Friday, July 21, 2006

CPS - Looking Out For You Whether You Need Them Or Not

There's a lot to scoff at about a family who names their kid "Starchild," and when he gets sick rejects conventional cancer treatments and send him to take herbal supplements in a Mexican clinic.

But should it be illegal? Is it neglectful? Is it child abuse? Is it the government's role to step in?

Virginia CPS and a state judge says it is. Shame on them.

The boy is 16. He has already attempted conventional therapy, and it wasn't working for him. He and his parents made an intelligent, knowing, and informed decision, weighing the risks and making the decision together. Now, it's not the decision most of us would have come to. In fact, I'm not afraid to call it a painfully stupid decision that only a South Park episode can adequately mock. But in a free society, we should let him make that choice.

This isn't a case where a 2 year old is dying from an easily curable condition, but religious fundamentalist parents let her die because they only believe in the medicine of prayer. Even then, I'm troubled that a parent's good faith efforts to do what they think is best for the child's physical and spiritual well being within the tenants of their religion (even if it's not what I would do) is so easily dismissed. But here, had he waited another year and a half to make the decision, it would have been totally legitimate. He is old enough to participate in the decision making process. And it's not like the conventional medical will guarantee his health. His wishes, and those of his parents, should be respected.

If he shot and killed someone, Starchild surely would be would be tried as an adult, and held responsible for those actions. Why can he not make decisions concerning his health?

Surely, there are plenty of cases in Virginia where actual abuse, parental drug use, and neglect is going on. Surely, CPS is not overburdened with social workers just lounging around the office with not enough to do. In Washington State, 45 children within the CPS system have been murdered since 2001 by someone in their foster home. Has Virginia solved all of those problems? Is this really the best way to be using Department of Social and Health Services resources?

I am currently working largely within the juvenile justice system, working with dependency cases where abuse and neglect have been found. I've worked with those parents and those children. I've seen what abuse and neglect are. This isn't it.

I've also worked with enough social workers to be frustrated with what only can be described as their "busibodiness." They work with enough deadbeats to think that's the norm, and as a result their default position is to step in. I've learned how fine the line really is between genuine social conscience and smug, self-righteous paternalism. And as if state paternalism wasn't bad enough, it's totally inconsistent paternalism. I've seen the State declare washing a child's mouth out with soap "abuse," and then pish-posh a child's reluctance to return home to her mother because, "she stopped the pot smoking and pill popping months ago." It can be frustrating. But nothing I've seen approaches this story's absurd level of state overreach.

The tragedy is that the kid will be dragging his feet with the treatment, lessening its impact. And it will divert medical resources from other people who need - and actually want - the help of a modern hospital. The court's order doesn't help the child, the parents, or the community. In the State's attempt to rescue people from themselves, they have made everyone worse off and less free. And that, in a nutshell, is why Big Government, whatever its intentions, should be avoided whenever possible.

Good faith decisions made by parents, especially when done with the input of a near-adult who is fully capable of participating in decisions that will affect his life and health, should be respected. If the state can make this decision for this family, there is no longer any true family or home sanctity.

There is a side irony that's interesting, though. A family of hippies having trouble with Big Government. Hmmm....

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