Parents Into the Machine

Lenore Skenazy recently put up this story out of DC. The basics are that two girls, ages 6 and 7, went into their backyard. Without the permission of their parents, they wandered away and ended up in a nearby mall. A stranger spotted them and called the police. If you’re familiar with how our legal system works, you know what happened next:

The police came with admirable speed. Somewhat less admirably, they chose to put the girls in the cruiser (with no car seats) rather than, again, resorting to the completely available option of calling their parents to come get them. They brought the girls back to us a total of twenty minutes after they first walked out of the door. They could have just told us what happened and admonished us to keep better tabs on our children. They could have just handed over their official-looking little card about age restrictions (which they incorrectly believed to be law, but which in fact were only county recommendations) and told us not to let it happen again. But you see, when you call the police, this creates pressure on the police to Do Something. So what they did was arrest us—one parent from each family, our choice, with no chance for private conference to decide. They tried to arrest us for felony neglect of a minor, but apparently even the magistrate thought that was ridiculous, so they went for misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor instead. They informed us that we would be reported to the Department of Social Services and probably contacted by Child Protective Services — which we have been.

The families are now in the hell of CPS, facing trial, racking up thousands of dollars in legal fees and facing the possibility of losing their children. Oh, yeah, the children. Remember them?

I find it difficult to imagine that you know what it’s like to be afraid that your own government will punish you for having done your best to be a good parent. To be arrested for absolutely nothing anyone is even claiming that you did, in the middle of a peaceful afternoon of sewing and childcare. To jump every time the phone rings, every time a car slows down. To forget for a few minutes or an hour, as the days go by, and then suddenly remember with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. To have to let a stranger into your house—a stranger with the virtually unchecked power to take your children away from you—so that she can poke around and interrogate your child and decide whether you are fit parents. To see your confident, strong-willed child afraid to play outside or let her little sister do so, because the lesson she has taken from this is to “never go outside.”

This is not an isolated incident, by the way. Parents are routinely being harassed or arrested for letting any kid on the fair side of puberty out of their sight. Our legal system is making a clear statement: kids must be manacled to their parents at all times.

The fundamental problem is that too many Americans think of the police as being like Andy Taylor. They think that if you call the police in this situation — in any situation — they’ll just give the people a good talking to. Some of them do. But the system is heavily canted against anything approaching common sense. In the initial phases, it is designed to treat everyone like a criminal. There are massive disincentives to just let something slide. And there no disincentives to going to the wall and wrecking someone’s life over something trivial.

Let’s say the judge decided this was a stupid case and threw it out. Would the cops be punished? Would CPS? No. They would be praised for “doing their job” and giving the last full measure to make sure kids are safe even if what they did traumatized kids who were doing perfectly fine. Our system sees CPS investigation as something that only does good — it is pure benefits without costs. It doesn’t care about the people whose lives it turns upside down.

The whole system is set up to make a literal federal case out of everything. And it can be even worse. Out in Texas, the cops responded to a noise complaint with a SWAT-style raid, tasering a grandmother five times and dousing kids with pepper spray. We have built a legal system that believes that you can never go too far in executing the law, only not far enough.

Frankly, if I were in charge of DC, I would see this — as I see all law enforcement excesses — as a clear indication that someone’s budget needs to be cut. If CPS has so much time on their hands that they can waste resources on a case like this, they clearly have too many people in their employ and too few cases of genuine abuse. If law enforcement has so much jail space that they can arrest some parents because their kids wandered out of the backyard, they clearly have too much time on their hands.

The only way to stop these abuses is for there to be consequences. There won’t be, of course. So you can expect the next abuse to be even worse.

Comments are closed.

  1. richtaylor365

    My initial reaction when I read posts like this is to do nothing in the way of mitigation, especially when I perceive a true injustice being committed, but this woman rubbed me the wrong way, for reasons that I will enumerate. I also think some perspective is in order, since we are only getting one side;

    We told them that they could go down to the creek in the woods behind the house, visible from the back windows, where they had been many times before. We made them wear appropriate footwear and packed extra socks and tissues for stuffy noses. We gave them explicit instructions to stay on the near side of the creek.

    Except that the girls did not follow those “explicit” instructions, did they? They were totally out of her(or anyone’s) sight for a considerable amount of time, weren’t they? She is such a good parent that even after they went missing, she perceived the danger, left the house and went looking for them, oh wait, no she didn’t. She was so busy yucking it up with her friends, she had no idea that the girls were indeed missing.

