The Government gorilla
Issue #101 • September/October, 2006
The other week, Vince, a contractor who does occasional work for me, was arrested for slapping his 14-year-old daughter on the behind when she talked back to her mother using abusive and obscene language. Vince left a mark on his daughter’s behind, enough for the local child welfare bureaucrats to accuse him of child abuse and demand he leave his home so his children would be safe. Or, they warned, he would go to jail immediately.
Vince protested that the mark he left was inadvertent and that his daughter needed a father’s discipline because she was beginning to hang out with unsavory kids who were experimenting with drugs. Vince’s pleas were dismissed and he was banished to an old trailer in the backyard of his home. The triumphant daughter became even more abusive to her mom, then ran away from home. She began using drugs and subsequently became pregnant.
The welfare agency made little effort to help the daughter, but the Government prosecuted Vince. He was convicted, fined, and ordered to undergo 15 months of anger management training. Vince, by the way, had no previous history of child abuse or any criminal record. His daughter is still a runaway, but Vince is not allowed near her.
Vince’s predicament is not an isolated case. Many of you reading this story no doubt viewed the TV documentary of a few weeks ago in which a TV camera crew followed a child welfare worker into a home where the father was accused of child abuse. The father, like Vince, had slapped his 14-year-old daughter, this time across the face because she, too, was out of control. This father also left a mark on his child—a bruise on the face.
Like Vince, the TV father protested that his daughter needed a father’s discipline now more than ever. The welfare worker dismissed his pleas and said she had consulted with her supervisor by phone and the supervisor agreed with her that all his children had to be removed from the home to protect them. The man had two other younger children.
The father and mother were astonished, and they pleaded with the welfare worker not to remove their children from their home. The TV camera occasionally caught sight of a uniformed police officer who stood silently by as the drama unfolded. He was obviously the power—the Government—behind the welfare worker who had decided to remove the children. Eventually, the father beseeched the welfare worker through his tears: “Don’t take my children; put me in jail instead.”
To no avail! Even as one child, about three years old, clung to the father and cried, “I want to stay with Daddy,” the third child was awakened from his sleep from a bedroom upstairs. The welfare worker took the children.
The TV documentary followed the family for two years. The children were put in foster care for three months before being allowed back home. The parents eventually divorced, citing the invasion by the child welfare agency into their home as “the beginning of the end.”
The documentary made no attempt to take sides with either the family or the child welfare agency, but just recorded what was happening. Call me prejudiced, but I sided with the family. I was sickened by the display of omnipotent Government bureaucratic power that seemed bent on destroying the family to save the children from a father’s discipline. No wonder the parents divorced.
The program closed with a commentator stating that the debate continues as to whether Government does more harm than good when it takes a child from the home to protect it. I can’t imagine many viewers went away from that program thinking that the Government did any good.
At his court hearing, my friend Vince asked the judge, “May I speak point blank or should I watch what I say?”
“You may speak point blank,” the judge said.
“This system,” Vince said, with his voice beginning to shake, ” is totally f___d up. I’m all for protecting children from abuse, but my daughter needs guidance. You’re tying my hands and threatening me with jail if I go near her. What the f__k is going on?”
“Court adjourned!” the judge said and got up and left.
Court adjourned! Sounds like the pronouncement I would expect from a misguided, out-of-control Government that has given power to a gigantic and misguided, out-of-control welfare bureaucracy. We’ve let a big gorilla into our home to protect our children. How will we ever get it out?