Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ohio Department of Children and Family Services vs. Children's Rights

An interesting issue that I've yet to post on this blog is that of children's rights. It is clear that children do not have the same right to liberty and property as adults; they lack the mental capacity, knowledge, and experience to choose freely for themselves regarding their property. As such, it is almost universally agreed upon that there must be some guardian for those rights until children gain these abilities. In Western society, the primary guardian is the parent. Although very few would reject the right/responsibility of the parent ouright, many on the political left desire to transfer some of that responsibility over to the government. This is where we get catchphrases like "it takes a village" from Hilary in the 90's. One way of doing this is by the government stepping in in the absence of a parent, or of what the government deems a capable or good parent. If the parent does not exist and the child is orphaned, the state assumes the responsibility of being its guardian. This is generally uncontested. Personally, I feel private, charitable orphanages could do a better job than the state, but that's not what I'd like to write about today. The other way that guardianship responsibility is transferred to the state is if the state declares that the parent is an insufficient guardian, due to either abuse or neglect. As you can tell, these are mighty vague terms. While I hardly object when a child who's being beaten is taken from their parents, oftentimes "abuse" or "neglect" is not that clear cut.

Well, in Ohio, the government has pushed the limits of its power (as governments are wont to do!). It has taken a 8 year old boy from his mother because he was too fat. He weighed over 200 pounds. You can read the details here:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/11/obese-child-taken-from-mom-put-in-foster-care.html

For sure, weighing that much at 8 years old is dangerous for the kids health, perhaps as dangerous as being beaten might be. But that is very different from parental INTENT to harm the child. It doesn't mean the mother isn't a loving and capable parent. It also doesn't mean it's the mother's fault that he's obese, or that he wouldn't be equally fat under another guardian. Maybe he has a genetic health condition that makes him have to eat a lot or unable to exercise. Maybe he was bullied at school and turns to eating, outside his Mom's supervision. Or maybe his family is simply too poor to afford healthy foods. There are lots of things which many families cannot afford but the state could. Setting aside the issue of whether the state even has the right to provide them at other people's expense, the simple observation that the state could provide these things for the child is not a good enough reason to break up a family.

If a health issue that the parents didn't cause but have trouble treating is sufficient grounds to forcibly break up a family, what else might be? The slippery slope implications of this ruling are tremendous. Imagine the state saying "this child is disabled, or retarded, and his parents cannot afford for a special needs tutor, or a ramp in their home, or all these things we feel are in that child's best interests to have. Therefore, we're going to take him from them, and provide these things at tax dollar expense, so that he will be better off". That would be infuriating, would it not? Or even a perfectly normal child, the government could say "this family is too poor to afford books, and we think every child is better off with books in the house, so we're gonna take him because it's in his best interests". While books certainly help children learn, it's not the government's place to determine what's in the best interests for a child, and certainly not their place to destroy families based on their opinion. No child, disabled or fat or otherwise, is entitled to books, or a tutor, or a ramp, or to healthy foods. Not even adults have these rights, and children are supposed to have fewer rights than adults! Besides, the psychological harm that the child undergoes when wrenched from his family, friends and familiar surroundings and thrust into foster care must be tremendous, perhaps much worse than the harm done by whatever he is being "saved" from at home. 

The only instance in which the state is justified in taking a child from his parents is if they have evidence that the parents are ACTIVELY CAUSING harm to that child; beating him, maliciously starving him when they have plenty of money, etc. In any other situation, the state is overstepping it's job description to protect the RIGHTS of children, rather than what they think is best for the child. 

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