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Smacking Children makes their behaviour worse, scientist find

Kat Lay Health Editor, Tuesday June 29 2021, The Times

Physical punishment is banned in Scotland and Wales but still permitted in England and Northern Ireland

Smacking children does not make them better behaved and is harmful, says a review of two decades of research.

It found that children subjected to physical punishment displayed increased behavioural problems, and that it was likely that smacking had caused the increase. This was true regardless of the child’s sex or ethnicity, or the family’s overall parenting style.

Studies did not find any improvement in children’s attention, cognitive abilities, relationships with others, reactivity to stress, social behaviour or social competence if they had been physically punished.

Experts said it was time for England and Northern Ireland to follow Scotland, Wales and 62 other countries by introducing an outright ban on physical punishment of children.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are among groups that back a ban.

The paper’s lead author, Dr Anja Heilmann of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said: “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.”

The review, led by researchers at UCL and published in The Lancet, looked at 69 studies following children over time. The review searched for links between physical punishment and outcomes, including children’s behaviour, attention and relationships.

Heilmann said: “We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour. Physical punishment consistently predicts increases in these types of behavioural difficulties. Even more worrying are findings that children who are the recipients of physical punishment are at increased risk of being subjected to more severe levels of violence.”

She said that physical punishment violated children’s rights and that countries should honour obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is clear that children should have the same protection against violence as adults.

“This means England and Northern Ireland should follow the example of Scotland and Wales and give children equal protection in law,” she said.

In England and Northern Ireland parents are not allowed to smack children unless it amounts to “reasonable punishment”, a measure that takes into account how old the child is and the force used. Any smack that leaves a mark such as a bruise or graze could mean a prosecution for assault.

Scotland and Wales removed the defence of reasonable punishment.

Professor Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, a senior author of the review, said: “Our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour but makes it worse.”

The studies looked at smacking, spanking and slapping. Researchers excluded severe forms of physical punishment such as hitting a child with an object, hitting them on the face or head, or washing out their mouths with soap.

Joanna Barrett, NSPCC associate head of policy, said: “It cannot be right that in 2021 children are the only group in society that it is legally acceptable to assault in England. The case for reform is beyond doubt.” She said Westminster was “behind the curve” and needed to give children in England the same protection as elsewhere in the UK.


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Training in Herat restarting

The International Assistance Mission (IAM) is a non-profit Christian development non-governmental organization working in Afghanistan since 1966. 

The ICDP programme was introduced to a team of health professionals at IAM who were trained during 2019, and after a break caused by the pandemic which lasted one year (2020), the training is now resuming in June2021. It is being organized and conducted by Fattah Najm and the participants are comprised of mental health professionals working at IAM, in the town of Herat.

The ICDP material was prepared for use at workshops – see some of the 8 ICDP guidelines below:

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First day care team in Germany completed their ICDP training

The first day care team to complete the ICDP training belongs to the St. Thomas day care in Hildesheim-Drispenstedt. On Saturday, 26th of June, 18 colleagues received their certificates as ICDP Caregivers from their trainer Rita Crecelius.

Ana Vázquez-Zimmermann, the leader of St. Thomas, was part of the team who started to receive ICDP training on 23rd of November 2020, -which was right in the middle of the lockdown. Restrictions caused by the pandemic meant that the dates of the training had to be postponed several times, but Ana never gave up – nor did her team. And in order to attend the last training session staff-members sacrificed their free weekend.

By following the 8 ICDP guidelines, the professional caregivers at St. Thomas became more and more aware of the value of their work and consequently they started to do it with more self-acceptance and mindfulness. Results of their efforts started to appear: Most of the team-members were able to observe positive changes in their relationships with the children. It transpired with increasing clarity that good and responsive interaction was immediately creating space for good development.

Ana Vázquez-Zimmermann is proud of her ICDP team – the first one in Germany. The certification ceremony provided a special moment for her. She said: “ICDP knowledge brings more awareness into the day care, more Being instead of Doing. This is valuable for both sides. When caregiver stress level decreases, the child starts to thrive.” Ana is already making plans for a refresher course to take place in November 2021. The day is set, and all are looking forward to the future ICDP journey at St. Thomas.

