As more and more people get divorced, and more and more children are born to single mothers, American society gets more and more nervous about the welfare of children. That strikes me as a natural and potentially healthy response to one of the most radical changes to our culture in history. The family has long been seen – and rightly so – as a bedrock social institution. To a great extent, the healthier the family, the healthier the society.
This is known, I think, on an elemental level by people generally. So it’s no surprise that widespread family breakdown has resulted in widespread concern about children’s welfare. And since we have, until recently, relied on parents to safeguard children, and since parents, more and more, aren’t there to do the job, the question arises “who will step in to do what intact families used to do?”
The answer of course is “the government.” Who else? After all, what other institution has the resources to monitor the welfare of millions of children and the legal power to do something about it when a child is in danger?
In short, it’s as predictable as the sunrise that family breakdown means intervention into family life by governmental agents and institutions. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the past 40 years or so, and it’s exactly what we’ll continue to see until we figure out that, of all the possibilities for raising children, intact two-parent families are the best. That’s one of the most unassailable findings of social science over the past half century.
This article exemplifies some of the many problems that arise when we give governmental agencies the power to substitute their own ideas about parenting for those of parents (Houston Chronicle, 3/27/11).
It seems that Darcy and Tye Miller had premature twins whose birth weights were five and six pounds respectively. Worse, they seemed to be having trouble gaining weight. The Millers brought the girls to the pediatrician weekly, obviously concerned about their wellbeing.
That’s when X-Rays revealed broken ribs on both of the little girls and the local Child Protective Services swung into action. It went to court for an order removing the twins to foster care and didn’t tell the Millers or their attorney about the hearing. It also didn’t tell the judge that there was an agreement between the Millers and CPS to place the children temporarily with in-laws. CPS waited until after 5 P.M. on a Friday to request an emergency hearing that Judge Michael Schneider, being uninformed of the agreement with the Millers, granted. (Full disclosure: I’ve mediated cases for Judge Schneider in the past.)
He also granted the placement of the children in foster care because he was in the dark about the Miller’s representation in the matter.
Not content with violating its own agreement with the Millers or misrepresenting the case to the judge, CPS also neglected to look at obvious facts or ask an expert witness what might have caused the injuries to the newborns.
If they’d done either, they’d have noticed that the rib fractures were in the same place on both children. If they’d asked a pediatric orthopedist, they’d have learned that the injuries likely occurred when the parents lifted the children and that the absence of any sort of internal bleeding virtually ensured that the fractures hadn’t resulted from blows.
Not surprisingly, judge Schneider is less than favorably impressed by the actions of CPS. He’s now ordered the children back into the care of their parents and told CPS to pay the Miller’s attorney $32,000 for the needless litigation required to right the patent wrongs done by the agency.
But that’s not all. He’s also ordered two CPS officials to turn in to him within 30 days, a report demonstrating that “they understand the state’s child removal statutes.” Schneider’s order is laced with the term “bad faith” referring to the actions of CPS. The children’s guardian ad litem, appointed by the court concurs with what the judge did.
Is this the worst abuse of parental rights by a child welfare agency? Far from it. The list of those cases in Texas alone would fill a small book. But can we seriously pretend to be surprised? Faced with a report from a local hospital that two children had fractured ribs, CPS took the children from the parents and cut corners to do it. It also cost the taxpayers of the state a fair chunk of change in the process.
None of that is right, but all of it is, in a sense, predictable. Over the past 40 years, we’ve made a choice – that divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing are acceptable ways to raise children. Well, this is one of the consequences of that choice. CPS agencies that are understaffed and underpaid are given the unenviable task of sorting out good parents from bad ones, dangerous situations from benign ones, neglect from poverty.
It’s far from the best situation for children, and we know it. But it’s the situation that obtains until we wake up to the reality that children do best in intact, two-parent families.