Who Owns Our Children – Parents or the State?

In this piece I look at the issue surrounding state-mandated parental responsibility and the responsibility of society concerning children.

Frequent discussions on this board and others are concerned with the issues surrounding the provision of benefits to children of indigent and working poor families. Our current system allows, for those who qualify, to receive benefits in order to provide for their children who are under the age of 18 years. This includes Food Stamps, healthcare, daycare, school lunches, cash stipends and school choice vouchers; just to mention a few. Providing benefits falls directly on the shoulders of the taxpayer; and, the social services entitlement programs takes a big chunk of both the state and federal budgets.

Whether politically conservative or liberal, there is a strong societal value and commitment to the welfare and wellbeing of the nation’s children. So important is this value, that it has become the basis for a large number of policies, at all levels of government, to assure the future of our nation. Most developed nations share this value and commitment, some more and some less, but all understand the value to the future.

I could go into a long discussion how this value and commitment evolved out of our basic survival needs, but that is not really the focus of this piece. What is important is that society has placed a standard of legislated expectations on the members of society with regards to children and it, the government, is willing to implement and support those expectations, even with force if necessary.

The status of children and how we perceive them has changed over time and governmental policy reflects those changes. It wasn’t too long ago, maybe a little over a century, that children were looked upon as primarily economic production units to help sustain the welfare and health of the family. In many developing societies they are still viewed in this manner. A good example of this is the American family farm of a century ago where large families were desired to provide labor to work the farm.

In addition to their economic benefit; society mostly viewed children as chattel, the property of their parents, primarily the father. Under this system, it was not uncommon for children to be abused (by today’s standards), neglected, indentured or worse. Children had no rights under the law and parents were able to do just about anything in regards to their offspring without interference from the law or society. However, toward the end of the 19th century this view of children began to change.

As a side note: I find it interesting that the ASPCA was created and protected animals long before any legislation was passed for the protection of children.

Although the murder of children has always been pretty well prohibited, little else was regulated, including physical and emotional discipline. However, beginning late in the 19th century more and more parental rights were modified to meet the changing views that society was adopting concerning the welfare of children and the needs of society. This is especially evident in times of economic distress; children were always the first to be negatively affected with changes in the economy and this remains the case even today. Prior to the change of view of children; children were used in the woolen and cotton mills of New England, the coal mines of Appalachia, and any other area where unskilled labor was required that didn’t require brute strength or size.

As the late 19th century Progressive Movement gained momentum, the plight of children soon became the centerpiece of national attention.  Initially, it was focused on child labor and universal education; but as the 20th century unfolded more and more attention was given to the nature and role of children. The progressive legislation of the 1930s finally coalesced into our current system and view of child welfare.

There had been, beginning in Elizabethan England, the debate over the “deserving poor” verses the “undeserving poor."  By the “Great Depression” it was generally recognized that the deserving poor was largely limited to widows and orphans.  With the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 making widows and orphans eligible for government provided benefits; alleviated the plight of widows and orphans. However, children in poverty due to other reasons, continued to be an issue of social concern.

Efforts to solve the problem of children in poverty became focused on providing not for the family directly, but for the children themselves. Legislation through the 1970s was designed and implemented to primarily break the poverty cycle and move impoverished children into the working and middle classes, while maintaining the nuclear family unit. The assumption was that it was to the benefit of children to remain in their family of birth rather than ship them off to industrial type warehouses, called orphanages or work farms and work houses.  The AFDC system worked on the premise that the child was best served by a stay at home mother until the child was enrolled into a full day school. The system adopted the premise; that the family was eligible for full AFDC benefits until the child achieved the age of six years.

A contrary social economic movement was occurring parallel to the child welfare movement. The entry of women into the full time workforce began to change the assumptions concerning the socially accepted premise of the value of stay at home moms and its impact on children.

During the Carter administration a change was made to the AFDC eligibility requirements. The policy changed the makeup of the family in poverty by requiring any adult, primarily the father, in the household, other than the mother or other primary care parent, to be gainfully employed. By the father working, often for minimum wage or in an unstable employment market, the loss of benefits could not be made up by the employment alone. If the employment able unemployed adult remained in the household, the family would lose all government benefit, thus putting all the children in the family at risk. The solution was for the male parent to move out of the household. The change in policy contributed to an adaptation by the family, whereas the family in poverty became a single parent, woman headed matriarchal unit. Hence, giving birth to the stereotypical “welfare queen”.  

