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Raised in the fashion of their tribe

Tonight four terrified children are going to sleep among hostile strangers, torn away by force from their homes and their families because their parents committed the crime of living differently.

Tonight four children rescued from imprisonment and abusive parenting are able to take their first wondering look at the the wide world that had been denied to them.

Which is true? Search me. In my post of a month ago, “The morality of not teaching your child English”, I asked at what point the right of parents to raise their child according to their values must give way to the right of a child not to be cut off from the world. Language is not an issue in the real life story of the recent raid by the French police on the community variously known as the “Twelve Tribes” or “Tabitha’s Place”, but many of the other elements of my thought experiment, such as a self-isolating group not permitting their children to watch television or use the internet, are – allegedly – in place.

The Times reports:

Christian cult’s ‘racism, violence and child abuse’ leads to ten arrests

Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community that seeks to follow a 1st century lifestyle, arresting ten people and placing four children in care amid allegations of maltreatment.
The raid came following the launch of a criminal inquiry after a former member told prosecutors of the corporal punishment meted out by the Twelve Tribes community in southern France.

The group’s communities in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere have long faced accusations of racism and of violence. They deny the claims and say they are misunderstood.
Jean-Christophe Muller, the state prosecutor in Pau in the Pyrenees, said 200 gendarmes accompanied by doctors had intervened at the group’s French base, a château in the hamlet of Sus, on Tuesday.

He said officers had been tipped off by the former member, but were stunned to discover a community of about 100 people cut off from the modern world.

“The children have never seen television or the internet and do not know what football is,” he said.

The Times story is quite similar to other reports in the French media. The sect has its own website, which has an English version. The existence of this website suggests that the Times may be wrong to claim that this sect prohibits the internet. Or the prohibition may not be absolute, or it may be applied to ordinary members but lifted for the elite or… any number of possibilities. One does not know which account to trust. No, make that “one does not know which account to distrust more”. Cruel and abusive cults do exist, but so do cruel and abusive governments.

The Twelve Tribes website gives their account of an earlier occasion when some children had been taken away from their parents by the German authorities in this link:

The parents of the children who were taken away permanently by the OLG Nurnberg are appealing the decision to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. There are a number of constitutional violations in the OLG rulings that must be heard by the honorable court. Here are some of them:

The court in its ruling admits that there is no evidence of abuse in the children. However, they reason that the mere beliefs of the parents are enough to justify taking away permanent custody.

In its reasoning the court takes the position that all spanking is abuse. The Jugendamt handbook says that all spanking is not abuse which supports what Parliament made clear in 2000 that the intent of the law was not to criminalize parents who spank

Ambitious police chiefs love operations like this. In 2008 David Friedman wrote a series of posts about the time when Texas police raided a ranch belonging to a group of fundamentalist Mormons and took large numbers of children into custody. Few of the dramatic initial claims of abuse were substantiated and the vast majority of the children were later returned to their parents, but only after many prevarications by the authorities that seemed motivated by a wish to deflect criticism of their heavy-handedness rather than out of any concern for the children. In “Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue”, Friedman wrote,

Which raises the general question: Would it be better if governments had no power to remove children from their parents? It is easy to imagine, probably to point out, particular cases where such removal is justified. But in order to defend giving government the power to do something, you must argue not only that it can sometimes do good but that, on net, it can be expected to do more good than harm. Judging by what we have seen in Texas over the past two months, that is a hard argument to make.

This leads to a second question: Are there alternative way of protecting children from abusive parents? One obvious answer is that even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children. In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave. Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.

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53 comments to Raised in the fashion of their tribe

  • Lee Moore

    It’s a weeny hobby horse of mine that part of the problem with the government is that it’s a monopoly (even local governments are monopolies locally.)
    To the extent that it is necessary for the state to step in if and when parents abuse their children (and I’m afraid I think, contra Friedman, that it is probably sometimes necessary) the problem of excessive and unnecessary stepping in is exacerbated by the monopoly. The local government is all powerful. Even when they have to go to court, the judge (invariably captured by the social worker ethos) has a monopoly too.

    We need some kind of system where even quite a modest level of dissent can block state action. So if say 10% of the electorate don’t think that educating your children solely in Welsh, or putting soap on their tongues to make them behave, or even – God forbid – smacking them from time to time is abusive enough to warrant the children being taken away, then they should be able to block it. But probably you wouldn’t get even 10% to support thumbscrews. (I use the word “probably” advisedly.)