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Stories from ICDP China

ICDP China has collected some stories from the caregivers who received the ICDP training – click here to read them.

Here is a story from Yang Yang:

“Before learning ICDP, as a mother of two children, I didn’t know how to prevent the children from fighting, nor how to teach them to put away their toys and do the housework they had agreed to do. Every morning it was so painful, because without constant reminders and fights it seems that they would not be able to leave the house in time for school. After school, they had homework, house chores and the inevitable quarreling. Before I learn ICDP, my “tips and tricks” included threats, yelling, and hitting. I did not like this method, and neither did the children. And this method does not work! I threaten, yelled, and hit them repeatedly for the same unruly behavior. I constantly found myself yelling at the children: “I have said it a hundred times, put away your toys! Hurry up and do your homework!” When I was eating, I was so frustrated, because I repeated it a hundred times before I could even realize that my method did not work…

Through studying (ICDP), I discovered that these problems are not my children’s problems, but my problems! Now I use what I have learned from ICDP about raising my children. I try to let them do their homework independently and give encouragement. I patiently ask the child what happened at school and how they are doing, trying to start an intimate conversation. When I leave the house, I want to treat the children as independent people, let them do homework by themselves, and let my son help his sister with her homework if she needs assistance. When I am cooking, if my daughter wants to join in cutting vegetables; I try follow the child’s initiative and give her a small knife to help me cut the potatoes. I also provide explanations for the many strange questions my son asks me. When my child helps me move flowers and plants, we pay attention to the formation of a leaf… Just like Chairman Wu said: “In fact, ICDP is everywhere in life”, it is just that I have lacked patience and understanding for my children! After studying, I discovered that my children have a lot of good sides, but I only wanted them to do things my way. I did not empathize with my children! Now I am slowly changing. After changing myself, the children will change, and the situation at home will also change! I will continually be using what I have learned!”.


Activities in Botswana

The Ark and Mark Trust, has been developing ICDP since 2017, sponsored by the RVTS WEST Norway (a centre on violence, traumatic stress and suicide prevention).

In 2020, a group of facilitators started to receive training at Trainer level. The first workshop at Trainer level was conducted over four days from 10 – 13 March 2020, at the Staywell Hotel in Mogoditshane. It was attended by 12 participants, 6 were from the Ark and Mark Trust and 6 from the Thamaga community. The training was conducted by Patrick O’Loughlin and Chiku Mkalu.

The participant trainee trainers planned to carry out their practical ICDP tasks in Ramotswa, a village about 40kms from Gaborone, where they were supposed to start forming new facilitators. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic they were unable to embark on their projects. After consultation with the local Social Welfare & Community Development office in Ramotswa, it was decided to continue with the ICDP training in 2021.

“A mini research was conducted in 2020 to get feedback on the status of the village during the challenging times. It transpired that family relations were being challenged due to the imposed quarantines, and as a result of not knowing how to accommodate each other in their confined spaces – something ICDP propels beautifully and effortlessly. One of the police officers talked about the rise in child related cases in 2020, saying that he wished for ICDP to resume soon, because they had begun to appreciate a decline in such cases during the years ICDP was implemented”. – Tshepiso Sekopo, therapy and training coordinator.

Activities in 2021, up until June:

Training of trainers: The first virtual meeting with Patrick and Chiku took place on the 19th of May 2021 and it was a preparatory meeting for trainee trainers, who will be training 50 facilitators (40 from Ramotswa and 10 from Thamaga).

THAMAGA: The Implementation of ICDP in Thamaga was resumed in April 2021, with the support of the village leadership and the Social Welfare office.   Ark and Mark Trust mobilized 26 facilitators. The challenge was that some of the facilitators relocated for various reasons and others, especially teachers from secondary schools are not available as they are fully engaged at schools due to COVID-19.  The 26 facilitators have managed to reach out to 110 caregivers and 364 children.

