Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Guilty of Being Not Guilty

The term has a strange Orwellian flavor to it:  "Unsubstantiated neglect."

That's the official reason that two parents from my metro area are being monitored by Maryland's Child Protective Services, after they keep insisting that their children should be allowed to go play in playgrounds by themselves.

It's radically countercultural in this era, and in this region in particular, where the roar and rotor-wash of helicopter parenting is the norm.  But with children being taken into custody by police and then transferred to Child Protective Services after concerned citizens report them "walking" and "playing," we're getting a sense of the kind of culture we've created.

It's the kind of culture that requires a governmental agency to monitor parents who have been, and these are the formal terms, "found responsible" for "unsubstantiated neglect."  What that means is: we did not find enough evidence to indicate that you are guilty of neglect, therefore, our finding is you are responsible for "unsubstantiated neglect."

We have no evidence, but we have a finding.  It's like saying you're not-not-guilty of a crime. We can't prove you guilty of anything, but you are now under surveillance.

Guilty of being not proven guilty?  It feels, on the surface, very newspeaky.

And as much as the idea that we have a system that makes this possible freaks the bejabbers out of me, I ask myself: how did we get here?

Good intentions.  Really.

Say you're a neighbor, and you've heard shouting and crying repeatedly from a house, the sounds of lives coming off of the rails.  After seeing a young child bruised and with a black eye following what sounded like a profanity laced tirade, you feel morally obligated to report it.  CPS investigates, but there's just not enough evidence to warrant a finding of neglect.  The house is neat, the kids seem quiet but otherwise fine, the parents have explanations.

Should CPS just shrug that off, or forget it?  How do you "mark" a concern?  And so you get the idea that the system should register "unsubstantiated neglect."  If it didn't?  What if that child ends up in the hospital in critical condition, and they said, well, sure, we had been called, but we didn't find anything?  That'd be a problem.  We'd have issue with it.

So as difficult as I find the police and official response to this, I can see where it comes from.  And why, in a saner culture, it might even make sense.

If our culture was healthy, and had healthy attitudes towards raising children, there'd be no issue here.

But we are...a little off.  We are desperately anxious, absorbed by fears that are carefully stoked by media and our unforgiving, willfully uncertain, ever changing culture.

So we cling to control.  We helicopter over our children.  And the state mirrors our culture, our anxiety, our carefully planned systems of insuring that everything is managed and nothing is left to chance.  We are suspicious, untrusting, ever on edge.  We want safety, security, certainty, above all else.

And isn't that a good thing, to want for your children?

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.