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School partners with UNC Hospital to launch "No Hit Zone" campaign

The UNC School of Social Work is partnering with UNC Hospital’s Beacon Program and the Hospital’s Workplace Safety Committee to launch a new campaign to discourage violence of any kind on the hospital’s main campus and within its associated clinics.

Later this fall, signs designating the hospital and its medical offices as “No Hit Zones,” will be strategically placed in public spaces alerting patients and visitors that hitting of any kind is prohibited on hospital property. The campaign, created in partnership with social work researcher and associate professor Paul Lanier and social work alums Melinda Manning and Ashley Benefield, is designed to promote the hospital as a safe and secure place, while also giving medical personnel and other staff the tools they need to discourage frustrated parents from using physical punishment to discipline their children.

Over the next few months, No Hit Zone placards are expected to be placed on every floor of the hospital, including in elevators and waiting rooms and near food courts and other retail spaces to ensure the new anti-violence policy is communicated widely. UNC officials said they also expect the signs to eventually be installed in UNC medical clinics across the state.

“This movement toward No Hit Zones started in a couple other hospitals around the country several years ago as a public health approach,” said Lanier, who has been working for more than a year on the campaign with Manning, a 2015 MSW graduate and director of the Hospital’s Beacon Program, and Benefield, a 2008 MSW graduate and social worker with the Beacon program. “The goal is to try to change social norms around harsh parenting, specifically spanking.”

Research has shown that corporal punishment, especially spanking, can have long-term harmful effects on children, physically and mentally, Lanier said. Studies have found that children exposed to spanking are more likely to have higher rates of anxiety, engage in risky behaviors such as alcohol abuse, and use aggressive behavior themselves, he said.

“Pediatricians no longer tell parents that it’s OK to spank,” Lanier said. “It doesn’t work to reduce disruptive behavior, and using corporal punishment just sets you up to possibly use something harsher down the road.”

Despite the evidence, recent studies have shown that spanking remains a pervasive problem in this country, Lanier added.

Hospital personnel further confirmed as much to Lanier nearly 18 months ago when he first presented the idea of designating the medical campus as a No Hit Zone environment. The Beacon Program, which provides comprehensive care and services to patients, families and employees who have experienced interpersonal violence, had invited Lanier to present on his child abuse prevention work as a part of a hospital speaker series. Some staff in the audience expressed their own frustrations over witnessing violent encounters between parents and children or other visitors and an uncertainty with how to safely intervene.

Part of the campaign’s training will include tips medical and administrative staff can use to diffuse potentially violent situations, said Manning, who is helping to develop the signage and training.

“One of the tips is just reminding the family of the hospital policy and offering them distractions for the kids, such as a box of crayons and a coloring book or a toy,” Manning explained. “Very often, things happen because kids are acting up. So, we really want to emphasize with the family that we know waiting is hard and of course, we know that being in a medical setting is stressful.”

The training also considers the potential negative effects to other children and families who have already been exposed to trauma and the repercussions of seeing violence play out in a public waiting room or other public spaces. Signs will illustrate these potential harms and promote alternative resources that aim to support and not shame families, Manning added.

“We’re certainly not here to judge families – we’re just trying to show families there are different ways to discipline their kids,” she said. “Ultimately, we really want to emphasize that this is a place of healing and that we’re really here to help families, and part of that is providing positive parenting information to families whenever we can.”