Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Centaur Scrolls: The Parental Rights Amendment and Child Abuse

One of the most brutal and horrific sins which an adult can commit is child abuse. Using one’s vastly greater physical ability, mental development, or emotional connection with a child to harm or neglect him or her is one of the most disgusting crimes known to man. Research conducted by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) in 2007 indicates that about 56% of all cases of child abuse across the nation involve a child age three or younger (This link also includes the written questions for the study. They are neutral, balanced questions which do not introduce the bias of the researcher. The study is very good, and should be considered reliable within the natural limitations of crime statistics). Because we universally agree that child abuse and child neglect are heinous crimes, every state has laws on the books which criminalize these actions.

Some have claimed that the Parental Rights Amendment would protect child abusers and child neglectors in the name of “parental rights.” This is not the case, as evidenced by the wording of the Amendment itself, its interpretation by the Supreme Court of the United States, and its general applicability in current family law. The Parental Rights Amendment does not protect child abuse; rather, it fights against it.

In 1925, the Supreme Court held in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), that “the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.” This decision, citing back to Meyer v. Nebraska in 1923, reaffirmed not only the importance of parental rights, but also the great responsibility which accompanies parental authority: parents have the high duty to prepare their children for future obligations. Child abuse and child neglect are a clear rejection of the recognition and completion of the “high duty” of parenting.

The Supreme Court later held in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987) that parents with a history of child abuse forfeit their parental rights. In Ritchie, Mr. Ritchie was denied his parental rights to obtain the medical records of his daughter because he had been charged with raping her. Child abuse constitutes a forfeiture of parental rights.

This is because child abuse and child neglect have universally been upheld as constituting a “governmental interest of the highest order,” granting the government a significant compelling interest in the case. What is more, removal of children from abusive home environments has routinely been regarded as an interest “not otherwise served” by the government: there is no other way to protect children from abuse than to remove them from the abusive environment.

This is the language which appears in the Parental Rights Amendment. Section Two of the Amendment reads:

Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe upon this right without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

Thus, under the Amendment, there would still be the option of CPS and police intervention in a case of child abuse or neglect. The Amendment would not defend child abusers.

The Amendment protects children from the threats which face them without disregarding the usually trustworthy, loving, caring work of Mom and Dad. According to census data from 2006 (the most recent information we have for national child abuse statistics), there were around 905,000 different instances of child abuse reported in the nation. Census data also indicates that there were 7.3 million children in the United States in 2006. This means that 12.4% of children were victims of child abuse. This also means that at least 87.6% of children were being raised by fit parents. What is more, the percentage number is the low end of the estimate, since children are captured, used, and abused by individuals who are not their parents. Thus the number of abused children is not an accurate number for the number of unfit parents in the United States (but the specific data for this number is not available to us). Thus we conclude that the vast majority of parents in the United States--over 87%--are fit parents. We can trust them.

The level of abuse changes from state to state. In the State of Hawaii, the situation is better for children. According to the most recent studies available for Hawaii child abuse cases (2003), 4,046 children were victims of child abuse. According to census data, there were 298,693 children in the State of Hawaii in 2003. This means that in that year, 1.35% of children were victims of child abuse in the state. Since a portion of these children were abused by adults who were not their parents, the number of “unfit” parents in the state is less than 1.35%. According to crime statistics, the estimated number of incidents involving parents is 3,035 cases, or 1.01% of children. The vast majority of parents--those responsible for raising almost 99% of children in Hawaii--are good, responsible parents fit to direct the upbringing of their children.

What these statistics do not show, however, are the number of parents who are treated as child abusers, even though they are responsible parents. According to another national study by NCANDS, about 61% of child abuse claims are unsubstantiated: there is no evidence that child abuse was actually taking place. Even though they did nothing wrong, these individuals—most of whom were parents—now carry the stigma of having been investigated for child abuse.

In the State of North Carolina, the situation is worse. According to a 2002 study by the North Carolina Department of Human Resources Division of Social Services, 107,157 children were reported as child abuse victims, but only 30,016 of these children were actually confirmed as victims. This means that in 28% of cases, the child was actually abused—leaving 72% of those accused of child abuse innocent of the charges. Where is the protection for these parents? It has already been demonstrated that parents are generally trustworthy in raising their children, so where is the protection for these parents who are falsely accused? Good, responsible parents today are being treated like child abusers by the state—they need protection.

To treat all parents as we treat child abusers and child neglectors is both uncharitable and unjust, being based on erroneous information unsubstantiated by the facts. For millennia, parents have raised their children well: why can we not trust them in the 21st Century? If you believe that parents should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, please support the Parental Rights Amendment, get involved with, and affirm the pivotal and critical role of parents in the development of a child.

Watching the stars,


"The time is right." -- Glenstorm

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