The conservatives of the Reagan era began using the plight of the AFDC families and perceived notion that there weren’t any legitimate reasons for women with children to be on assistance. This sentiment was further reinforced by the attitudes concerning women working outside of the home instead of being a stay at home parent. By the mid 1990s, AFDC as we know it had ended and work and term requirements were added to the welfare recipients. As we approach two decades since the change, it has yet proven to result in the goals desired. If anything it has proven to create many more problems than it solved. But, what does this have to do with children?

As the Progressive Movement forged into the 20th century, society took more and more control of how children were raised and the expectations of parental roles. Much of the rationale for the changes were based on discovers found in the emerging social sciences of psychology and sociology. Another important influence was education and learning theory. Based on the new information, government bodies began passing new legislation putting limits on parental control and demands of proper care and treatment of children. This was supported by both conservatives and liberals with the common denominator being the welfare of children, which would lead to a better society.

Looking at the relationship between society, parents and children; it doesn’t take long to discover that parents have been reassigned to the role as caretakers of their children, with society becoming the ultimate super parent. It is no more apparent than children of divorce, children found to have been abused or neglected, and those receiving government benefits. The parents of these children have been mandated by the government in how they care for their children. Quite simply, children have become direct wards of the state, with society as the direct guarantor of children’s welfare. As long as a parent is able to provide for their children and meet societal expectations, the government pretty much stays out of the relationship between parent and child. However, step outside of the societal expectations, a parent can run the risk of losing parental rights as well as their children.

Now we have come to the dilemma of how do you take care of children without taking care of the caregiver too. This is where there arises a major difference between the political right and the political left. The political right wants to support the children without supporting the caregiver. The political left maintains that you can’t provide for the children without also providing for the caretaker/parent. So far the political right hasn’t come up with anything to satisfy both demands.

