Corporal punishment is banned in most day cares across America. But four states have carved out exceptions for religious day cares. In North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and Indiana, church day cares may physically punish children in accordance with their religious beliefs. But when workers don’t spare the rod, children can be hurt in ways that child welfare regulators consider abuse and neglect, licensing and other records show. Here are some of the ways we found children were punished.
At Twin Rivers Worship Center’s day care in St. Louis, workers disciplined children with a “banana pinch” – a twist between the crease of the upper thigh and butt cheek designed to leave no trace. The church day care had told parents that children wouldn’t be physically disciplined.
Children in many states were whipped with belts and hit with paddles. The beatings often left bruises. Toddlers in Missouri regularly were struck with a paddle emblazoned with Bible verses from Proverbs: “Withhold not correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod he shall not die.”
In Alabama, parents reported that children were locked in closets for so long that they peed their pants. In Missouri, investigators found that day care workers put a 4-year-old girl in a dark room by herself for coughing.
At Tabernacle Christian Day Care in North Carolina, children were punished for misbehavior with a “hot hand” – a series of raps on the palm. In Alabama, children were struck on both sides of the hand with rulers and flyswatters.
Workers at Wyatt Park Baptist Church’s day care in Missouri said staff would smack children and dig their fingernails into toddlers’ feet until they screamed. Parents were unaware of the punishments.
Illustrations by Allison McCartney/Reveal