    It was not, however, inherently unsafe, or something they were not capable of.

    Really? two little girls, 6 and 7, totally out of sight, their whereabouts unknown since they did not tell anyone where they were going and mom did not know at the time where they were, and that is “inherently safe”?

    It was a poor decision simply because they were disobeying their parents, and creating a situation in which, had anything gone wrong, we would have had no idea where to look for them.

    Exactly, and that is what made it unsafe.

    Both girls have even had some self-defense training, if it should come to that.

    How hilarious, that if a situation arose where they would need self defense (by definition a dangerous unsafe situation to them) that they could handle themselves, a 6 and 7 year old?

    They are competent, responsible little girls, which is why it was so surprising to us that they did what they did

    So, I guess they are not as responsible as she thinks.

    They were at the furthest extent of their looping route, less than a thousand feet from the house and twelve minutes after they left us,

    how do she know where they were? she was not watching them, she had no clue where they were. And 12 minutes? Since she did not know where they were or that they were even missing, I seriously doubt all this was being timed.

    when they encountered you as they walked through the shopping center, and you stopped and questioned them.

    Pure speculation on her part. Sure, many folks are too damn nosy and foist themselves on situations prematurely, but what seems reasonable to me is that something else happened here. If it was me, I would not give them a second thought, figuring mom was close by. No, the impetus lies somewhere else, and here is where it would be nice to read the police incident report.

    They spoke readily to you, because neither of them have been taught that they must not talk to strangers. Strangers are simply people that we don’t know yet, and we refuse to train our children to fear people or shut themselves off from new connections.

    How do you know this? Who spoke to who? Or is this just more self aggrandizement about how awesome you are at parenting skills?

    But I don’t know why you didn’t call us when you were given a phone number that would have reached us immediately.

    I would like to know that as well. Yes, most people jump the gun when it comes to calling the cops, disputes that could easily be handled rationally using the most reasonable approach first are too easily abandoned. It is mostly laziness but liability is also an issue (fear that the longer he stayed and chatted with these girls, the more likelihood someone would call the cops on him for being a child predator, sad, but true)

    The police came with admirable speed.

    Thank God, can you imagine the stink (and lawsuit) this woman would make if the cops did not get there lickity split?

    And as far as the cops not calling the mom but transported the kids instead, many factors which we are not privy to might have went into making this decision. Maybe the girl did not know her phone number after all, maybe a crowd was forming at the shopping center, a crowd that was all mumbling to themselves what kind of mother would allow two little kids to go off by themselves, maybe it was just easier to take the kids home, I don’t fault them for this.

    They tried to arrest us for felony neglect of a minor, but apparently even the magistrate thought that was ridiculous, so they went for misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor instead. They informed us that we would be reported to the Department of Social Services and probably contacted by Child Protective Services — which we have been.

    Here is where she loses me. The cops did not “try” to arrest her for a felony charge, if they want to charge her for a felony, they do it, at which point she is taken into custody and booked. No, that is not what happened here. She was in fact charged for a misd., cited at the scene and released on her promise to appear. Naturally I would have preferred that no charges be filed at all, but somehow I think she was an absolute bitch with the cops, mouthed off to them (like she is doing to all the blog readers she is targeting for her sympathy) and pretty much got what she deserved.

    And I hope that when she gets her day in court, that all charges are dismissed and she can go on with her happy life, deluded in her belief that she is such a great parent.

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  2. Seattle Outcast

    Toddler “self defense training” is a joke. I know, I’ve been practicing the martial arts since 1983, and taught for many years. The best that even the top 1 or 2 percent can do at that age is mildly irritate an adult who can easily knock them on their ass. Add to that the fact that most kids have an attention span of seconds and unless subjected to fairly rigid discipline during training tend to act like a goofball the entire time. I solved that problem by making them do pushups until they were too exhausted and embarrassed to continue being a clown.

    Competent self defense training takes approximately 1000 hours of adult practice. Kids under 16 shouldn’t even be promoted past green belt.

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  3. hist_ed

    “Naturally I would have preferred that no charges be filed at all, but somehow I think she was an absolute bitch with the cops, mouthed off to them (like she is doing to all the blog readers she is targeting for her sympathy) and pretty much got what she deserved.”

    Ah yes. In a free society it is imperative that all who mouth off to cops and/or are bitches deserve criminal citations and cumbersome investigations into their home life. No creeping totalitarianism there.

