Sociology Parenting Neglect Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Maryland couple was charged with neglect because they allowed their children -- aged 10 and 6 -- to walk one mile home from a park. The irony of this situation is that those doing the charging likely made similar walks by themselves as children, and they did it all the time. It is not strange that some parents prefer to hover over their children obsessively -- the lines of cars outside any school at 3 o'clock attest to the commonality of this approach. What is amazing is there is an actual charge for letting your children do as you did, and as the law makers who wrote the law also did. Laws protecting children make sense, but such laws appear to have pushed past the point of reason. The case in Maryland is but one example of administrative overreach into parenting. What needs to happen is that parents need to be given back the right to raise their children in the manner in which they see fit.

Justification

There has been considerable discussion regarding this issue, including attempts to dissect the seminal moments when the cultural shift occurred. It seems counterintuitive that parents who were raised in the 1970s and 80s walking home from school by themselves would not only refuse to allow their children to do so, but that such views would hold so much sway that they would become law. The issue has held the interest of ethicists, law scholars, public administrators and, of course, parents. Pimentel (2012) has examined whether overprotective parenting is the new standard of care. By law, parents are required to provide a baseline standard of care for their children. Typically, this includes things like providing food and shelter and a life free from abuse -- the big stuff. Beyond that, the law used to extend significant leeway for parents. Today, the law has shifted, so that "de facto legal standards appear to be evolving…with individual parenting choices increasingly second-guessed by a society now willing to pass judgment on them" (Pimentel, 2012).

Pimentel (2012) notes that grand juries are often involved in the indictment process, but that too often there is no expert testimony in these cases. Without testimony, grand juries may overstate some risks and understating others. In the real world of actual percentages, the risk of a child being kidnapped walking home from the park is much lower than the risk to a child of their being a gun in the house, but the laws have certainly not reflected this. Some states have gone so far as to write into legislation "religious" protections for anti-vaxxers, despite overwhelming scientific consensus that such individuals are endangering their children.

Most governments have specific divisions that exist to safeguard children in society. The need for this is not questioned. But there is considerable debate about what the limitations should be on the scope of government when it comes to managing how parents raise their children. Yet, the idea of risk consciousness has been extrapolated by legislators and administrators to see risk around every corner (Lee, Macvarish & Bristow, 2010), and with these visions of danger come unreasonable restrictions on individual freedom, and imaginary interpretations of danger.

The paper will explore this issue further. It will seek to identify legitimate warrants in the opposing view, specifically if there is evidence justifying the way that laws regarding neglect are evolving.

Research Essay Draft

Parents need to be given back the right to raise their children as they see fit. There are two main premises in this argument. The first is that parents have in recent years seen such rights eroded. It is known and agreed that in the 1980s and earlier, children were able to walk freely in their own neighborhoods, play in parks unsupervised, and to walk to and from school. Today, parents can be charged with neglect and face other legal actions if they allow their children unsupervised in public, even at a playground or walking to/from school. Even riding a bicycle to school would be considered unacceptable. The very parents who insist that their children must be supervised at all times were, ironically, raised in the era where they were able to move unsupervised in certain circumstances, and they were able to survive the experience just fine.

There have been considerable study of this issue, by ethicists, legal scholars, sociologists, public administrators and, of course, by parents. The first support to the thesis is that the erosion of parental rights is a recent phenomenon. Pimentel (2012) examines the issue from a legal perspective, and notes that laws regarding child neglect have increasing been interpreted, especially since the turn of the millennium, to include strict provisions for constant supervision. These interpretations have occurred in many states, and thus are an identifiable trend in law. Yet, as Pimentel (2012) notes, there is no legal justification for this strict interpretation. At the venues where the issue comes to public law -- at hearings with child services ministries, or at grand juries -- there is seldom any expert evidence presented. Thus, those making the case that parents are neglecting their children when they allow their children to walk home from a school or playground unsupervised are typically doing so without any expert bases for their claims. The claims, therefore, are based more on rhetorical arguments and conjecture than they are in expert opinion, or fact-based risk assessments.

Traditional understanding of the concept of child neglect does not include children interacting in the community by themselves. Traditional understanding of neglect is characterized usually be conditions of socioeconomic disadvantage and is usually accompanied by other forms of abuse as well (Knutson, DeGarmo, Koeppl & Reid, 2005). The interpretation by government agencies and occasionally by law enforcement is not supported by those who have sought to understand and define childhood neglect. People who work with abused and neglected children work with a definition of neglect that is much more severe than a mere lack of constant supervision -- they see children who are left alone for hours or sometimes even days. They see children who are not provided with enough food. The parents are often addicts -- alcohol, gambling, drugs -- and more or less incapable of providing adequate care for their children. It is little surprise, then, the experts in academia and professional care workers often have a very different standard of neglect than has been interpreted recently, such as in the Maryland case.

The shift appears to be, in part at least, media-driven. Kehily (2010) outlines the role that the media has played in promoting the idea of a childhood in crisis. The narrative of the demise of traditional childhood actually dates as far back as the early 1908s, but has gained momentum in recent years. The supervision aspect is just one component of a broader narrative that includes emphasis on standardized testing in schools, and overexposure to media, in particular electronic media. The media creates an atmosphere of anxiety in parents, and this drives them towards increased supervision and a more controlled childhood than what they themselves experienced (Kehily, 2010). Parents are therefore significant contributors to the perception of crisis. They feel that constant supervision is warranted, but these views are based more on their own media-fed perceptions than on actual analysis of statistics. The shift in the way that public policy enforcement has occurred merely mirrors the views of the most alarmist among adults. Yet the shifts are not founded in fact.

The opposition view centers around the perception that children's safety can only be assured with constant adult supervision. This view is based on the premise that children under adult supervision will experience fewer problems than children without adult supervision. This is a reasonable contention, but misapplied and less supported by evidence than most people think. Knutson (2005, p.93) notes that "there is little evidence of a link between neglect and identified child outcomes." Moreover, Knutson is referring to the much more stringent definition of neglect used by professionals, than the casual definition of neglect as applied in cases constructed against "free range" parents. If the strong form of neglect -- the addicts and abusers -- does not correlate with negative outcomes, this should naturally weaken the argument that lack of constant supervision is going to result in negative outcomes.

This cuts to one of the most important issues. Even if one accepts the proposition that a neglected child will have negative outcomes relative to a child who does not face neglect, the proposition that a lack of constant supervision equates to neglect does not hold up under scrutiny. If one accepts that supervision is acceptable, that does not necessarily mean that lack of supervision is unacceptable. The two warrants are different, but tend to be conflated when considering the issue of children in the community unsupervised. Perhaps an even bigger point is one that Knutson (2005) makes -- that even the worst possible forms of neglect cannot be proven to correlate with negative outcomes.…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Kehily, M. (2010). Childhood in crisis? Tracing the contours of crisis and its impact upon comtemporary parenting practices. Media, Culture and Society. Vol. 32 (2) 171-185.

Knutson, J., DeGarmo, D., Koeppl, G. & Reid, J. (2005). Care neglect, supervisory neglect, and harsh parenting in the development of children's aggression: A replication and extension. Child Maltreatment Vol. 10 (2005) 92-107.

Lee, E., Macvarish, J. & Bristow, J. (2010). Risk, health and parenting culture. Health, Risk & Society. Vol. 12 (4) 293-300.

Nye, J. (2015). Free range parents hit out at wrong and painful decision by CPS finding them guilty of neglect for letting their children walk home.

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