    Translating 10% (or whatever figure) of the electorate into a workable system is of course a practical question that needs solving. You don’t want each family’s circumstances broadcast to the world and in any event you can’t have a referendum on each case. You could have some kind of special children’s court jury, elected by PR in each locality, or something. Anyway, the point is that handing all power to the local gauleiter, even if he’s a kindly one, makes him too powerful. He should only be able to act if the community as a whole objects so strongly to the parents’ treatment of their children that few dissenters can be found.

    There are other areas of government where the same sort of approach might be useful – where the government sometimes has to act, but we only want it to act in egregious cases.

  • Might be best to teach the children from an early age that this can happen and make them ‘un-adoptable’ due to complete non-cooperation, a sort of “name, rank and serial number” approach.

  • Ellen

    The problem is easy to see. This group is Christian, therefore what they are doing is evil. If they were Muslim, things would be different.

  • Dale Amon

    I agree with Perry. People should teach their children from a very young age to disrespect the State.

  • Roue le Jour

    I’ve had first hand experience and Perry is quite right. Social workers rely on authority to ‘take’ children, so teach your children passive resistance. Just sit down and refuse to go with them. It is not clear in any event that social workers have the authority to physically lay hands on children and drag them away, they certainly don’t like to do it when anyone is watching.

  • Myno

    “The children… do not know what football is.” That might be truly said on either side of the pond.

  • Larry Sheldon

    Waco, Texas redux.

  • Lee Moore

    As a practical rather than rhetorical matter, Perry’s advice is horrible and absolutely guaranteed to get your children confiscated. It would be adduced as proof positive that you were bringing your children up weirdly and anti-socially, and the policemen that the social workers could call upon would certainly be allowed to lay hands on your children to take them away. And if you had made them unadoptable, they would still be very much care-homeable, which is a lot worse.

    Unfortunately the best thing to do if you have children is to homeschool them and to try to keep off the radar, and if confronted with a social worker, to try to avoid conflict. If the social worker is stroppy, prepare to move to another district. Leave the clarion call to arms to the childless.

    On no account take your children to Germany which is even worse than the UK. Though Hitler lost his job seventy years ago, his ban on homeschooling remains in place.

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Lee, we don’t want practical advice! We want soaring rhetoric to which we can set schools afire, and destroy public buildings! Get with the program!

  • Roue le Jour

    Lee,
    Social workers have no more authority than teachers to physically manhandle children, i.e. none. The copper is there to restrain the parent[s].

  • Barry Sheridan

    ‘200 gendarmes.’ What were they expecting I wonder?

  • As a practical rather than rhetorical matter, Perry’s advice is horrible and absolutely guaranteed to get your children confiscated

    You do not know what you are talking about.

    So you seriously think that cooperation by the child will make the state more tractable and willing to return them to their parents? That is preposterous. In reality the state operates on the basis intimidated people do what they are told, so teaching children to be resolutely non-compliant raises the cost and vastly complicates the job of the people trying to abduct said children.

    Children are far from helpless, and if well drilled can refuse to be lead into saying things that will be used against them and their parents… but only if taught to deal with such a situation. Refusing to cooperate is a viable strategy as the alternative is leaving them unhardened and unprepared for the reality.

    I was raised from an early age to deal with certain aspects of the state by my folks, as was my partner (a bit different for her as the context was an anti-Communist dissident family, whereas mine was that of tax evaders when I was young) and believe me, “I will say nothing to you unless my parents are here” and refusing to be drawn into justifying that stance, is just teaching children how not be manipulated by adults into self incrimination.

  • Nicolas, screw you, there is nothing funny about it.

  • Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community

    It’s not that they were religious nutters, but the wrong type of religious nutters. Choose your nutty religion carefully, is what I say.

  • Jon

    OK – let’s be a bit realistic. These cases make the news because they are rare. Should the state allow people to inflict their wacko religious fetishes on their kids? I dunno – maybe – it depends on the extent of the religious wack-jobbery. But we live in a secularising country where that’s not that much of a problem. Should kids be taken away because their parents vote UKIP? No – that’s ridiculous.

    But there were about 68,000 kids in care last year. Most of them come from homes where drug abuse is rampant, or where parents are mentally ill and are unable to care for themselves, let alone their kids, or in the worst cases, where a combination of both and some kind of predatory adult is present who should not be allowed near kids for their own and the kids’ own good. Almost none of these cases are because parents held religious or political views which “the state” found unpleasant – so please, let’s keep this in proportion.

    I have adopted a child myself, and know quite a few other people including several close relatives who are adopted. I’ve met my child’s birth mother. I’ve sat with other adopters who have also met birth parents. None of the birth parents were capable of looking after themselves for various reasons which aren’t any fault of their own. Genuinely – not in some wishy- washy – no one has responsibility for anything sense.