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  4. richtaylor365

    Nope, not even close to what I said, professor. The best way to handle this would have been no criminal action, period, but the simple fact that criminal action was taken was because of something SHE did, her neglect. Don’t bitch and moan about getting a speeding ticket if you were in fact speeding and you were in fact “bitchy” to the cop that stopped you.

    Naturally I was not there so it is entirely possible that she was polite and the cops super over stepped their authority, not the first time that has happened. But if you are naive enough to think that your attitude and demeanor does not play a significant role in the discretion exhibited with offenses like this, you need to disabuse yourself of that notion, pronto.

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  5. Hal_10000 *

    “but somehow I think she was an absolute bitch with the cops, mouthed off to them (like she is doing to all the blog readers she is targeting for her sympathy) and pretty much got what she deserved.”

    I love it when facts are invented out of whole cloth. Maybe she bitched to the cops; maybe she didn’t. We have no information on that, certainly not enough for you to be drawing the conclusion that she “got what she deserved”.

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  6. hist_ed

    Rich, generally in the English language the ideas of a single sentence tie together and are related. Use of the conjunction “but” in a sentence means that the words after will contradict the sentiment express before. Thus, “Naturally I would have preferred that no charges be filed at all, but” seems to indicate that you were, after the conjunction, going to explain why charges were justified. This impression is further reinforced by the concluding phrase of your sentence that “[she]pretty much got what she deserved.” Now, what information or conjecture comes between the concluding phrase and the word “but”? Here it is: “somehow I think she was an absolute bitch with the cops, mouthed off to them” It is reasonable to therefore come to the conclusion that “what she deserved” was justified by the previous conjecture. Nowhere in your sentence so you mention her neglectful behavior. It’s all about the disrespect you imagine she gave to the cops. I am happy to be corrected in your intention; perhaps you wrote hastily and meant to say “She deserves the citation because she mistreated her kids.” But then why would you mention your imaginings about her behavior to the cops? Any reasonable reader would connect the parts of your sentences and assume they actually were related to each other.

    It does bring to mind the possible extension of such a policy: Perhaps people who mistreat their kids should be granted leniency as long as they are nice to the investigating officers? The more serious the crime, the more politeness pays off (you know, maybe Miss Manners could get away with all kinds of shit: “Yeah captain, we caught her with a boat load of crack, some underage whores and an apparently sexually abused goat, but those little tea cookies and her witty banter were great-she got a 14 on the polite-o-meter so we cut her loose. Oh we picked up this Gilbert Gotfreid for jaywalking, I think he get the chair.”

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  7. richtaylor365

    I love it when facts are invented out of whole cloth

    No facts were invented;

    Naturally I was not there so it is entirely possible that she was polite and the cops super over stepped their authority, not the first time that has happened.

    I guess you just glossed right over that part, didn’t you?

    And Hist-ed, thanks for the English lesson but I thought I pretty clear. I prefaced my comment with ,”but this woman rubbed me the wrong way “, then backed up that “feeling” with a number of either outright lies on her part or excuses that she made for her behavior that did not pass the smell test. The simple fact that the toddlers were out of her sight and out of her control for a significant amount of time and her blatant lack of any concern (not even knowing that they were gone) condemn her as negligent, despite her weak protestations. Given only the facts revealed in her explanation (only one side, hers) it appeared that any charges against her were excessive, if that was all there was to it. The fact that charges were brought against her leaves me with two possible explanations, either the cops were over zealous, or she “deserved what she got” because of other factors involved. And yes, ONE of those factors MIGHT have been her attitude. Don’t forget, those cops were brought to her house because of something she did, her neglect, this was not some 3am SWAT raid where the cops got the wrong house.

    No, Miss Manners is not going to get a free ride if in fact she did those things you suggested, but you have to be smart enough to understand (maybe I’m wrong) that when dealing with someone who has the power and authority to either kick you a break or complicate your life, you act adult and respectful. If you think this is unreasonable, then the next time you go to a bank for a loan, call the loan officer a douchebag, the next time you find yourself in court, insult the judge, and the next time you find yourself in front of an IRS auditor, ask him if he doesn’t have anything better to do and when is he going to get himself a real job.

    I would think all this would be common sense, sometimes I wonder.

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  8. mrblume

    [quote]either the cops were over zealous, or she “deserved what she got” because of other factors involved[/quote]

    Or she was perfectly polite, and the cops just did the job their fellow Americans wanted them to do, because parents getting prosecuted for letting seven year go shopping alone, a perfectly reasonable thing, that is apparently the kind of society you have built for yourself.

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