Back on August 30, I wrote here about a New York attorney, Chris Gottlieb who fights the state’s CPS system in juvenile courts, trying to keep parents from losing their children to foster care. Gottlieb had some pithy things to say about the system that daily, on a case by case basis, intrudes into the decision making of parents. As she tells it,
One judge wants more discipline; another wants less. I have heard caseworkers criticize mothers for everything from giving their children Chinese takeout food or Kool-Aid (the mother told me orange juice was too expensive for her) to having beer in the house to letting a child get wet under a sprinkler. A judge ordered one of my clients to take her child to the park every day. Every day!
In other words, once a parent comes under their microscope, judges routinely substitute their version of good parenting for the parent’s. Now, as we know, according to the United States Supreme Court, those judges can’t do that. As the highest court in the land has ruled numerous times, until a parent has been found to be unfit, states have no interest in intruding into family life. But regardless of the law, they do it countless times every day in every state.
Well, to Gottlieb’s litany of judicial overreaching, add this story (Daily Mail, 9/13/10). T’other side of the pond,
A father could face legal action after he was reprimanded for allowing his seven-year-old daughter to walk alone to a school bus stop – just 20 yards from their home.
Mark McCullough received a letter from Lincolnshire County Council threatening to report the situation as a ‘child protection issue’ unless his daughter Isabelle was accompanied the short distance to and from the bus stop.
The 32-year-old makes sure either he or his partner, Natasha Fegan, 33, is at home to see Isabelle off in the morning, and meet her when she returns home from school.
But the couple, of Glentham, Lincolnshire, have now been told there must be a ‘change in arrangements’ or they will face action.
Mr. McCullough is that rarest of birds who thinks he knows what’s best for his kids and will thank the Council to butt out of his affairs. And it is precisely that sort of person who draws the attention and ire of bureaucrats everywhere. In the case of child protection bureaucrats, they know what’s best for your kids and you don’t and if you dispute the notion, woe betide you.
He said today: ‘This is more than upsetting. It has made me angry.
‘I am happy for Isabelle to walk from home to the end of the road and, if necessary, cross a country lane and walk home.
‘I’m not going to wrap my children up in cotton wool.
‘When I was a child I would go anywhere during the school holidays. I would be out at eight in the morning and not back until teatime.
‘Admittedly I would not let the kids do that now because times are different. But for a seven-year-old not to be able to walk 20 metres to the top of the courtyard and cross a quiet country road is an absolute joke.
‘I’m going to carry on as normal even if it means going to court.’
And he probably will. He could be one of Chris Gottlieb’s clients if she weren’t in the U.S. and he in the U.K. The point being that it’s amazing how similar the thinking is from New York to Lincolnshire.
The Council sent McCullough a letter saying in part,
‘Should there be no change in the arrangements for Isabelle’s delivery to and collection from the bus stop, I will have no option but to consider reporting this as a child protection issue.’
And that’s how it goes. First there’s a letter; if dad knuckles under, then the bureaucrats will be satisfied because he’s substituting their preferences for his own. If he doesn’t, he’s all of a sudden got a “child protection” file which is the first step on the road to having Isabelle and maybe his other kids taken from him. Bit by bit his file will grow so that, if there’s ever a real issue, they’ll have this nice thick dossier on him, the better to ease little Isabelle into care.
These are not bad people. They surely have no plan to shanghai Isabelle into care. But it is the way that we see CPS agencies functioning in this country and in the U.K. time after time after time.
Remember the couple from Fife, Scotland? She was slightly learning disabled, but he was not. But the Fife Council denied them a marriage license and took their child from them when she was four days old. Unfit? No, the pair had never had a child before and so had no record of any sort of child care, good or bad. But no matter, they lost their newborn anyway.
How about John and Lisa Kirkman from Calgary? The State of Oregon grabbed their son Noah for no apparent reason and kept him in foster care for two years.
Supposedly parents have rights to their children, but it’s not always apparent from the behavior of CPS authorities. But beyond the rights of parents, what about the wellbeing of children? The question must always be asked, “if one situation isn’t ideal, is the alternative better?” It would probably be safer if Mr. McCullough walked Isabelle to the bus stop, but what’s gained in safety would be lost in her sense of personal autonomy and competence. So are the Council’s childrearing preferences better than McCulloch’s?
What people like Gottlieb’s judges and the Lincolnshire Council don’t seem to grasp is that parenting is not simply a series of decisions for good or ill, it’s a relationship between parent and child. It’s a relationship that’s always evolving to meet the child’s changing needs. It’s a relationship of trust or the lack thereof. And one thing is certain; when Isabelle needs comforting in the middle of the night or help with schoolwork or advice about how to treat the new puppy, she won’t be calling the Council for it, she’ll be calling her dad.
The ultimate question is “Is foster care preferable to parental care?”
The answer is, in those rare cases in which parents are truly unfit, yes. If they’re mentally incapable of childcare, if they’re so addicted to drugs that they can’t take proper care of their children, if they’re physically abusive, etc., then foster care can be an improvement. But those are extreme cases. Mark McCullough is not. He’s just a father who weighs the risk that Isabelle might get hurt in the 20 yards between her front door and the bus stop against the benefit to her of feeling able to do that on her own.
Who’s to say he’s wrong? The Lincolnshire Council, that’s who.