    Depriving the state of the power to remove children from circumstances none of us find would deem fit will only increase the problem. The power to extract kids in cases of abuse is relatively recent. Where we can break the cycle of abuse going down generations, our society will become a happier one in which to be a child.

    Perry – I respect your desire to see your kids prepared for the day the gendarmes may come through the door. Given the likelihood of that happening is pretty infinitesimal, I respectfully suggest your kids don’t take time off their mandarin lessons to learn civil disobedience…

  • PeterT

    My view is that the state should not be allowed to intrude in family affairs and if some children perish then that is sad but no reason to roll out a police state. 99.9 percent of kids will be just fine.

  • Perry – I respect your desire to see your kids prepared for the day the gendarmes may come through the door. Given the likelihood of that happening is pretty infinitesimal, I respectfully suggest your kids don’t take time off their mandarin lessons to learn civil disobedience…

    Well if you live a perfectly legal compliant life, sure, but rather more people than you think do not. I was asked an ‘innocent’ question by the plod when I was a child and knew to just shrug my shoulders and act as if I had no idea what “currency smuggling” was (it was when there were capital controls in the UK and I had been used as a ‘mule’ as a baby to smuggle currency in my diaper, so I knew the score well before I was in my teens when the question got asked).

    So not so infinitesimally small a chance really. Likewise many years ago I had a friend in the USA who was a ‘recreational chemist’ and his eleven year old once told a police woman that the 5th Amendment also applies her & moreover she had not been read her Miranda Rights when she was separated from her parents and asked some casual questions.

    Likewise my partner grew up in Czechoslovakia, often being asked leading questions by teachers and other authority figures and knew how to deflect them from a very early age, as her parents were dissidents.

    So I would say that is a vastly better use of time than teaching a child Mandarin.

    I may seem like an alarmist crank to you, but you seem credulously trusting to me. And I have to agree with PeterT.

  • Perry, what you describe is quite different from what is described in Natalie’s post. If I were in your parents’ circumstances, I’d probably raised my child in the same way they did. But the people who are the subject of the post are not doing anything illegal. More importantly, in their case the children are the issue – namely, the way they are raised etc., while in your case you were not (rather, the illegal activities were). Which is why I am not sure your approach is best suited for them. Lee may well be right here, but I am more than willing to be convinced to the contrary.

  • Paul Marks

    They sound a bit like the Amish.

    Perhaps the modern state should attack them as well.

  • Paul Marks

    I was, of course, being sarcastic in the last bit.

    Child abuse is not about teaching your children a different language nor not having television and the internet.

    If there are real charges of child abuse (i.e. child rape and so on) then let these charges (and the evidence for them) be made public in an ordinary court of law – with the presumption of innocence and in public.

    No special courts or special powers.

  • Snorri Godhi

    From the David Friedman quote:

    even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children.

    Of course, but in the case the children are injured, then what? how can the state punish the parents without separating the children? should the children be put in jail with their parents?
    Also, homeschooling is fine, but what if the children aren’t learning anything? (Not much difference wrt state schools, perhaps.)
    And what about forced marriages? That might not have happened in the Mormon case, but it is a safe bet that they are going on in the UK. There is no violence involved, only the threat of violence, which does not leave physical evidence.

    For these reasons, it seems to me that the state must have some power to separate children from parents. The most important thing is that this power be strictly limited: very little discretion must be left to the responsible officers, and officers acting arbitrarily must be severely punished; which incidentally was not the case in Rotherham.

    In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave.

    There was a case a while ago of a Swiss (or British?) man whose Finnish wife took the children away with her to Finland without notice. Once in Finland she proceeded to drink herself to death, after which the Finnish courtes granted custody to her lesbian lover.
    I bring it up because it seems to show that Friedman’s proposal actuallt gives more power to the state: it is the state that decides what the children really want.

    Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.

    …as long as said adults contact the police immediately, i hope! (See Rotherham again.)

  • llamas

    Nobody is suggesting (I think) that the state should never have the power to remove children from their parents for any reason. Are they?

    What is being reacted to here is the normal and inevitable creep of state powers – from ‘taking children from horrible physical abusers and parents who are incapable or providing a basic level of physical care’ to ‘taking children from parents whose ideas about child rearing we don’t like much.’

    The FLDS case in Texas a few years back is a perfect CIP – a massive dragnet-type operation hauled off literally hundreds of FLDS children into the waiting arms of the ‘caring’ professions, ostensibly because of appalling abuse and child endangerment, but apparently more because the authorities don’t like the FLDS too much. Millions of person-hours of work created for the workers of a dozen state agencies, millions of dollars of taxpayer money spent, and I think I’m right to say that the number of convictions in that case for actual, objective abuse of children is – nil. It’s very hard not to draw the conclusion that operations like that, and the one described in the article in other places, are as much about generating work and budget for bloated, left-biased bureaucracies and agencies as they are about actually saving children from actual harm.

