My interview with Nick Gillespie was such fun! We talk about Satanism, swaddling and why the phrase “protecting the children” is really code for the worst helicopter parent in America.
Category Archives: Parents rights
Over at Fox News Opinion you can enjoy my take on what parents want to improve their kids’ schools: More recess.
The parents who battled their local district bureaucrats, school administrators and teachers for more free play time for their kids are doing it because they have to. The chance for kids to play, frolic and just have fun with other kids at school is under extreme pressure from education bureaucrats who think that risk avoidance and regimentation are the things children most need to learn about life.
Read the whole thing here
It was a pleasure talking to Mary Kissel at Opinion Journal about No Child Left Alone: Getting the government out of parenting.
Let’s go to the video!
There’s a lot to learn from this interview between my friend Rod Dreher and the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” J. D. Vance. And much that relates to issues I raise in No Child Left Alone. But one point especially I wanted to highlight and that’s this quote from Vance about the problem the left — in particular — has about trying to use the government to solve certain societal challenges:
But there’s this weird refusal to deal with the poor as moral agents in their own right. In some cases, the best that public policy can do is help people make better choices, or expose them to better influences through better family policy
This is exactly correct and the Child Welfare system is especially at fault here because it doesn’t have a family policy at all. The basic approach of child protection agencies is to figuratively and physically divorce children from their families because the children are supposed to have independent rights that are separate and distinct from their parents. As a result, the family is not treated as a whole unit and solutions are imposed that include removing children from their parents for the “crime” of obesity, for example, even when most often the whole family may be suffering from the same problem. These are complicated issues, but to misunderstand the context is to guarantee a terrible result to most interventions.
As I explain:
Child-welfare workers have a very different mission if they view families as homogeneous units (irrespective of structure) with rights and responsibilities. If families are viewed through the more segmented prism—divided between the alleged power inequity between members—then child protection naturally becomes kids versus parents. After years of working in child welfare, NYU Law professor Martin Guggenheim came to the [following] conclusion: ‘Child welfare’s purpose in the latter part of the twentieth century was dramatically narrowed to protecting children from harm inflicted upon them by their parents.’ Note his terminology: Child welfare’s purpose is protecting kids from their parents.
The responses to my recent Acculturated post about the spate of parental arrests is upsetting. Not because I’ve been criticized for my position that grown adults shouldn’t be calling the police when they see an unattended child, but because the criticism seems valid.
A plurality of commentators have said that if they were male, they would never approach an unattended child because of the fear of being accused of being a predator or pervert.
Joel quotes me and then responds:
“In just about all of these cases (and the many others over the past two decades), an adult who witnessed and worried about a child—a kid alone at the playground, walking by himself on the street or sitting alone in a car—didn’t actually take responsibility for making sure everything was alright. ”
That’s feasible for a woman (maybe), but a guaranteed trip to the police station for a man. If I stopped a strange child in the park to ask if they were all right, every bystander in sight would peg me as a pervert.
Several people agreed wholeheartedly with Joel.
And Andy wrote as follows:
I’m a 39 year old male who doesn’t want to spend his day sitting in jail charged with child enticement or charged with another crime.
If I see a female child alone, I’m not stopping for pretty much anything. It’s just not worth me having my name plastered all over the media as a potential abuser.
This is worrisome to me both because I want my kids to live in a world where their neighbors and even strangers (men and women) can approach if there’s a problem, without fearing retribution for doing so, and because I think physical community is so important and we have to be able to talk to one another even if we haven’t ever met before.
No one should fear the police. But it seems as if parents have a legitimate reason to fear the police getting involved in their kids lives (as they tend to get arrested for making harmless choices), and individuals fear being criminalized for caring about the well-being of children. This is harmful to citizens and bad for law enforcement.
“What the heck are we doing arresting parents for things that were perfectly normal 30 years ago?” Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle raged in a recent column. The focus of her ire was a series of reports of parents being punished for choices about their kids that the authorities felt were inappropriate. The reason for McArdle’s reaction is that in all these instances nothing happened to the child in question.
