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Posted by on Jul 15, 2014 in Featured, Law | 37 comments

Unreality and Child Protection

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South Carolina police have jailed a mother and placed her daughter in protective custody. The mother’s crime? Allowing her daughter to play in a park crowded with other children while mom worked at McDonald’s.

The case highlights a little-noticed problem in how laws protecting children have evolved. Basically, the concept of “endangerment of a child” means . . . whatever county social workers want it to mean. The result can be a race to the bottom, where a young social worker raised in a cushy upper-middle-class environment is given nearly unfettered discretion to determine when the children of poor people are “endangered.”

If you take the social worker out of her huge suburban home and have her visit the kind of marginal housing that poor people are often forced into, she may declare it dangerously unfit and take the children away from the parents. If you take the social worker out of her background of comfy kindergarten-through-college education at well-funded (often private) schools and present her with the gritty realities of under-funded, over-crowded, and poorly supervised inner-city public schools, and she may declare it “neglectful” to leave children in that environment.

More to the point here, if you take the social worker out of her background of a home supported by two professional parents making a combined six-figure income that can easily afford all manner of closely supervised day-care activities and present her with a situation where a mother working at McDonald’s can’t afford all that, and the social worker may see “endangerment” that requires snatching the kid away and putting mom in jail (where mom will almost certainly lose her job too).

Of course, it is impossible to tell exactly what motivated what appears on its face to be a drastic (and possibly irreparable) overreaction in this case, but based on what is available, someone needs a reality check. And they owe mom and her daughter a lot of apology and every effort to repair the damage.

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