    And – as we saw in Rotherham, where exquisite cultural sensitivities on the part of the ‘caring’ professions left countless children helpless in the face of merciless actual abuse – since it seems that you can’t count on these agencies to prevent real abuse of children, but you can absolutely count on them to pursue meritless and politically-motivated cases to the ends of the earth – one has to ask whether it isn’t time to shut them all down and turn things back over to the criminal justice system.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Snorri Godhi

    it seems that you can’t count on these agencies to prevent real abuse of children, but you can absolutely count on them to pursue meritless and politically-motivated cases to the ends of the earth

    That nails it. I advocated strict limits on discretionary powers of the police and social workers (if any), and draconian punishment for officers acting arbitrarily; but i neglected to explain why. Well, that is why!
    I am quite aware, however, that such measures would not prevent “the normal and inevitable creep of state powers”… not unless the citizenry exerts due vigilance.

  • There was a case a while ago of a Swiss (or British?) man whose Finnish wife took the children away with her to Finland without notice.

    There are a few countries – Russia being one of them – where this is prevented by women (or men) needing a letter of approval from the other parent in order to take a kid out of the country.

  • Perry, what you describe is quite different from what is described in Natalie’s post. If I were in your parents’ circumstances, I’d probably raised my child in the same way they did. But the people who are the subject of the post are not doing anything illegal.

    Actually it is not at all different in substance, it is just different in form. It all comes down to not acting the way the state wants you to act and thus incurring the hammer of state power.

    The parents in the article alienated themselves from the state by their actions, as did the one I mentioned, they just did it differently. You say they “are not doing anything illegal”… really? I think when you come up against state power by being a social non conformist (such as following a religion outside the norm, or making your money via some consensual act the state disapproves of such as prostitution or drug dealing or smuggling your own money in or out of a country) the letter of the law matters rather less than what consequences are suffered from the actions of the state.

  • Perry, first of all, you quoted the wrong part of my comment, missing the crucial one, which is:

    More importantly, in their case the children are the issue – namely, the way they are raised etc., while in your case you were not (rather, the illegal activities were).

    IOW, in the case of your parents the state was after their money, and you were a mere accomplice – if not an innocent bystander – of whom they could take advantage. In the case of the people under discussion here though, the state is after the children themselves, not their parents’ money. Morality-wise it makes little difference, but in practice it may make all the difference in the world with regard to the optimal tactics that should be used by those children.

    Back to the legality issue, from my POV, as I think from yours, the legality or illegality of one’s actions do not matter – what matters is morality. But in practice, it does matter, as it changes the terms on which you are forced to deal with the state – which is a point similar to the one I tried to make above just now.

    the letter of the law matters rather less than what consequences are suffered from the actions of the state

    My point exactly, the consequences in question being suffered by one’s children, which one would rather like to minimize.

  • To put it more succinctly: we should teach our children one set of tactics for when the state is after their parents (and their property), and another set of tactics when the state is after the children themselves.

  • neal

    The state. To be avoided at all costs.
    Hard for most, being imbedded, like that ever works.
    I wish that more would actually do something, rather than think.

    That is mostly the part that gets no good press.
    What part of leave people alone that are not a threat and mind your business did not show up in the memo?

    One would almost think that evil has learned to breed, and make War.

  • but in practice it may make all the difference in the world with regard to the optimal tactics that should be used by those children.

    But my point is that teaching what Jon called “civil disobedience” is exactly what parents should be teaching their children if they are at risk, be it from being taken away because of the religious beliefs of their parents or the believe of their parents that the state is not entitled to their money.

    In both cases, the children can lose their parents if they say the wrong things. To use the slogan often used here (which was something my grandfather said to me) : the state is not your friend… contrary to what endless civil propaganda TV shows would have you believe (such as the endless stream of it created by Donald P. Bellisario), that is a vital lesson to be learned. Much like self defence, it is far better to learn it before you find yourself in a situation where it becomes an inescapable fact.

  • OnKayaks

    I speak from my professional experience. It is not aberrant behaviour or gross abuse that usually entails the removal of parental custody. A string of mildly inappropiate incidents in a setting of a contentious divorce might very well suffice. My advice is to be polite but if needed, confrontational; and to seek legal advice from the very moment a social worker steps in, not matter how casual the appearance.

