A parent who strikes a child in the face hard enough to leave fingerprints and bruising has used excessive force and can be put on a list of abusive parents, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
In their 16-page opinion, judges Victor Ashrafi and Douglas Fasciale reviewed two other cases in which a parent who slapped a teenager and another parent who struck her child on the shoulder were found not to have used excessive force. But in this case, the judges held that striking the child in the face, and with enough force to leave a mark the following morning, crossed the line.
"Slapping the face of an eight-year-old child with sufficient force to leave a hand imprint and cause bruising goes 'beyond what is proper and reasonable,'" the court held.
Click here to read the court's full opinion in the case.
But the judges made it clear that the specific circumstances of the case were what determined their conclusion. The mother reported that her son had been unruly for some time and had been disciplined at school two days earlier. According to the court record, he had kicked his younger sister in the stomach and his father had come upstairs and yelled at him to stop.
At that point, the mother, who was nine months pregnant, confronted her son and asked why he kicked his sister. When he “shrugged his shoulders, ‘as if he didn’t care,’” and then said that he had kicked her because he “felt like it,” the mother slapped her son's left cheek.
In the morning, she applied a cold washcloth to his face and his father took him to school. But school officials noticed a red mark on the 8-year-old's face that resembled fingerprints, and reported the incident to the Department of Youth and Family Services.
In an initial hearing, an administrative law judge decided that the slap was not excessive punishment, but the DFYS reviewed the case and overruled the judge. While the child was not removed from his parents' care, the mother was put on a state list of abusive parents.
The appellate court considered two other cases where parents were found to be within their rights in striking their children. In one, a parent had slapped a teenager in the face, but without leaving any bruise or mark. The judges in that case held that the parent's action did not constitute abuse.
In a second case, a single mother had struck her 8-year-old daughter four or five times on the shoulder, leaving a bruise. But the judges distinguished that case, noting that the mother had been alone, had first given the child a time out, which had not worked, and struck the child on the shoulder and not in the face.
"The location of the blow that [the mother] landed upon her eight-year-old son was particularly vulnerable; striking [her son] in the face intensified the potential for harm, as this is a risky area due to the presence of many sensitive organs located nearby. The risks associated with such blows are numerous and serious and could include bone damage, tooth damage, eye injuries, jaw injuries or worse," the judges wrote.
The court also considered that the mother did not first try some other means of getting her son to behave, before striking him.
The mother's attorney, Walter Schreyer, said the ruling, "doesn’t make a lot of sense to me," according to NJ.com.
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