States Deign to Give Parents Rights, if not ‘Too Far’

December 29, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Now it’s Abby Schachter’s turn to take the ball from Lenore Skenazy and run with it (National Review, 12/26/16). Skenazy of course is the person behind the Free Range Kids movement and a knowledgeable advocate for getting the Nanny State out of family life. I’ve always admired Skenazy and I’m glad she has a comrade in arms like Schachter.

Schachter’s piece that I linked to isn’t the last word on the subject and she omits plenty, likely due to space restrictions. But she’s drawn a bead on one of the most legitimate targets anywhere – the assumption that governments do a better job if caring for kids than do parents, and all that assumption entails.

For example, obvious questions about family privacy and the extent of governmental power arise.

The headline says it all: “Proposed Bill Would Expand Parents’ Rights, but Critics Say It Goes Too Far.” What exactly is too far when it comes to parents’ rights? In the case of this story from Fort Worth, Texas, it means that “critics” think parents shouldn’t have the right to know what their children are doing at school. Opposing this belief is Texas state senator Konni Burton, who authored the legislation. She believes that parents should be allowed access to their kids’ personal information, rather than protecting their child’s alleged right to privacy.

That’s right. Some people believe that, because a kid attends public school, in some way, parents don’t have the right to know what is happening to the child there. This is such a well-established notion that, in Texas at least, legislation may be needed to defeat it.

But what’s this notion of privacy? Schachter seems not to notice that the state has the matter backwards. The concept of an individual right to privacy is, to the extent it exists at all, one of the individual’s right to shield him/herself from governmental intrusion. But in this case, the state seems to think that the child has a right to privacy, not regarding the government (e.g. the school), but regarding little Andy or Jenny’s own parents.

In our constitutional system, no one has constitutional rights vis-à-vis another private individual, but somehow the schools have come to believe that children do have such a right regarding their parents. And not only that, but apparently it’s the state, in the form of the public school, that’s empowered to enforce said (nonexistent) right. Strange indeed.

Needless to say, the Trojan horse used by the state to enter unbidden into our homes, families and private lives, is the (supposed) safety of children. And as we all know, few are those willing to object when the Nanny State declares its action to be for the protection of children. So, when kids go to school, parents are faced with a welter of rules and regulations that effectively replace their own decisions about their own kids.

The range of activities and choices that have been taken out of the hands of parents only to be decided from on high by politicians, school administrators, and unelected bureaucrats and regulators range from the seemingly innocuous — allowing kids to play unsupervised — to the nearly barbaric — removing children from their parents’ custody because they are obese.

Of course if state intervention were simply as innocuous as mandating a certain diet at school, perhaps we’d hesitate to quibble. But, as Schachter makes clear, innocuous state action is not.

As attorney Scott Greenfield noted on his blog after a New Jersey mother was arrested for leaving her toddler in the car unattended for no more than ten minutes:

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.

Exactly. Schachter doesn’t pursue that line of thinking, but it’s perhaps the most compelling one she has. Nor does she delve into matters that lie much beyond public schools and daycare. That’s a shame because nowhere does her argument against governmental intrusion into parental rights resonate more clearly than when Child Protective Services comes knocking. That’s when the question “who decides what the child eats?” pales in comparison to “will we allow you to keep your child at all?” The zeal with which CPS caseworkers often attack parents and families has been well documented and deserves a place in Schachter’s article.

She rightly points out that the very criterion for state intervention is beyond the pale of common sense.

[C]urrent safety standards are based on the possibility of harm rather than evidence of such.

That verges on the insane. There is nothing that can’t pose the “possibility of harm.” A child, or anyone else, can strangle on a cup of water or a bit of apple. But absurd as the concept may be, it’s actually far worse. That’s because the state assumes its decision-making to be benign. So if a child is being mistreated at home, or even allegedly so, then taking the child from the parents is assumed to be an improvement. But often it’s anything but. Not only is foster care often a worse arrangement for the child, the mere act of removing a child from its parents is extremely traumatic.

Schachter gets it.

The doctors and legal scholars who justify these removals argue that the best interest of the child is being served by the state’s taking control of their lives. But ask the parents and children to whom these removals have happened and you hear a different story. “They say it is for the well-being of the child,” explained Anamarie Regino, ten years after she was temporarily removed from her parents’ custody for obesity. “But it did more damage than any money or therapy could ever do to fix it.”

And of course, apart from CPS, family courts do their own bad job of figuring out “the best interests of children.” As data from the Census Bureau and many other places demonstrate, judges routinely remove one parent from the child’s life when the parents decide to split up. That’s demonstrably bad for the kids, but day after day, year after year, the same thing happens.

Flawed as some parents are – and there’s ample reason in some cases to take a child from a parent – no one has yet invented a better system for the healthy upbringing of children. It’s how every social mammal does it; it’s how human beings have done it for untold millennia. That governments have come to believe that they know best is a train going down the wrong track.




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