April 2, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
What’s the difference between child neglect and not child neglect? According to the Chicago public school system, it’s seven minutes (Reason, 3/24/21). That’s right, seven minutes.
It seems that 10-year-old Braylin Harvey’s mother got confused about his school’s bus schedule on the second day of classes. When she realized the problem and that she wouldn’t be able to pick him up immediately after school, she called her brother to get Braylin. He showed up at 4:37 PM, seven minutes after the time designated by the school. So school officials contacted the police and child protective services to report that Braylin was being neglected by his mother, JaNay Dodson. Really, I’m not making this up.
Was Dodson in fact neglecting her son? She was not. She’s been a teacher for 19 years and she was doing her job. Did the school neglect its duties toward her and Braylin? It did. School policy requires someone to try to call a parent if a child is left at school beyond the specified time, but no one at the school did so. In fact, Dodson tried to telephone the school to let them know about the problem, but could only get a recorded menu.
But of course no one at the school suffered any repercussions for its failure. The only ones to suffer any consequences were Dodson and her little boy, neither of whom had done anything wrong.
Two days later, Harvey was pulled out of class and interrogated by a caseworker. The next day, a caseworker showed up at his home to investigate his mom, JaNay Dodson, herself a Chicago public school teacher for 19 years. The investigator asked her to provide contact information for people who might reassure the department that she’s a good mother.
Although the article isn’t clear on the matter, it seems that Dodson has been charged with a crime, but she’s confident she can beat the rap.
Meanwhile, the policy of which Dodson ran afoul isn’t isolated to Chicago schools. Other districts have the same or similar ones.
Dodson has already heard from a mom in Texas who said her school employs the same over-the-top protocol. And in Washington, D.C., the public school handbook says that if a child is not picked up after school dismissal at 3:15 p.m.:
School staff will call the parent/guardian after dismissal to request immediate pick up from school (at 3:30). If the student is not picked up within 30 minutes, a second call will be made to the parent/guardian and emergency contacts on the student’s afterschool enrollment form (at 4:00). If a student is not picked up within an hour of the first call, CFSA will be contacted and asked to take custody of the student (at 4:30).
From normal kid to ward of the state in 75 minutes.
That’s about the size of it.
The zealousness with which states intervene in family life seems to know no bounds. Keep in mind that there are about 3.3 million reports of alleged child abuse and/or neglect made to state CPS agencies every year. Of those, about 80% are so obviously unfounded that they’re dispensed with in the initial phone call to the agency or shortly thereafter. What strikes me about Braylin’s case is that it’s NOT one of those 80%. An adult’s showing up to collect a child seven minutes past time is, according to Chicago CPS, indicative enough of child neglect to warrant investigation, frightening the child and the mother, using caseworker time, using police time and of course all the money attendant on those activities. In short, this is a case with enough merit to, at least initially, call child “neglect.”
If that’s an example of founded child neglect, imagine what all those other cases that didn’t constitute child neglect look like. The point being that the system of mandatory reporters vastly overstates the actual danger to children and vastly runs up the bill to taxpayers for dealing with a welter of reports that never needed to have been made.
As writer Lenore Skenazy points out, “It’s the moral equivalent of calling child services over a hangnail.”
Careful Lenore, you may be giving them ideas.