The Boogeyman Who’s After Your Kids

The other day, I read the story on a homeschool board of a kid who got a minor, if slightly unusual, injury.  Not a huge deal.  Except, she had her yearly check up the following day.  The mom wondered should she take her to the doctor.  The answer?  No.  Sure, there were dissenters, but the majority of posters said the mom should reschedule in case the doctor suspected abuse and reported her to child protective services.

Reading this, a question came to me.  Which one is scarier – actual child abusers or the government trying to mistakenly protect your kids from abusers?  I’m not sure if it’s rational or not, but I’m much more afraid of the government.  CPS is my version of the boogeyman.  When I make parenting decisions, I almost never think, that’s dangerous because there might be bad guys out there trying to hurt us.  On the other hand, I think all the time, maybe I shouldn’t let my kids do this or that because someone might report us to CPS.

If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know I’m a big proponent of free range parenting.  For me, part of that is not letting myself get upset about those potential abusers and bad guys.  They’re out there.  Bad things can happen and we try to equip ourselves with basic safety skills and common sense.  But I also don’t let myself worry about it.  I refuse to let the potential for random criminal acts, which by very definition happen randomly, determine how I live my life or how my kids live their lives.  After all, crimes of that sort are exceedingly rare.

But instances of CPS taking children away from perfectly competent parents are also rare.  Just like the horrible crimes, they happen, but they are hardly common.  So why do I let myself live in fear of the government?

Part of it is obviously because we homeschool.  Homeschoolers are outside the mainstream and the evidence abounds that many people think we shouldn’t be allowed to do what we do.

More than that, I think my fear probably comes from reading the news.  I never dwell on the news of kidnappings or child abuse.  I always think, that’s horrible.  But then I move on.  On the other hand, I can’t seem to stop myself reading the Free Range Kids blog, and worse, I really think about it.  So I’m constantly dwelling on stories like this one, about the single mom whose kids were taken away because she didn’t walk them to the bus or do their homework for them.  This Brain, Child article, about a mom given criminal charges for letting her older kids watch her younger ones, is more than two years old, but it still sticks in my memory.  There’s another article of probably a decade ago which I can’t even find, but which I always remember, about a father who took completely innocent pictures of his young sons while they were skinny dipping on vacation and ended up nearly losing custody of his children.  Stuff like that scares me and plays out in my head more often than I would like to admit.

But it’s more than an overdose of news.  The bad guys are just that.  Bad.  I believe the majority of people who really hurt children are terrible, twisted people or have issues of their own that are just as bad as what they dole out.  There’s no excuses.  But things like that are dark things that happen in secret.  Things the government does, on the other hand, happen in the light of day.  When the government takes your kids, or violates your rights or leads you into a bureaucratic nightmare…  well, that’s done by people who are trying to do good, who should be the upholders of the law.  Somehow I find that more scary.  Bad guys aren’t necessarily in control of themselves.  But the government should be.  Checks and balances should help common sense prevail, both in creating laws and enforcing them.  Often it does, but sometimes it doesn’t.

In the end, I have to take a deep breath.  I can’t not let my kids go to the park by themselves or answer the door because I’m worried the government will come after me any more than I can not do those things because I’m worried some other boogeyman will get them.  I have to make the decisions I think are right for them, giving them the freedom or boundaries they really need, not based on the fear of something that’s extremely unlikely – no matter what it is.  I have to think about the real benefits and risks and decide from there.  So for us, even though I occasionally have a moment of paranoia now and then, that means letting the kids explore out of my sight at the park or go look at the Legos in Target while I buy toilet paper.  Trusting, not just that they’ll be okay and it’s the right thing to do, but that no one will report me to the government for doing it.

6 thoughts on “The Boogeyman Who’s After Your Kids

  1. I always thought in the back of my mind while we were living on base “what are the neighbors thinking”? If I don’t let the boys outside x amount of numbers will somone contact SP and say I’m denying them freedom or some other crazy stuff. Especially when you turn on the tv and homeschooling only seems to come up when someone is doing something extreme and horrible. One of the many factors in getting our home off base was because we want the boys to eventually watch themselves for a few hours everyday while I pick up part time work once they prove themselves responsible enough to be home alone. Base housing has strict rules on age requirements to be home or to be home with a younger child, I use to have to lie about my age in order to watch my little brother, so we wanted to avoid that headache should some “concerned” neighbor take it in their hands to call SP and let them know our kids were home alone and under their age requirements.

  2. And Farrah, I worked in Social work in the therapeutic foster care system with the kids that got taken away by the government. Kids who were locked in closets for weeks, made to eat their own puke, sexually abused over and over, impregnated by grandpa (or dad), beaten to a bloody pulp and all sorts of things you just don’t even want to think about…. and in Ohio where the law is more on the side of the parent than the child… these children would go right back to their families…. it was heartbreaking and sickening… I still get sick thinking of all the kids I worked with in that short amount of time. I also amazingly got very sick with my fibromyalgia at that time.. I think the horror was too much for me and I made myself sick…. The sad thing is… these kids will be messed up for life because no one will stick up for them…

    1. Oh I’m glad we have the government doing to take care of children who are actually abused and neglected! Thank goodness we have at least this small safety net. And lots of children who probably should be flagged and go into that system aren’t. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of kids who end up taken away by the government should be taken away – which is why my fear is essentially absurd – I obviously love and care for my kids. And yet, it does happen the other way and I do think some of the ways in which I parent – homeschooling, letting the kids go to the park alone, etc. – are frowned upon by the government as parenting choices. So, no matter how silly, it is a fear I have.

  3. You know, I’m not going to say that CPS is never overzealous. But I’ve worked some with abusive/neglectful families, and it’s led me to take people’s accounts of why CPS investigated or took their kids away with a HUGE grain of salt. I think there’s usually more to it than the stories people share.

    I remember a woman who posted to mothering.com about CPS involvement because she was homeschooling and, I think, nursing an older baby (under 2). Some people on a spinoff board did a little sleuthing and figured out that she had a lot of gang connections, and that the kids had been present in a house when there was a huge police/SWAT team raid for gang activity/drugs/weapons. I mean, I’m sure she was homeschooling and nursing too, but the CPS case sure made a lot more sense when you saw what she left out of her post.

    I won’t say that I don’t ever worry. Every time Colin falls asleep in his carseat and I go ahead to the house to unlock the door before coming back to get him, I worry that in the two minutes I’m gone someone is going to call the police. But in general I think that unjust CPS persecution is pretty rare. CPS is much more likely to make errors of omission, not following up on cases in which children are in real danger.

    1. I think you’re right and I generally take it with a grain of salt as well. In that Free Range Kids story, for example, who knows what else was going on. But if it’s true at all that they listed something like not doing a kid’s homework for him or not walking a ten year old to the bus down the street – even among other things that perhaps justify intervening – then it scares me that they have that mentality about parenting – that more is always better.

  4. We don’t have this issue here; our equivalent of CPS is stretched just trying to deal with the cases of genuine abuse notifications. I am more worried about the cases where children are left in abusive situations because their needs are deemed to be somewhat less urgent. When my eldest was a baby she fell out of her pram, and we came in for all sorts of questioning at the hospital, and I didn’t have a problem with that. Hospitals are mandatory reporters and in general, I think the good that does probably outweighs the bad. Most cases of ‘unfair’ decisions by DOCS have involved previous abuse, which makes me wonder if they have access to details the general public doesn’t. I have heard of disturbing cases of child removal in the UK and in the past in our Aboriginal community however, and like all things, it’s up to citizens to keep an eye on their own governments and its possible abuses.

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