Tennessee mother April Lawson was jailed for letting her kids play at a park, after she called 911 to report that they had disappeared from the park. “The arrest stems from a 911 call in reference to a missing child. During the investigation, officers discovered that Lawson had allowed her two children, ages 8 and 5, to walk to the playground at Mountain View Elementary School where they were without adult supervision and unattended.” (The park is only “a block and a half away.”) “After sending someone to check on the children about an hour later, the mother discovered that the children were missing, at which time she called 911. The investigation revealed that the children had walked away from the playground and went to a house nearby, at which time they were accompanied back to their residence just prior to police arriving. The Department of Children’s Services was contacted and responded to the scene. Lawson was placed in custody and transported to the Washington County Detention Center without incident where she is being held in lieu of a $5,000 bond.”
This jailing seems perverse. What could be more traumatic to these small children than the arrest and sudden disappearance of their mother? Yet this is exactly what government officials did to April Lawson, in the name of “protecting” her children. The government officials complicit in this arrest harmed the very children they claimed to be protecting. The arrest also discourages other parents from calling 911 when their children disappear, which may prevent such missing children from being found.
Arrests should be limited to parents who place their children at very high risk of harm, or actually harm their children. Letting your kids go to a park only a block and a half away, when one of them is 8 and thus old enough to walk to and from school (my parents walked to and from school at that age), does not create such a risk of harm. Indeed, children age 8 routinely go unaccompanied to the park from homes one or two blocks away from their homes in my neighborhood. When I was in second grade, I and my twin brother routinely spent hours outdoors with no adult supervision, walking for miles up and down the street, or into the woods. It gave us good exercise, and kept us from becoming fat and sedentary, the way many children are these days, as diabetes and other obesity-related ailments have exploded among young people. Far from being neglected, my brother grew up to be a successful investment banker with a masters degree in computer science from MIT, while I became a Harvard-educated lawyer.
Some children are seized by child protective services over allegedly risky behavior by parents. They often end up being abused in state custody or foster care as a result. As Andrew Sullivan notes, children in foster care experience “physical abuse” at much higher rates than even children in the roughest neighborhoods, so that when they are ultimately returned to their parents, they sometimes come back with “black eyes” or “skin rashes.” Children seized by Child Protective Services often experience devastating emotional harm. In Doe v. Lebbos, 348 F.3d 820 (9th Cir. 2003), Judge Andrew Kleinfeld’s dissent described the tragedy that befell a little girl who was seized from her father as a result of false abuse accusations:
After being bounced around in the agency and foster parent bureaucracy for over a year, Lacey . . . was ‘diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, hearing voices, and suicidal ideation.’ . .She had taken to smearing feces and to other abnormal and highly disruptive behavior. . . What the county did to her to “protect’ her apparently destroyed her. Something in this experience, perhaps being ripped away from her father for whom she consistently expressed love during the whole miserable period, perhaps having strangers strip her and search her heretofore private parts . . . amounted to a trauma that was too much for her.
While distraught mother April Lawson went to jail for nothing more than letting her kids go to a park, a cop remains on the police force in Florida despite being jailed three times and fired six times over gravely serious allegations of wrongdoing, only to get his job back thanks to a powerful union that makes it extremely difficult to get rid of problem employees. “Accusations against the Opa-locka officer include ‘cracking the head of a handcuffed suspect, beating juveniles, hiding drugs in his police car, stealing from suspects, defying direct orders and lying and falsifying police reports. He once called in sick to take a vacation to Cancún and has engaged in a rash of unauthorized police chases, including one in which four people were killed.’ Although he’s ‘joked about his record of misconduct,’ the ‘Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association has successfully fought Bosque’s dismissals.’”
Social workers who seize kids sometimes benefit financially from doing so, since their agencies receive adoption bonuses from the government.