    In Spain, the removal of custody is quite expeditious. I have seen cases that stem from bruises or bite marks caused in school which public doctors reported as suspicious; lack of cleanliness matched with absence of schooling at 5 years of age (it is only at 6 years that schooling is here mandatory), sleeping with a 9-year-old child who had recurrent nightmares after being for months in a care home, as it was deemed suggestive of pedophilia; being accussed of preposterous crimes from a former spouse; inability to restrain a youngster from fighting or minor misdemeanor. I still wait for a case base on simple obesity. The list is as endless as it is trivial and unfair.

    Once a child is taken into custody by the Social Services, the cards are very much stacked against parents, and the practice of the State is ruthless. The estranged parents are adviced to submit voluntarily to programs that should allow the Social Services to ascertain facts and assure the well-being of the child. The goals of these programs are drafted in such a subjective manner that any outcome rests on the whims and personal judgement of civil servants who by the way, abhor of what it is normal and decent in favour of political self-righteousness.

    Would you fear that the above might happen, the idea to tell the truth to your children, and make them understand that such a moment may come when the State might remove them from your company; and to advice them to be firm and strongly assert that they want to be with his mother or father, while refusing to cooperate with the Social Services, is a very sensible one. But at the same time, refuse to speak ever with a social worker unless under counsel, look for a good solicitor, and a expert witness in children psychologist that have good records in winning this sort of cases. Then, take the matter to Court, the sooner, the better. Magistrates have been, in my experience, far more sympathetic than social workers. On the other hand, Social Services are not very apt in following their own regulations, and this can be played againts them.
    It may be very well the same in the UK.

  • Fraser Orr

    To me the problem is not that the kids are taken away from the parents, as @Jon above pointed out there really are good reasons for children to be separated from their parents. The problem rather is the capriciousness of the whole process. It is the fact that someone with nothing more to do than fuck with other people’s lives or the fact that your aren’t in compliance with some government flunkie is enough to loose your kids is the problem.

    And once the kids are separated from their parents it is a nightmare to get them back, irrespective of how unjustified the charge. And needless to say, the malefactor who caused the separation is never held accountable for their mendacity, irrespective of the terrible toll it may take on the kid or parent.

    This is particularly horrendous when the only way in which the parents can get their kids back is by genuflecting to the state, making false confessions, attending ridiculous seminars, agreeing to outrageously intrusive monitoring. And were that the worst of it, it would be bad enough, but the worst part is that the state is a TERRRIBLE parent. Kids are at risk of abuse or neglect, and can be subjected to the most dreadful psychological manipulations, and especially so if the parents dare to take a stand against the state.

    For the record I have to say that there really are many great and decent people who foster kids and help them out in these difficult circumstances.

  • Lee Moore

    The problem rather is the capriciousness of the whole process

    On the nail. Which is why I suggested some kind of special jury up top. I don’t think the state would be able to get its current level of capriciousness in these matters past a jury (as opposed to a judge) on a regular basis. And knowing that, they’d probably stop trying.

  • But my point is that teaching what Jon called “civil disobedience” is exactly what parents should be teaching their children

    I agree, but my point is that civil disobedience can take several different forms, and that different situations would require different tactics. A tactic that would encourage the agents of the state to remove the child from his or her home by giving them even more legal grounds for doing so than they originally had, may simply prove counterproductive.

    Another point to consider is that even though these religious or other sects should have every right to raise their children as they see fit, and even though I am very far from seeing the absence of access to TV or even to the internet as abuse, it seems to me that such isolation from the outside world may in fact leave their children more vulnerable or at least less capable of effective resistance when confronted by the agents of the state. Which of course is terribly unfair to these people and their children, but there you go.

  • OnKayaks

    A tactic that would encourage the agents of the state to remove the child from his or her home by giving them even more legal grounds for doing so than they originally had, may simply prove counterproductive.

    Virtually anything might be regarded by the Social Services as legal grounds for doing what they intend to do. A child that blankly refuses to make any statement is legally neutral, very understandable, and defense-friendly.

  • Veryretired

    I don’t have any sweeping rules or solutions to offer for this very real problem, or, actually, problems, as there are really two interwoven issues here—protecting vulnerable people from real abuse, esp children, and preventing the agents of the state from abusing that responsibility for political or religious reasons.

    I will simply tell this story:

    Quite a few years ago, when our children were younger than school age, SWMBO put her career plans on hold and operated a family day care center in our home. We had a big, old Victorian monstrosity then, and there was plenty of room. She normally had about six kids, plus ours, aged from several months to kindergarten.

    I will say, as many of her client/parents did, that she had the best day care they had ever found. Some of the parents and children are still our friends, and we exchange holiday greetings and Facebook pictures, etc.,on a regular basis.

