Close window  |  View original article

Children Belong To Parents, Not Government

Government intervention is worse even than abusive parents.

By Will Offensicht  |  September 21, 2009

In "Dutch delay 13-year-old sailor's worldwide trip," the Associated Press reports that Dutch courts have ruled that 13 year old Laura Dekker must be evaluated by a child psychologist before she can be permitted to try to sail around the world by herself.  The ruling came one day after a 17-year-old Briton set a new record as the youngest person to sail solo around the world.

"This case is about whether the government ... can restrict the broad freedom parents have in bringing up and caring for their children," said presiding judge M. Oostendorp.

"The court does not believe (Laura's father) can be ... accused of serious neglect," she added.

But Prof. Micha de Winter, a child psychologist at Utrecht University, warned that Laura's parents are underestimating the impact of two years alone at sea on a 13-year-old girl as she matures physically and emotionally.

Laura spent the first four years of her life sailing around the world with her parents.  She's an extremely skilled solo sailor, but British authorities detained her when she sailed alone to Britain.  They asked her father to fly over to get her and released her to him.

The only way to get her boat back was to sail it, of course, so she sailed home alone as she had planned to do all along.  So much for child protection!

Profound Liberty Issues

The Dutch judge stated the issue well when she said, "This case is about whether the government ... can restrict the broad freedom parents have in bringing up and caring for their children."

It used to be clear that American parents were the ultimate authority in their children's lives.

The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations. [emphasis added]

- Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. (1925)

There is a "private realm of family life which the state cannot enter."

- Prince vs. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944)

It's significant that the 1944 court recognized that parents had both the responsibility and the authority to prepare their children to take on the duties of adult life.  European courts, however, ruled in 1937 that their governments had a far stronger role in bringing up children than the American government claimed at that time:

Nazis take parents away from children

Nov. 29, 1937 - In Waldenberg, Germany, a court has taken parents away from their children because they refused to teach them Nazi ideology.  The parents are pacifists, members of a Christian sect called International Bible Researchers.  The court accused them of creating an environment where the children would grow up "enemies of the state."  The children were delivered into the state's care.

The judge delivered a lengthy statement reading in part, "The law as a racial and national instrument entrusts German parents with the education of their children only under certain conditions, namely, that they educate them in the fashion that the nation and state expect." [emphasis added]

- Quoted from Chronicles of the 20th Century, 1987 edition, p 475 Chronicle Publications, Mt. Kisco, NY.

The European view seems to be that children can be removed from their parents when the parents don't bring them up with the same ideological perspectives that the government expects.  We see the same sort of arguments in America between parents who don't want their children exposed to ideologies which are beloved of the educational establishment and school boards who try to stop parents from insisting that their children shouldn't attend classes to which the parents object.

Unfortunately, American courts have been encroaching on parental authority over the years:

The constitutional right of parents to assume the primary role in decisions concerning the rearing of children was recognized because it reflects a "strong tradition" founded on the history and culture of Western civilization, and because the parental role is "now established beyond debate as an enduring American tradition." [emphasis added]

- Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205. (1972)

In Yoder, the court ruled that parents merely had a "primary role" and that parental authority was merely a "strong tradition" as opposed to a fundamental right.

Freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

- Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632, 639-640 (1974).

The LaFleur decision shifted parental authority from a mere tradition to a fundamental liberty, but American governments have continued to involve themselves more and more in parental affairs.  For example, World Net Daily reports:

A 10-year-old homeschool girl described as "well liked, social and interactive with her peers, academically promising and intellectually at or superior to grade level" has been told by a New Hampshire court official to attend a government school because she was too "vigorous" in defense of her Christian faith.

The decision from Marital Master Michael Garner reasoned that the girl's "vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view."

Even though the child's homeschooling program had placed her ahead of her grade level, the mother was being too vigorous in teaching her point of view to her child.  The girl was placed in a public school where she could be exposed to conflicting views "in the fashion that the nation and state expect" to quote the Waldenberg court.

Parental authority and family liberty have been under attack for years.  The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, gives children specific rights which have to be enforced by government intervention in family matters.  Among other provisions, the treaty forbids spanking.

The trend is pretty clear - parental authority is being eroded all over the Western world.

It's Not Just a Liberty Issue - Government Makes a Lousy Parent

Many of us at Scragged have a reflexively negative reaction to any increase in government authority.  We've seen so many examples of government abusing its authority to our hurt that we don't trust any government, anywhere, with any more authority than was laid out in the US Constitution, and sometimes we wonder whether even those few powers are really necessary.

In the specific case of child protection, moreover, it's been found that government makes a really lousy parent.

In a long-term study of child care outcomes, MIT researchers found that even when a child's biological family was in really bad shape, drug abuse, violence, whatever, removing the child to foster care just about always made the outcome worse.  The MIT News article "Kids gain more from family than foster care" which was published on July 3, 2007, says:

An MIT Sloan School of Management professor has for the first time used the analytic tools of applied economics to show that children faced with two options - being allowed to stay at home or being placed into foster care - have generally better life outcomes when they remain with their families.

"While much has been written about the trade-off between family preservation and child protection, little empirical work has been able to support a greater emphasis on either one," said Joseph Doyle Jr., assistant professor of applied economics at Sloan.  "My research suggests that children on the margin of foster care placement have better employment, delinquency, and teen motherhood outcomes when they remain at home."

Doyle, the Jon D. Gruber Career Development Assistant Professor of Applied Economics, said his study is the first to empirically demonstrate causal effects between placement decisions and long-term outcomes.

Thus we now know that when governments remove children from even pretty bad homes, the results are worse than leaving them alone.  It's been demonstrated over and over that government care is worse than bad parents.

Parents make mistakes, sure, but the record shows that on the whole, governments make a lot more mistakes when they try to assume parental roles.  The difficulty with giving government any power over children is that in true bureaucratic fashion, government will claim more and more power over time until there's none left for parents.

Thus, the presumption should be that parents know best.  How can a government child psychologist better decide whether this girl is a competent sailor than her parents, who've sailed with her for her entire life?

This is the sort of creeping bureaucratic power grab which we deplore.