Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reflections from the panel discussion on child welfare and school attendance

A reflection from yesterdays panel discussion on child welfare: 

After the Panel Discussion on Child Welfare hosted by Family Advocacy Movement (FAM),  I spoke with three women well aquainted with the truancy law debate, one who sits on the “truancy triage team” in Douglas County and the others who seemed to be closely involved with the process. They were not pleased with the amendment that would give schools more discretion over attendance. They felt that school districts need to be accountable to a "multi-disciplinary team" (namely them) for what they decide is legitimate or not.

They not only didn't believe school districts (especially building principals) should be free to make these decisions, it was obvious that the idea of parents having a strong role in decisions about attendance was way out of bounds. In essence they seemed to think that their collective judgment is superior to the individual judgments of parents.

They each gave examples of irresponsible parenting and mentioned family vacations and kids participating in competitive sports programs outside of the school curriculum as examples of irresponsible parental choices sanctioned by school districts.

One of them commented that she certainly understands a why a student who has brain surgery would miss 20 days but not a student with ONLY allergies. I challenged her to be sensitive to children who suffer from sever allergies and immunological disorders which is all too common today. She said, "Well yes, but you just have those kids who say they're sick but aren't really very sick." She seemed to be saying that it’s her job (or the job of this team) to determine what is valid and reasonable, which kids are faking it and which parents are being too lax. 

I proposed to them that the appropriate place for these things to be determined are in the home and in the local school districts that are susceptible to the political pressure of their constituents who fund and govern them. I explained that parents are not given a "free hand" by any means. They are required to report non-attendance and the reasons for it to school authorities and follow school district policy which is written by democratic consensus of that community.

Do these women have authority? Yes. They have tons of authority. This is the team that goes through all the files when they come in to the county attorney. They are the ones who are “looking into things”. They make recommendations for what should happen in each case which for the most part the courts follow these recommendations.

Sitting on the team are social workers, school administrators, judges, and attorneys. Representatives from every agency or department that has “statutory authority” over children. Missing are the parents, who have the primary “statutory authority” over their children.

This team facilitates what Mike Horton experienced when he went to the mass meeting and they had “pre-sorted” the kids, this is the team that triaged (or pre-sorted) them. This team has the power to require a family to come to the court house or not, they recommend monitoring, truancy diversion, etc. They are the team responsible for sending Martha Myles daughter into triage (and yes they had the information about the health issue they just thought it was fishy and that there was possible neglect by the parent). This team is made up of unelected bureaucrats. Who are they accountable too?

This discussion was a reminder that we have a great deal of work left to do. The discussion yesterday tended to ask the question, "How did Nebraska get to this place where families are ripped apart at the second highest rate in the country?" Richard Wexler said that either Nebraska parents are the suffer the most incompetent parenting paradigms in the country or it is the philosophies of the agencies and professionals with statutory authority whose philosophies are incompetent. 

With philosophies that are hostile to family freedom and parental authority guiding those tasked with truancy diversion in our state it is clear that this battle is only beginning. Until people are willing to allow parents their natural rights and tolerate “mistakes in parenting” no child or family is safe from these “authorities” in child welfare.

Richard Wexler said something last night about the difficulty that advocates of reform face when they are dealing with system administrators who firmly believe they are doing what is “best for the child” as they break the bonds between kids and their parents. 

I again thought of the C.S. Lewis quote that is becoming a favorite of mine: “"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

1 comment:

  1. Chilling thoughts. I am most dismayed that parents are under constant scrutiny and have no safe haven to seek help when help is desirable from state agencies because the risk that the machine will break the family bonds is too high. Witnessing this terror first hand is like experiencing the loading of the "cattle cars."