    One of our neighbors had a large family, and as their kids grew up and left for school or military service, they began using their large home for foster children, and also took in children referred from the local social service agency for various reasons.

    One time, they called my wife and asked if a boy about 3or4 could come to our house for a few days, as he had been placed with them along with an older brother when their mother had been placed in drug treatment. There was no one at their house for the little one to play with, while there were others at our place of the same age.

    He spent about two weeks with us during the day. When I got home from work the first evening, my wife was clearly distracted, and after ours were in bed, she told me why.

    The little boy was very sweet and friendly, but it was clear he was totally overwhelmed by being in a house so filled with toys and games and books. He became almost frantic racing from one toy to the next, trying to do several things at once, and was completely at a loss trying to play with puzzles or during story time. He didn’t know how to listen to a story being read, had never played with most of the common toys, and asked endlessly about what things were or how they were used.

    He didn’t know any colors or numbers, and couldn’t follow some simple directions because they seemed so unfamiliar. At lunch, he was stunned at the variety of food choices, and after gobbling down his hot dog, was amazed to be asked if he wanted another. During quiet time, he looked at book after book, and never fell asleep.

    My wife talked to the foster mom, and, from what they could gather from the older brother, neither had ever had much of anything like a normal home life, and came with little clothing or personal possessions.

    Well, it didn’t take long before the two moms had “adopted” these two boys as special projects, and they were off to the local discount store for clothes, shoes, and some toys that would be for them specially, not to share with everyone else. As an early Christmas present, we got both boys new winter coats, as theirs were totally inadequate.

    My wife has an album from those years, page after page of kids playing, individual photos, with parents, etc. One page has only one picture—it shows 2 young boys sleeping in a bed with fluffy winter coats on. As we were told, when they opened the packages and put on the coats, they were so excited they refused to take them off, and wore them to bed that night, and all the next day.

    I don’t know what happened later, when their mom got out of treatment, and they were reunited. I hope they were ok, but we will never really know. But it’s nice to think we made things a little better for two little boys who seemed to have had a rough time. I hope so, anyway.

  • Nicholas (Self-Sovereignty) Gray

    Very few cases are ever easy. Here in Australia we have the separated/stolen children debate, where half-caste children were separated from their black mothers and raised by foster-parents in the white community, in the hope that they could become useful contributers to mainstream culture. That sounds bad, but similar laws were, and still are, used to separate white babies from drunken white mothers, with the babies being fostered by other white people.
    So should parents always be left alone with children, no matter what they are doing to them? When do you intervene?

  • jamess

    When the state:
    a) Doesn’t abuse the children in their care
    b) Doesn’t take children who shouldn’t be removed from their parents
    c) Stops interfering in agreed, private adoptions/foster care solutions (so that it becomes easy to adopt etc)
    d) punishes severely those who work for them who fail to keep points a-c above (for some failure is, sadly, inevitable)
    THEN we could have a debate on when it’s right for the state to forcibly remove children. Until then ANYONE who forcibly removes children from their parents ought to face kidnapping charges (I might possibly add that acquittal from kidnapping charges should be possible if they can convince a jury that there was, beyond all reasonable doubt, good grounds to see the child removed from their parents.)

  • Roue le Jour

    One thing that I think goes unremarked is the role of the magistrate. I imagine the purpose of having to apply for a place of safety order is to act as a check or balance, i.e. “No, I doubt this child is being abused by Ba’al and his demon horde. Try again.” In practice the magistrate is in an impossible position. Who is he to disagree with the experts? And if he refuses and the child dies, whose fault is that?

    In my view snatching children should go through the usual channels, i.e. drag the parent into court, accuse them to their face, give them the opportunity to mount a defense.

  • OnKayaks

    In practice the magistrate is in an impossible position. Who is he to disagree with the experts?

    The State’s experts are often naked.

  • What jamess said. And even when his/her a, b, c and d are in existence and are being observed in practice, even then the forceful removal of children from their families should only happen on the grounds of clear physical abuse, and such abuse should be proved in the open court just like any other case of physical violence, as Ed suggested. All the other instances of mistreatment, emotional abuse and neglect of children can and should be dealt by means of civil society, such as described by VR above. I also agree with David Friedman’s suggestion as quoted by Natalie, that children should be given much greater say in such matters

  • OnKayaks:

    A child that blankly refuses to make any statement is legally neutral, very understandable, and defense-friendly.