If we as a society wish to assure the quality of life of our children and maintain resources to achieve proper growth and development, then we must accept the fact that we will have to support the caretaker also.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 12:25 AM
@Randy1949...I would like to see Alfred dancing on the graves since he doesn't dance.
Team Christine August 15, 2012 at 12:31 AM
This is INSANITY! Study the MagnaCarta. Look up Eugenics. This IS ALL PLANNED BY YOUR GOVERNMENT YOU BLINDLY FOLLOW. THEY ARE PRESENTLY STRIPPING MORE & MORE GOOD~GREAT PARENTS OF THEIR CHILDREN. THEIR FLESH & BLOOD, REGARDLESS OF HAVING SO CALLED HELP OR NONE. ONLY 11 Senators.stand up for PARENTS RIGHTS TO RAISE THEIR OFFSPRING. YES, they dismantle FAMILIES for PROFIT. Per THEIR, cps, stats,FOR EVERY ONE CHILD~27workers make THEIR LIVING OFF THIS CHILD! Paid bonuses. 1st time cash payments in THEIR pockets. $4~6K for a regular child. $10~12K for a Special needs child...per THEIR records. 1 on 5 ARE ILLEGALLY REMOVED FROM GOOD HOMES WITH NO PROOF OF WRONG DOING. THEN, that FAMILY Goes into DEBT in the vicious den they have veen dragged into. Once AGAIN, THEIR STATS, PLUS MANY,MANY FAMILIES TO TESTIFY ItTO THIS CORRUPTION. READthe Magna Carta, so Many other writings of Our ForeFathers. It's ALL CONTROL & EUGENIC.S
Team Christine August 15, 2012 at 12:42 AM
By the gov. There's Alot of talk of 'welfare'. Start with the workers, judges & more getting Rich off your flesh & blood. I know what comments will ensue, but, again, I can give you Doc, Attns., teachers & well respected individuals targeted & lost their children with NOTHING MORE THAN FALSE STATEMENTS, GOSSIP, HEARSAY & other dispicable behaviors driven for whatever gain. TIME TO TAKE OUR CHILDREN BACK. They are presently trying to take away parental rights of those with disabled children. REALLY?!!!! & NOT ALL KIDS ARE FROM DRUG GIES, DRUNKS TNAT LAND HERE. People that never drank/other can find this in their future. & for tbat matter, MOST AMERICANS ARE ONE CHECK AWAY FROM BEING HOMELESS.BUSTING THEIR BUTTS...FOR WHAT? Crooked banks/gov? 18.5 HOMELESS, 38.5 HOMES EMPTY. Gov HELPS?!!! Hahaha. Welfare, that's the fat cats living off YOU. & you don't matter in the longrun to them, their Vaca Paid by You or anything else that plights YOU.
Team Christine August 15, 2012 at 12:50 AM
Google AFRA, lawlessamerica with Bill Windsor...you WILL be sickened & HOPEFULLY Awake to the evils. Google Holly Greig, downs girl passed ariund by Judges, other officials. EDUCATE YOURSELVES. OUR CHILDREN ARE NOW A HUGE COMMODITY. UNDER THE GUISE TO PROTECT US. WE NEED TO BE PROTECTED FRIM OURSELVES?! Perhaps,some. NOT myself or MY FAMILY. PLEASE, GOD, LET FREEDOM & COMMON SENSE PREVAIL!!!
Luke August 15, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Lyle, Regarding your last post, you say: "" If we value life.., then it shouldn't be a matter of money to afford such care."": My purpose in writing in this thread has been to show that the Progressive Movement is not in any way the morally superior movement that you made it out to be. It has enslaved many people to the government and made many of them less of what they would have been otherwise. In addition, the Movement does not value life; rather, it values a quality of life, because that is what it promises its voters. The fact that you admit that there is an argument for killing children months after they are born makes my point. The conservative movement values the life of the individual first, whereas the Progressive Movement values the quality of life for the species first, and caters to the less valuable life of the individual so as to expand the voter base.
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 02:06 AM
@Team Christine....You've gone completely off the rails. Dismantling families for profit is an insane statement. Milwaukee County receives over 50,000 referrals a year. Of that number only 10K require further investigation and 2,500 children are detained for abuse or neglect. When a child is detained, they always attempt to place the child with a responsible family member first. If none are available, then the child is placed with a qualified foster care family. The mission no matter the circumstance is to make every effort to reunite the child with the family. By ranting about child welfare professionals you are doing a great disservice to people that end up having to do a dangerous thankless job. I don't get what the Magna Carta or Eugenics have anything to do with the issue in question. You are not very clear in the connections.
Greg August 15, 2012 at 02:33 AM
By ranting about the homeless you are doing a great disservice to people that end up having to do a dangerous thankless job.
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 02:48 AM
@Luke...You're are being extremely cynical in claiming that the progressive movement is only attempting to keep people dependent in order to use them to gain power. What the progressive movement is all about is creating equal opportunities for everyone, no matter SES. The War on Poverty was all about removing obstacles that were holding people back from upward social mobility. True equal opportunity is the goal. There has to be a balance between the sovereignty of the individual and sovereignty of the community. You can't have one without the other. The individual can only flourish when there is a caring and stable community. While we are addressing community, I am curious how your family has become so diverse, it sounds like a fascinating story.
skinnyDUDE August 15, 2012 at 03:03 AM
We need to quit creating victims. Criminals are criminals . Child abuse is a crime . But the Resources wasted in the name of children is embarrassing. Not that the intention isnt good but the results have been awful. The cycle of good intentions has done more to destroy the family unit and stable homes than it ever did to help it .Its not always about having more resources to throw down a rat hole. The status quo sucks so lets not just feed the beast . Lets change the results by changing the incentives to promote success instead of failure.
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 03:15 AM
@skinnyDUDE...Change what incentives? I'm interested in your plan.
Luke August 15, 2012 at 03:23 AM
