known she was inflicting bruises,” Justice Conrad Rushing wrote on behalf of the panel. “[T]he spanking was entirely the product of a genuine and deliberate disciplinary purpose, i.e., to arrest troubling behavior patterns exhibited by the daughter.”
Gonzalez’ daughter had reportedly been lying to her parents, ignoring her homework assignments and displaying interest in joining a gang. Gonzalez had tried disciplining her child in milder forms, such as grounding the 12-year-old and taking away her phone, but those disciplinary measures did not work, the court noted.
Following warnings, the girl’s father had spanked the child with his hand, and her mother swatted her with a wooden spoon five or six times on one occasion. The 12-year-old then told her friends about the matter, which eventually led to the Department of Social Services becoming involved.
But the Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that Gonzalez never had any intent to cause physical injury to her daughter, and that assertions that her actions should be considered child abuse were “unfounded.”
The justices also chastised the hearing officer for not allowing the girl to testify during the lower court proceedings.
“There is no evidence in this record that daughter would have suffered distress of any kind or degree—let alone ‘trauma’—from testifying at the hearing,” they wrote.
Reaction the ruling has been mixed.
“On the one hand, my sisters and I were on the receiving end of various implements. On the other hand, I have seen abusive parents, and even a wrapping paper tube can be used abusively,” one commenter wrote. “Bruises and welts are a very important warning sign for potential abuse. Using implements for discipline makes it easy to cross that line.”
“I agree with this decision,” another wrote. “When I was a kid—I’m 64 now, parents often spanked their kids with wooden spoons, paddles, sticks, or whatever else was handy. No one said a thing about child abuse. There’s an old saying: ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’”