GABORONE: Ark and Mark Trust have initiated the implementation of ICDP at one of Botswana Defence Force (BDF) camps. These camps are a community within the greater community of Gaborone and face unique difficulties because members of the force often leave their families for long periods of time – as a result of which, the army families face significant challenges. The ICDP programme was introduced as a possible solution. The reception by the Social Welfare office has been very positive. They see ICDP as a programme that can add value to the families and children at BDF. The participants are happy with the ICDP course and are always ready to do their home tasks and bring their feedback to the next ICDP session. There are noted improvement in their homes regarding their family interaction. The biggest challenge is with regard the time schedules to run the parent groups due to the imposed quarantines. This contributes to a delay in the completion of the programme as the facilitators are often having to reschedule the ICDP sessions. Four ICDP facilitators are running sessions at BDF for 24 participants, at a ratio of 1:6 due to the pandemic. The Ark and Mark Trust provided voice recorders to facilitators to enable them to capture the content of sessions for entry into their log books – this was necessary because only one facilitator is running ICDP sessions, whereas usually they work in pairs. 


New facilitators in Moldova

In 2003, the first Centre of Early Intervention (CEI) Services Voinicel was founded in Chisinau, Moldova, with the help of the Norwegian non-governmental organisation Ahead-Moldova. The need for family-based intervention was identified in order to address the high rate of abandoned children with disabilities in four orphanages, resulting from a lack of services for families with children at risk of developmental disorders, as well as those with identified disabilities. ICDP started to develop in 2012 and the programme has been used on an ongoing basis since then by Marina Kalak (pediatrician), Ala Bendrerchi (speach therapist) and Mariana Jalba (child neurologist) established ICDP through their own work with the parents and children at the Centre. Sylvia Briabin (psychologist) moved in 2018 to Romania.

“In March 2020 we started to train a new group of facilitators from different districts. There were 15 participants from the beginning and 12 finished the ICDP course. We had to reorganize the mode of training to do it in an online format. It was quite challenging but we did it! Furthermore, we succeeded to do it interactively and to make it “lively. One of the adaptations included extending the second module to make sure all the participants internalized the ICDP ideas. Due to pandemic not all participants had possibility to organize meetings with group of parents, however, they managed to perform the necessary number of meetings, either in group or individually. As a result, we now have 12  new ICDP facilitators in different districts and most of them work with less able children. 

We continue to implement ICDP at Voinicel Center as well. This programme became extremely important in these very difficult times. We hope to extend our training activities to Transnistria region next year, provided our project application is successful. Despite the pandemic and its many challenges, we had a new great experience in implementing ICDP in Moldova”. – Marina Jalba.

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Trainer in Haifa

Alla Magidson is an ICDP trainer who helped start a kindergarten in Haifa in 2009. The kindergarten is affiliated to the Mofet institute in Haifa and it is still operational. The Mofet institute Home Page – MOFET International – ( is a consortium of Israeli colleges of education and it is  working on improving the quality of education in the country in general. Its mission is to serve as a professional meeting-place and to facilitate a dialogue among colleagues both in teacher education and in other settings in the education system.

Alla worked at the kindergarten without interruption for 12 years until 2019, and during that time she was using the ICDP programme and principles in her daily work with children, as well as running courses for parents and caregivers.

In 2019 and 2020 she continued her involvement as consultant offering advice and providing assistance whenever problems arose, either with children or in interactions between the kindergarten staff. Moreover, Alla also supported a number of families who sought her assistance with different problems related to children.

Alla was trained in ICDP over twenty years ago. At that time, she was living in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, where she was instrumental in spreading ICDP to many cities, by working with parents and professionals from different care networks for children. When she moved to Israel, she took ICDP with her and has been putting it into practice ever since.

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ICDP Sweden during the pandemic

ICDP has been present in the country ever since its registration in 2000.  ICDP Sweden continues to be very active under current chairperson Annelie Waldau, with the ICDP programme being used by a whole range of networks and professional groups. 