Lyle, If I said that the Movement is ONLY interested in keeping people dependent, then I was wrong to do so. My position is that it IS interested in that to some degree, simply as a matter of pragmatism. I've touched on how that works, to some degree, an I will do so some more at a later time. My family moved to Wisconsin from Missouri because all of our family is here. Also, my mom didn't want her kids to spend the last half of their childhood in a rural area, so we moved here to get more educational opportunities. My dad had struck it rich in banking and realestate and wanted to something to help the poor, which was something that he had always been active in. When we moved to Wisconsin, my parents got involved in helping refugees from Laos. Families of refugees lived in our house from the time I was 13 until long after I went to college. Then my parents left for SE Asian to help the poor, which is where they now live.. My wife's parents were Ukrainian Germans who eventually left due to WWII and fled to Germany and then to the US. My wife learned English when she went to public school at the age of 6. My wife became my first and last girlfriend at the age of 13. Because my brothers and sisters were around Hmong people (from Laos) around the time they grew up, my brother and both of my sisters married Hmong spouses. Some cousins met their spouses (1 hispanic, 1 Nigerian, 1 Jamaican) when at school out east. The rest of my relatives are white.
Greg August 15, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Holy melting pot Batman.
skinnyDUDE August 15, 2012 at 04:03 AM
Altering incentives is not to hard to figure out. People stay on welfare cause they are acting in theyre own self interests. Maximum benefit with minimal effort. It builds on itself to become not only a way of life but an expectation of what people feel entitled too without any effort. There are many approaches to change the status quo . But it requires that the people receiving benefits doing something more than holding there hand out. Before Id get into specifics I would submit a over view from economist Thomas Sowell. He is certainly more in tune with my view of the current failed status that we continue to feed. In fact, Obama has encouraged welfare expansion. Hence , to feed failure only leads to bigger failure. http://www.unionleader.com/article/20110525/OPINION02/705259997/
jbw August 15, 2012 at 04:16 AM
What incentives? I'll bite. How about the many subtle and not so subtle ways our government rewards people for remaining dependent and punishes them for success? I lost count years ago of the number of people with cases in which their poverty is greater if they take up employment than if they remain unemployed, due to the poor design of various government programs designed to help them. That's certainly a terrible way to incentivize someone to be a productive citizen. On the other hand, if you do manage to find a way to make a lot of money one year, our tax system practically destroys you - leaving you little to no chance of working your way up in life. Speaking from personal experience, my after-tax earnings per hour worked are much higher if I make a point of working less to avoid the high-end of government taxation. I made the mistake of burning myself out working very hard for a few years only to see my hopes of financial security dashed by overwhelming taxes. Years of study in finance have taught me there are ways around much of that taxation, but only if you are wealthy, not if you are trying to work your way up. Again, the incentive is quite strong to avoid work and effort, promoting failure instead of success. I guess I'd have to suggest carefully revising government assistance programs to avoid perverse disincentives. And maybe adjust taxes to not hit the people in the middle quite so hard when trying to work their way up.
Luke August 15, 2012 at 11:30 AM
I forgot to mention that my nephew, who is half Hmong, will be marrying a young woman who is half Puerto Rican next June.
Team Christine August 15, 2012 at 01:06 PM
With all due respect, you name ONE COUNTY. Ha Ha, I'll post this link to the millions of Families destroyed. Did you investigate ANYTHING? Pull up the gov yearly stats. & Luke IS CORRECT. The gov Is creating a subservient society. Magna Carta describes the dissemination of Families through Several practices, READ IT. I'll find the exact area for you. Public schools, media, other. Written 1948, I believe. Again, let's go back to MANY WISE MEN~those Crazy Cats who developed the Constitutional Bill of Rights...once again, the RIGHT TO BE A PARENT. THE UNITED NATIONS IS, HAS BEEN CREATING A 'treaty' or Bill that will be Supreme Law of the land stripping ALL RIGHTS & DECISIONS YOU CHOOSE FOR YOUR FLESH & BLOOD. Schools, EVERY ASPECT.
Team Christine August 15, 2012 at 01:10 PM
Furthermore, another Bill that makes ALL CHOICES for Parents with, or should I call it a Disability 'Act' that makes every DICTATATION TO THEM. Apparently, they don't need to be guaranteed the same Rights as everyone else percieves they have.
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 04:09 PM
@Team Christine....I am the first one to admit that there are huge issues that need to be addressed and resolved in Child Welfare. This is not an isolated issue but encompasses all states, DC and the tribal areas. However, anecdotal testimony does not support the kind of changes you are advocating and the rants by Leonard Henderson are for self interest only. There is a general lack of public awareness of the problems facing Child Welfare. The entire system is terribly underfunded and given back burner status by state legislators. The focus on Child Welfare should be on family preservation and that is the weakest area of the entire system. It is clearly time that if we are to protect both children and families that we must properly fund them and create a system that heals the families. From my own experience as a psychotherapist dealing with families that dysfunctional families pass on that dysfunction from one generation to another. Breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect must be focused on the family if at all possible.
joe perez August 15, 2012 at 04:16 PM
How much salary and benefits does your wife draw from the social welfare system?
skinnyDUDE August 15, 2012 at 05:16 PM