    Possibly, in most cases, but not in the case described in the original post: there, the parents are being accused of isolating their children from the rest of the world, thus making them “unsociable” etc. A child who does not answer questions and doesn’t even bother with any pretense of basic cooperation would only further prove to the authorities their original premise. Thing is, I see no practical alternative I could suggest to these parents, where they could teach these kids to fool the agents into thinking that they are “normal”. So you and Perry may be right after all.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Alisa
    > should only happen on the grounds of clear physical abuse

    Just abuse? What about neglect? If a parent is so doped up on drugs that she forgets to feed the kids is that an acceptable reason to remove the kids? What about (to use a Law and Order episode as an example) the Mom is a porn actress and brings her kids on set (but doesn’t get them involved)? Or how about the parents don’t have a home, so drag the kids around with them to sleep under a bridge, or in a car? Maybe take a step up, the parents provide them reasonable nutrition and a home, but don’t allow them to be educated, even to the point of not learning to read or write by the time they are teenagers, and don’t allow them interaction outside of the home?

    (BTW a curiosity of the contradictory thinking of the left — a western family who doesn’t provide a state education to their children and allow them to run feral, or educate them in a religious alien tradition — these people, according to the leftie society infrastructure, need to have their parental rights extinguished. However, some tribe up the amazon, who provide much less for their children, these people need to be celebrated and protected — and for sure we shouldn’t be interfering with their lives…)

    To me the solution is simply something like a children’s bill of rights. When a parent takes a child, due to the child’s inexperience and immaturity, that child is unable to take up the full range or rights they have, and so a tacit agreement is struck, the child’s rights are taken over by the parent and in exchange the parent makes a commitment to ensure the safety and welfare of that child. If they fail in the latter they have no right to retain the former. Much as when a person becomes incapacitated such as by mental disease, a responsible party takes over their rights in exchange for the expectation that they will act in that person’s best interest, and should the fail to do so, they loose the right to act for that person.

    And of course should that mental incapacity be removed, which in the case of children means they grow up, they should certainly be able to sue to get their rights back, even if before some arbitrarily chosen age of majority.

  • Fraser, I stand by my position and have nothing to add, other than explanation – for which unfortunately I don’t have the time at the moment. I will just repeat that all the situations you described can be handled through the institutions of civil society, without the involvement of government.

  • Lee Moore

    1. Fraser – I agree about “neglect” but in framing any law, the concept would need to be defined much more precisely, or else letting your children go and play in the park unsupervised will be swept in. Since it is in practice hard to write laws covering all the sorts of things that parents and children might do, with adequate precision, I think – as mentioned before – the solution lies in making it impossible for the authorities to deprive parents of custody, unless the alleged abuse or neglect is unacceptable not merely to the majority of the community, but the vast majority of the community.

    2. Alisa – I don’t understand how some of Fraser’s situations could always be dealt with without government. Certainly bad parents may be prevailed upon by help and persuasion. But if these efforts are unsuccessful, and, to take Fraser’s first example, the mother fails to feed her children and refuses to let anyone into her hovel to offer her children food, how is civil society to solve the problem without using the government ? Private use of force ?

  • Patrick Crozier

    @Veryretired. That’s a very sweet story. Thanks for putting it up.

  • Lee, in discussions of this kind it should always be kept in mind that some situations have no solutions – at least not perfect ones, and not such that the solution is worse than the problem it was meant to solve. To be more blunt, there always will be children abused and/or neglected, either by their parents or by the institution attempting or claiming to solve these problems. IOW, life is a balancing act between bad and worse.

    That said, if you or Fraser give me one specific scenario that in your mind must call for government intervention, I’ll try and see whether I agree, or whether there could be a no-government solution that may be the least-bad of all options.

  • Just to clarify: I do not mean to ignore the scenarios already given by Fraser, but I suggest reviewing them with the ‘no perfect solution is possible, only the least-bad one’ principle in mind.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Alisa
    I agree that the least intervention of the government possible is the best way to go. However, the government are the people charged with the situation where someone’s rights (such as that of a child) are transferred to someone else (such as a parent) with the aforementioned associated obligations. So certainly one thing the government can do is to allow the extinguishing one one parent’s rights and their transfer to another willing party via adoption.

    I am parent of an adopted child, and although I am far from a perfect parent, her situation is vastly improved because of that transfer — something that required a lot (A LOT) of interaction with the government.

    One of the challenges though is adoption is such an insanely difficult process. It is done with the premise that it is better to let a lot of children suffer in dreadful situations than risk the government making one bad placement. And so the standards and process involved to prevent that bad placement is massively bureaucratic and intrusive.

    That along with fostering (and as I said before there are a lot of very good people who do a lot to transform the lives of many broken and wounded kids.)