A woman in South Carolina allowed her nine-year-old daughter to play in a local playground while she worked. She was booked for “unlawful conduct toward a child” and has lost custody of her kid. A Connecticut woman was cited for a misdemeanor because she chose to run an errand while her 11-year-old sat waiting in the car. The Atlantic’s Colin Friedersdorf got a letter from a woman who spent four years battling local police and child protective services in an effort to reunite her family. She lost custody of her kids for the “crime” of choosing to leave her four children, ages 10- five, at home while she took a class at a local university. And earlier this year, Kim Brooks, wrote in Salon about facing serious charges and years of legal entanglement including settling for hours of community service for having let her 4-year-old sit unharmed in a car for a few minutes.
None of this is accidental or coincidence, it is systemic and has been going on for at least three decades. It is all part of an effort to replace parental authority and discretion with the regulations and standards of the state. “The African proverb ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’ seems to serve now as a rallying call for the establishment of a communal authority to set new standards and methods of child-rearing,” writes Dana Mack in her 1997 book The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family.
Those replacement child-rearing standards have been applied in the area of family law to punish parents like Tammy Cooper in La Port Texas, who was charged with child endangerment and child abandonment even though the arresting officer found her sitting on her front lawn watching her kids play. And Charles Eisenstein was cited for disorderly conduct and threatened with arrest for “endangering the safety of a minor,” when he argued with police about taking his kids to climb the ice formations along the frozen Susquehanna River. In his discussion of the loss practical wisdom and individual discretion, psychologist Barry Schwartz tells of a father who was removed from his family, forced to undergo counseling, and his kid put in foster care, because the dad mistakenly gave his seven-year-old son “hard” lemonade at a Detroit Tigers game. Schwartz explains that at nearly every stage of the process, whether it was nurses at the hospital who tested the son’s blood alcohol level (it was negative) or the welfare workers or the judge, the father was told, “We hate to do it but we have to follow procedure.”
According to Mack’s thesis, family law courts and social service agencies have been unduly influenced by an attitude that the “best interests” of a child is separate and often in competition with parental authority and the family unit. “Parents have been convicted of ‘child abuse’ for spanking, for grounding, for home schooling, and even for no reason other than a suspicion on the part of a mandated reporter or social worker that while conditions in the home are at present stable, they may be conducive to neglect or abuse in the future,” explains Mack.
As the examples from this summer indicate, family law and mandated reporter rules have now trickled down to local police who are invoking “potential harm” to children due to the decisions of their parents. This reality is surely bad enough and yet if we look more broadly at how public policy questions of children’s health and welfare are legislated, we see that parental discretion and judgment is often superseded by that of the state.
It is in this context that we must view the policy of the city of New York to put baby formula under lock and key in favor of pressuring mothers to breastfeed. And consider as well the federal mandates about breastfeeding courtesy of Obamacare. Or hospitals and daycare centers that, under state guidelines and regulations are prohibited from swaddling infants because it may pose a risk to the child. Not to mention the dietary restrictions for public school kids from the Department of Agriculture, and the standards for safe playground thanks to the Handbook for Public Playground Safety from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Melissa Harris-Perry says we should welcome all this government intervention between parents and their children. “We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children,’” she explains, “so part of it is we have to break through our … private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everyone’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.”
The notion that the state hasn’t gone far enough in its effort to transform our understanding of who children belong to and who shall have authority for their safety and well-being, is surely a frightening prospect to all those parents already caught in the web of unjust parental punishment.
A mother in NJ was prosecuted and found criminally abusive for leaving her 19-month-old alone in the car for the 5-10 minutes it took her to shop at a store. Nothing happened to the child and yet the parent has been prosecuted and found guilty.
We have come to the point where potential harm is equivalent to actual harm. This is a serious problem.
From Scott H. Greenfield’s blog Simple Justice:
This isn’t a matter of parenting “best practices,” but whether the failure to adhere to a bubble-wrapped vision of child-rearing forms the basis for criminal prosecution, for inclusion on the child-abuse registry, for loss of civil rights, perhaps career, home and even the right to remain parent to a child.