During 2020, in the absence of physical meetings due to the corona virus restrictions, ICDP Sweden’s recommendation to its nationwide network was to start both educational and guidance groups via digital platforms. 

The policy was that each educator and guide should follow general advice and regulations that apply both nationally and locally. The ICDP training courses were organized over four full days. The first two training days were conducted digitally via Zoom and the other two days were held in person. The Foundation believes that training can be conducted digitally by using a system that is stable and works well with several participants.


ICDP in Mozambique

ICDP Mozambique continues to participate in the Child Grant project. This project is run by  the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Action (MGCAS) with support from UNICEF and technical assistance of ICDP.

The Child Grant (0-2 years) is an unconditional cash transfer programme targeting children living in poor or vulnerable households with the objective of reducing poverty, improving child wellbeing and promoting access to social services. The care component of the Child Grant 0-2 is comprised by nutrition and case management.

The case management or Acompanhamento Familiar consists of the support provided to families affected by situations of specific risk and/or to those who are classified as most vulnerable. Regular home visits are conducted by case workers to offer direct support to primary caregivers, their children and other members of the households (e.g, psychosocial and counselling or information for parents) as well as to facilitate referrals to community and statutory services. A beneficiary family is followed for a period of 6 months of intervention and 3 additional months to check on the sustainability of the results achieved.

To implement the afore-mentioned case management component, UNICEF , in consultation with the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Action (MGCAS), identified a need for technical assistance and on-the-job coaching of government technical staff and volunteers at Provincial and District level of MGCAS, with the ultimate aim of leaving a cadre of social welfare officers able to provide quality case management support to vulnerable families and children and those at risk, within the context of the child grant (0-2 years). In view of the above, UNICEF invited ICDP Mozambique to provide technical and coaching support, following extensive hands-on experience in Mozambique in psychosocial support and, more recently, (child protection) case management. The support  by ICDP focuses on providing:

i) support to the development and adaptation of case management tools, job aids, training packages and materials for relevant case management actors and programme stakeholders;

 ii) on-the-job coaching of relevant staff;

 iii) support to staff who supervise and monitor the work of others and to provide quality case management for child protection cases.

When managing each case, an optional and participatory methodology, in which individual knowledge and experiences are valued, is adopted. The process includes identifying risks and constraints and support selected beneficiaries to overcome them. It involves referring beneficiaries to services that they would not have access to without proper support. Each intervention plan is designed in working sessions with the families and jointly agreed upon in order to result in an individualized follow-up at the family home. Home visits take place weekly for a maximum of 9 months of intervention.

Throughout the various phases of intervention, case managers are monitored with regard to data collection tools.

Knowledge and capacity of staff at District level is improving, as well of the district services quality of interventions. The government organizations have improved control of the cases, responses, referral pathway and statistics. Results could be used as an advocacy tool to get more resources in order to extend at national level.

Community and District level services connection: Case management has supported the interlinkages between communities and social services. The community is now aware of the existence of an official service that they can reach out for help and social services understand better the needs of the families.

Cash & Care: Early serious nutrition problems were detected and referred to the adequate service. A significant number of baby deaths was identified, and the tools were improved to get a more accurate verbal autopsy. Additional supports, like grants for families with multiple needs (disabilities, child headed households) have been provided.


ICDP contributes to social protection

News from Zenona Gread, coordinator from Save the Children’s office in Ormoc city, Philippines:

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Field Office 8 launched its month-long 70th regional anniversary celebration, on the 9th of March 2021.

During these celebrations, the DSWD Field Office 8 recognized and awarded Save the Children Philippines as an exemplary partner for providing support and technical assistance toward the realization of the agency’s mandate. Save the Children key contribution to DSWD in the region is the ICDP (International Child Development Programme) Parenting package, which aims at improving parent-child relationship and interaction. ICDP is the core implementing approach to influence child sensitivity and to improve delivery of the agency’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Programme (4Ps).

(Pantawid Pamilyag programme is a core pillar of the national government’s social protection strategy and it seeks to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty through improved health, nutrition, and education of children.)