Nanny State’s Best Judgment?

Posted: Feb 23, 2011 12:01 AM
Let’s play Guess the Country. I’ll describe a scenario, and you guess where it happened.

A mother goes to the grocery store for 30 minutes, leaving her 14-year-old son to baby-sit his 3-year-old brother. Nothing bad happens while she is out.

Nonetheless, based on the belief that her brief shopping excursion endangered her children, police cite the mother for “committing an act of cruelty on a child or young person,” an offense that is reported to the bureau of criminal records. This results in the woman losing her job as a health care worker and prohibits her from working in any capacity that involves children for 10 years.

A yearlong investigation by social services experts eventually deems the woman an exemplary mother, and the government authority that regulates human services employees clears her. Nevertheless, because she has a criminal record that cannot be expunged, she essentially is unemployable in her field.

Think you know where this insane situation occurred?

If you guessed Great Britain, you win, though obviously parents there are losing, big time.

There’s no minimum age for a child to be left at home alone in Britain, nor is there a law specifying how old a baby sitter must be, but under that country’s Child and Young Persons Act, parents can be prosecuted for neglect if authorities think a lack of supervision is “likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.”

That means nothing bad actually has to happen for parents to be held accountable, with the potential for punishment up to 10 years in prison.

Britain‘s largest children’s charity, the NSPCC, recommends that children younger than 13 should not be left at home alone at all and that baby sitters should be at least 16 years of age. Apparently, the NSPCC doesn’t think “date nights” for moms and dads are very important, but I digress.

Clearly, our cousin across the pond is more than just a nanny state. It’s a nanny state that wants to assure full employment for nannies.

The woman at the center of this controversy is working to overturn the law that has disrupted her life and livelihood, and she’s not alone. Two nurses who last year were barred from working with children on similar grounds are suing the British government.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail in court.

But there’s more to this story than simply the ridiculous notion that a young teen isn’t competent to baby-sit his sibling. After all, some are not, no argument there.

Aside from the debate about “babyfying” a generation of British teens by keeping them from taking on reasonable responsibilities, the greater issue at stake is one of parental rights: Whose judgment should prevail, the state’s or the parent’s?

The rights of parents are not at the forefront in Britain, where the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was ratified in 1991. For 10 years, through policies and regulations, Britain has indicated its willingness to usurp parental authority in favor of a state-sponsored, government regulated, health-and-safety-obsessed childhood for all of Britain‘s kids.

Inserting state regulators into decisions about baby sitters is simply the manifestation of a doctrine that asserts that the state has a greater interest than parents in the welfare of its young citizens.

That notion is not just insulting; it’s nuts.

It’s easy to shrug off this story as though it’s just the “news of the weird” from a country that seems to pride itself on tawdry tabloid tidbits. But already in the U.S., parental authority is usurped on grounds that aren’t based on actual abuse, but on the notion of the “best interest” of the child.

Just last week, a California kindergartner was admitted to a psychiatric ward against his mother’s wishes and without her consent based on a school counselor’s opinion of his mental health.

Next thing you know, it’s a ticket for “poor parenting.”