Logical and compelling
A few weeks ago I was talking with a person I greatly respect, and she said “you write very well but I think you’re wrong (about CWS).”
Naturally, I’m always a little stunned when an intelligent person thinks I’m wrong.
I asked her, “Am I not logical and compelling?” Without intending to I’d touched on the two features of an academic paper which indicate its quality: the thoroughness and fit of the logic used, and a second, distinct feature, the ability to be intellectually compelling. Not only is the logic sound, but the discussion fleshes it out in a way that satisfies the mind.
She thought a moment and said, “’Logical and compelling’… yes.”
She seemed dis-inclined to discuss it with me; I don’t fault her, I’m a rabid pit bull in a logical discussion, generally not being satisfied until the opposing argument is laying about in shreds.
But, her belief that my discussion had missed something haunted me. I kept it simmering in the back of my mind, hearing clearly what she didn’t say: Logical and compelling…yes, but still you’ve missed the truth, which is, after all, the whole point.
In the intervening days there has been a lot of news including the fall of a stable Middle Eastern nation, and a flu that gave me days of fevered hallucinations. It continued to bother me: Logical and compelling… yes.
After weeks of thought I have come to realize what was not touched on upon.
It was the little kids that are out there. It is about a belief that all kids deserve a great childhood, with plenty of food and positive rewards. All kids deserve to sleep safely at night, without the fear that a stepparent will visit in the dark. My discussion is missing all the small voices who can’t find a safe adult to tell something to.
Those kids are there; I know that better than anyone. I have literally slumped over my keyboard, heaving with sobs after reading case notes. I’ve done reviews with tears streaming down my cheeks. I once left a thick stack of cases, the legacy of three generations of sexual and physical abuse and drug addiction, sitting on the far corner of my desk because I simply couldn’t bring myself to go through it.
I have, on rare occasion, sat with a kid and heard them describe a life Dante couldn’t match, a real life hell, one they had neither the resources nor the vision to escape. I hate direct service to clients. I’m bad at it, I can’t leave it at work.
I’m not ignoring those kids. I’m not even ignoring the kids who could do better. In my other life, I make a small but definite contribution to kids 5 and under in our county and sister counties. I want all kids to have a safe and happy life, too.
But that wish for them is not enough to correct the damage the state does when it violates the privacy of a family.
Those who professionally provide services are endowed with a very special kind of myopia. They intend well for the family. In their view, if a call is made to CWS, and a social worker appears, it can only be for the good. If there is nothing amiss in the family, they leave a few brochures, and all is well. If there was something going on, and they didn’t find it, at least the perpetrator knows they can be caught. The children, and often the woman of the house, are empowered in that they know there are safe places for them to go, should the need arise. Love shouldn’t have to hurt. Don’t smoke around kids. A car seat is required for children under the age of six.
That’s the view, and it’s a very self-serving one. It assumes no harm can come from a visit from a well meaning and well trained professional.
This is imply not so. Every visit from the state is an assault on the family.
Most families have a belief that the family is somewhat sacred. It has blood and history together; there are often problems with both but at least these are things they share. There is the understanding that the state shouldn’t expect to easily violate these things.
But that belief is revealed as delusion. On the confused report of a minimum wage playground monitor the state can grab your kid. They can ask them questions, ask to see parts of their body, all without your knowledge, permission, or presence. They may attempt to forbid the child from even reporting the incident to you.
When the state comes and goes through your house, nothing is the same, it’s very much like the feeling of violation that comes with being burgled. The nice lady from the state is the mother-in-law from hell. She remarks on your housekeeping skills, asks about runny noses and the smell of diapers, looks in your cupboards, and asks for details of your most intimate relationships. With only a few questions she can write paragraphs about the state of your home, alcohol or drug use, domestic violence, family philosophy on punishment, family intimacy boundaries. She will use as her yardstick a cultural standard, but perhaps not your culture: anything not done her way or to her standards is assumed to be wrong.
Most of us can’t imagine what it is like to bear the allegation of being a bad parent. Most people do their best by their children, often hoping to do better than their parents. People who thought they knew their family and their role are corrected by “experts” from the government.
When she’s gone, several things will have changed. The front door will no longer seem proof against intrusion. The family culture will seem moot. Family members will assume the roles of suspect, and of accuser and traitor, even if no wrong doing is found, because someone must have done something to someone to cause someone from out of the family to come. There is simply no way to erase those things.
The sense of “family” is shattered, and the idea of the family as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is damaged. The home as refuge from the troubles of the world at large is crushed. The family simply doesn’t mean what it did before powerful strangers entered to give labels and assign responsibility.
There is almost always an increased onus on the adult male of the family. He is large, probably has bad habits, is presumed only marginally fit for family life with children. Indeed, I have often seen what some social workers call a “boyfriendectomy” routinely prescribed as the appropriate solution for the family.
Add to this the fact that all of us break laws all the time. If we had a cop with us all the time, we’d be in jail all the time, violating laws we didn’t know were even laws. Likewise, nearly all families have some dysfunction. Parents screw up sometimes; sometimes dangerous people are invited into the family. It is the cost of being human to error. A parent can even be consistently bad at something, but still be loved and by realistic measures, still be a good parent.
To be imperfect, too, is the cost of being human.
It is not a cost of being human to have the government in your family at each error. People in the course of living become wiser. They try to do better on their own. Many parents have major struggles in their lives just paying the bills and keeping things together. Government help rarely actually helps with these problems, and usually costs the family income. These costs are never tallied by CWS; there is no form or field for those costs because the government doesn’t recognize them, and doesn’t care.
Not every case of state violation in the family contains every negative effect, but nearly all have some “adverse and sustained impact from government intervention.” Just as you’d expect.
It is logical and compelling but not emotionally satisfying to point out that life is dangerous and hard. So what? Haven’t we, as a species, constantly sought to use technology to improve on nature? Don’t diabetics take insulin? Don’t asthmatics use inhalers? Don’t bleary-eyed editors wear thick glasses? The whole point of science is to make up for what we individually lack. That’s all CWS does, use social science to get people help, mental health and drug and alcohol rehab; counseling for kids so they feel better about themselves. Science helping people.
was built on the ideal of science helping people. Americans are often over-medicalized, taking meds they don’t need and suffering illness or death as a result. It’s easy to do too much, and medicine recognizes this: First, do no harm. CWS uses a different approach: Assume you do no harm.
If, indeed, the nice lady went to the home and that was that, maybe it would be worth the disruption to save the relative handful of kids with really traumatic childhoods. But it isn’t.
Logical and compelling discussions often aren’t emotionally satisfying; it’s hard to cast in our minds the rights of parents to their children, and the rights of children to be with family. It’s so much easier to imagine a child, injured and abused; their misery is palpable.
Yet, it is the goal of medicine, and law, and academia itself, to estrange those emotions in favor of rigor, to try to lessen the distraction of the heart in favor of the focus of the intellect.
So it should be our goal to be objective and pragmatic when crafting our laws and cultural values.
The image of the damaged child is emotionally very powerful, but intellectually, it is real children, and not our images of them, which are compelling.
We need to free ourselves of the idea the CWS can protect all children, or that it never does harm.
Then, we can free our families from the CWS police state.