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Clairton gathering discusses parenting do's and don'ts

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Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

Clairton parents received an education on disciplining children, as well as about the law and how to communicate with police.

Many parents and grandparents attended Monday's informative, pro-parent discussion session at Clairton Public Library. It was led by city community police officer Jeff Nolte, and featured guest speakers Magisterial District Judge Armand A. Martin and Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Families community resource manager Bill Phifer.

Police Chief Rob Hoffman welcomed attendees to the introductory event called “The Do's and Don'ts of Disciplining Your Child: What parents and children should know about the law.”

“You're going to leave here very well educated on a lot of issues,” Phifer told the group.

Nolte said Monday's session was designed to empower and educate parents, and to dispel any myths relating to disciplining children.

“A lot of people are confused about what you can and can't do when it comes to spanking or hitting a child,” Nolte said. “You may physically discipline your child without fear of legal action taken against you as long as you follow a couple simple rules.”

Nolte cited the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and several definitions of actions such as child abuse, spanking and physical discipline and emotional abuse.

Child abuse is defined as any recent act or failure to act that causes non-accidental, serious physical injury or the risk of such an injury to a child younger than 18 that causes either severe pain or impairs a child's functioning either temporarily or permanently.

“Parents, legal guardians and anyone supervising the child at a guardian's request may use physical force to safeguard or promote the child's welfare; this includes preventing or punishing misconduct,” according to state law.

“Remember, there's a difference chastising and abusing a child when it comes to disciplining a child and speaking with them,” Nolte added. “Using a 2-by-4 to discipline a child is clearly reckless and illegal.”

Nolte also discussed how people should interact with officers should they be called to a parental situation.

He said people should treat officers with respect, listen carefully and answer all questions asked. They also should keep the focus on the matter at hand and be polite.

“Just being sweet to us isn't going to get you out of trouble,” Nolte said.

Phifer, an overseer of various CYF programs in Allegheny County such as its truancy and mentoring programs, discussed some of the reasons parents hit their children and what can occur if CYF gets involved.

“People want to know, if my son or my daughter gets out of hand, what can I do?” Phifer said. “You can't beat your children. You can't cause serious harm to them ... there are many reasons why adults hit children.”

Occasions can occur when the child does not listen or is truant from school; when parents don't know how to manage their anger or frustration; or how to discipline their child. Some lose control through use of alcohol or drugs, and some parents expect behavior beyond the age or ability of the child.

Phifer said parents need to lead by example and be consistent.

He also said CYF's role is to support children and parents, and focus on child safety, not simply separate parents from their children immediately when there is a conflict.

“The last thing we want at CYF is your kids,” Phifer said.

Attendees were given a copy of CYF's “A Parent's Handbook.” The booklet was printed as a public service by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Phifer also addressed concerns from audience members, including grandparents of a 17-year-old girl who sneaks out of the house for days at a time.

He suggested the girl could benefit from some of CYF's counseling programs.

More information about CYF and its programs can be found at or by calling 412-350-5701.

Martin talked about some of the laws and common charges filed in parent/child incidents.

Nolte said he plans on having several sessions dealing with a variety of parent-related topics.

Hoffman said his department began organizing these parenting discussions after receiving multiple calls from parents, usually in the morning hours, asking that an officer go to their home to spank their child for such reasons as the child not wanting to attend school.

A discussion about missing and runaway children is scheduled for Feb. 28 at the municipal building with guest speaker Beth Butler, an Allegheny County dispatcher and experienced search and rescue responder.



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