Children in our contemporary society occupy a contradictory position, on the one hand they occupy a privileged space as the object of our collective good intentions, but simultaneously they are a large oppressed minority without a voice and subject to a whole range of abuse and exploitation. This article examines the laws which regulate how children are punished from two perspectives – it examines parents’ rights to physically punish their children for their misbehaviour and the right of the state to criminally punish young people from the age of 10 years for engaging in offending behaviour. The article considers the laws in these areas and assess whether these laws are consistent with the social science research on this topic. This theme is developed by the other articles in this Special Issue which all, in different ways, examine the relationship between social science research and the design and implementation of law and policy concerning children. Each of these articles aims to identify the key questions within contemporary social scientific analyses and the major sites of state policy formulation with regard to children and young people. This Special Issue aims to explore the relationships and tensions between these objectives in a multi-disciplinary forum and advance the role of social policy research within policy making, practice and wider public debates.