    Given that children’s rights are being subjugated to new parents, it seems necessary to have the government involved except in the most anarchist of societies. But the touch should be minimum, and the ridiculous standards set at a more reasonable level. With the expectation that it is better to make a few bad placements than to leave thousands of children in a family situation that you would not wish on your worst enemy.

  • Fraser, two main points:

    First, I do not accept the premise where children should have rights – instead, my premise is that parents have very limited rights over their children (in some ways similar to property, but very limited, as children obviously cannot be treated like any other property). Children can only have rights if they are capable of bearing responsibilities that necessarily come together with rights, which would effectively make them adults. Yes, I do very well realize that the big question is ‘At what age?’, but we may discuss it later, as want to keep this comment from becoming an essay…

    The other point:

    One of the challenges though is adoption is such an insanely difficult process. It is done with the premise that it is better to let a lot of children suffer in dreadful situations than risk the government making one bad placement.

    You and I do not know each other, but from your comments here over time, you sound like a person whose adopted child must be very lucky indeed. But I assure you that I am well familiar with the other side of that issue, and so I dispute your premise as the default situation, notwithstanding the very real bureaucratic intrusions. I also dispute their real purpose (as opposed to declared one).

    This is a very difficult and touchy issue, and I am trying to analyze it as dispassionately as I can, while hopefully not causing too much offense to anyone.

  • Something I must add to my second point above: it depends on age. To put it very briefly, from what I know: The System favors potential adoptive parents over biological families when it comes to babies, especially newborns. When it comes to older kids, The System does not favor families at all – neither biological, nor potential adoptive parents. Instead, it favors placement with institutions and fostering, one possible reason being that the demand for adoption of older children is drastically lower than the demand for babies, especially newborns.

    The baby-adoption industry is just that: an industry. It is big, and there is a lot of money involved. With government agencies acting as middle men… well, you get the picture.

  • Julie near Chicago

    When persons undertake to become parents or guardians, this can be handled as a contractual matter. If there is physical abuse, that clearly constitutes a crime against the person of the child — given a rational and firm definition of “physical abuse,” of course.

    If the child is neglected, again according to a definition of “neglect” which is both serious* and firm, then the parents or guardians are in breach of contract.

    This despite the fact that GIVEN agreement on the stage at which the fertilized egg is “human,” the mother may not abort it with the ONE exception that her own life as a functional adult human is not at serious risk. My arguments on that are somewhere in the Archives, on the LibertarianAlliance.co.uk (I think it was) site, and probably on countingcats.com as well.

    So if the crimes of assault or battery, and the civil tort (I think it is — you lawyers can correct me if I’m wrong) of neglect, can be handled privately, then Alisa is right.

    As for “emotional abuse,” it surely exists, but I’m completely unable to come up with a serious definition of it. Especially since what is downright traumatic to one kid is positively welcomed by another … for example, our friend Plum, whose offspring include Bertie Wooster among others, has said he was sent off to boarding school at age nine (was it 9? or earlier?) and he had a wow of a time and felt sorry for kids who grew up in families quartered in the old pile.

    . . .

    *A charge of “Neglect” requires a serious definition. Just one of 80 zillion cases: A mom had the nerve to allow a situation to occur wherein her 11-year-old son, coming home to find himself without a key to the house in her absence, had to play unchaperoned in the back yard for an hour and a half, and Dolores Umbrage, the Narc Next Door, got Child Protective Services on the case toot sweet.

    I particularly enjoy this quote from the mother:

    [The authorities claimed that … my son] had no bathroom, but the responding officer found our yard good enough to relieve himself in while our son sat in a police car alone. In his own yard, in a state, Florida, that has no minimum age for children to be alone.

    This is truly a horrible story. The parents are facing criminal charges, as well as undergoing draconian punishments and “re-education,” the boys’ are to go for theory and the younger one to spend all day away from home in the summer….

    If your stomach is strong enough, go read:

    http://godfatherpolitics.com/23099/boy-plays-alone-in-backyard-for-hour-and-a-half-parents-charged-with-felony-neglect/

    By the way, the Godfather article refers us to a court document in reason.com’s writeup of the story, which is at

    http://reason.com/blog/2015/06/12/kidnapped-by-the-state-trouble-not-over.

    But the first story was published four days after reason.com’s, and includes some of what the courts ordered the parents and children to do, as of the date of writing (published June 18).

  • Julie near Chicago

    My gosh! Moderated despite having only TWO links? The Smite-Bot must be having a particularly slow day…. I would love to know what triggered it.

    Also, “the boys are supposed to go for therapy.” Certainly not “the boys’ are supposed to go for theory.” As far as I know, if they go for theory (as I did) it’s off their own bat.