@Lyle ....(per your request) Altering incentives is not to hard to figure out. People stay on welfare cause they are acting in theyre own self interests. Maximum benefit with minimal effort. It builds on itself to become not only a way of life but an expectation of what people feel entitled too without any effort. There are many approaches to change the status quo . But it requires that the people receiving benefits doing something more than holding there hand out. Before Id get into specifics I would submit a over view from economist Thomas Sowell. He is certainly more in tune with my view of the current failed status that we continue to feed. In fact, Obama has encouraged welfare expansion. Hence , to feed failure only leads to bigger failure. http://www.unionleader.com/article/20110525/OPINION02/705259997/
Randy1949 August 15, 2012 at 05:55 PM
@joe perez -- How much salary and benefits does any public servant draw for their work? Mrs. Ruble helps kids who need help. Do you honestly have a problem with that?
Randy1949 August 15, 2012 at 06:02 PM
@jbw -- it isn't so much the government rewarding dependency as it is the capitalist economic system punishing those who try to work but find that salary and benefits don't even equal their cost of living. The answer isn't to reduce benefits to make poor people's lives even more miserable. The best way to do it was the so-called welfare reform of the 90s -- housing subsidies, food stamps, child care subsidies, BadgerCare, the earned income credit. All of those actually rewarded the person who went out and worked a job, even if it paid very little. But now, of course, these are being attacked as expensive entitlements. You agree it's a good example for children to have a working parent, right?
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 07:44 PM
@skinnyDUDE...I am familiar with Sowell and his economic philosophy which was derived while he was a government worker in the D.C. area when he was early in his career. There are a few things I agree with him about, but there is much more that I disagree. His ideas of providing incentives really don't directly relate to the care of children. Our tax policy is so upside down that for those seeking upward mobility there is a clear hole in the system. This hole begins where a family or individual no longer qualifies for benefits and ends when they begin making enough to be self sufficient without assistance. This level is called either a living wage (for an individual) or a family wage (for a family of four). Both are dependent on the local cost of living. As you well know, prevailing wages are dependent on supply and demand. The less skilled the job, the lower the wage. We currently have a problem, in as much; that lower end employment opportunities are becoming extremely limited. As the economy has softened so has wages forcing once middle class workers accepting lower wage positions and forcing the least skilled completely out of the workforce and dependent on the safety net. It is not as you describe as the least amount of effort for the most benefit. To earn a living wage now @ minimum wage, requires working two full time jobs or 80 hours/week. The other problem is that even with an income of $14.50/hour, they still would be hard pressed to be able to afford healthcare.
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 07:48 PM
@skinnyDUDE...(continued) This is not a problem that is going away and I don't know what kind of incentives could be crafted to solve this problem. There are just too many people chasing too few jobs with too little critical skills.
skinnyDUDE August 15, 2012 at 10:21 PM
@ Lyle ......Well one obvious thing would be to vote Obama out of office. No case can be made that he has been pro JOB. Lyle I agree the tax code is upside down and would support a FAIR TAX over the current system .It will certainly create more revenues and if its balanced with spending cuts the nation and families will in time turn the corner. Which is better than hanging on to the bottom rung demanding while trading your dignity for food stamps and welfare. I also agree with you There is a hole where a family or individual no longer qualifies for benefits and ends when they begin making enough to be self sufficient without assistance. That hole is even larger for people on welfare who would in reality do take something for nothing.This point is even open for debate. I don't blame them in the sense they feel they are acting in there SELF interests. That is the very reason Capitalism works. People do act in there self interests. But in capitalism which is A profit AND loss system. You have to be smart enough to create wealth for it too work. Obama doesnt talk much about the more losers in capitalism that risk everything. Its an important lesson. On the bottom of the income scale we have created the incentive to stay there. Especially on the welfare rolls as the least intelligent in society who cant afford children continue to have them at an alarming rate.
skinnyDUDE August 15, 2012 at 10:24 PM
@ Lyle I think it is better to end many things that are complete failures that truly do eat up the resources you say you need. We here Obama talk alot about Fraud , waste and abuse. Why does it still exist at alarming rates after 3 1/2 years. Answer: its just a talking point when in fact it needs to be a REALITY!
Lyle Ruble August 15, 2012 at 10:37 PM
@joe perez....How much do you think she should be paid?
Steve ® August 16, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Typical elitist liberals, thinking your "higher" education and reading somehow makes you a better person then the rest. While you look down at us we are out producing and providing a living wage to American workers. You can read what others have lived or you can create the next chapter yourself and have someone write about it later.
Lyle Ruble August 16, 2012 at 03:34 PM
@Steve....I don't quite understand your obsession with those of education. Having a higher education and reading doesn't eliminate one from being a producer. It is all a matter of awareness. The more one studies, the more that is revealed, giving a greater understanding of the world and our environment in which we live. However, knowledge and understanding are not sufficient, it must be applied.
Edward Willing September 17, 2012 at 05:15 AM
I should submit a blog post with the same title and the following body of text: "Parents."


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