Thank you to Becky for alerting me to a new piece of state legislation introduced a few days ago here in California.
Back in 2009, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature expressing support for a Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California. It seemed a fairly innocuous, vague resolution without any real teeth or meat to it. It was endorsed by Planned Parenthood, among others. Many such expressions of support are undoubtedly passed in our country every year, most of which coming to very little of substance. The terms aren’t defined, and no specific actions or funding are allocated. It’s essentially a warm-fuzzy sort of document.
But warm-fuzzy documents can give rise to more tangible realities later on.
So it is that this week Senator Richard Pan (D) introduced Senate Bill 18. Senator Pan represents Senate District 6 which encompasses the greater Sacramento area. He is a pediatrician as well as a Senator. SB18 aims to “expand and codify” the Bill of Rights for the Children and Youth of California, turning it from a warm and fuzzy idea into some form of law. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for improving the lot of children everywhere. But when the government decides that it’s going to assure that this happens, I begin to ask questions.
The Bill proposes the establishment of a “comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California”. I would argue that this already exists – it’s called the family. The family is a comprehensive framework that protects the rights of the children within that family. Certainly there are situations where the family fails in this duty, and it is necessary for an outside entity to get involved to assure the protection of children. But to assume that the State needs to create a “comprehensive framework” of its own that extends beyond the many agencies and programs to assist children and families strikes me as a bit odd.
More specifically, the Bill prescribes that within five years – by the end of 2021 – this Bill of Rights is enforced “evenly, equitably, and appropriately to all children and youth across the state.” Why do I need such a framework applied to my children? My children have a solid family which is their framework. Now I begin to worry. How is my framework going to interact with the state framework? Under what conditions and situations? And if there is a conflict between the two frameworks, whose wins? I’m going to make a wild guess here and say that if push comes to shove, the State is going to insist that their framework trumps mine.
The Bill’s premise is that all children are entitled to certain rights. I would agree, and I would agree that our Declaration of Independence includes those in broad terms, just as it does for me: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are not intended as necessarily all-encompassing, but they go a long way towards a baseline we can all agree upon. But this Bill intends to create a series of rights for children that is far more specific.
- The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best interest. This sounds good, but who gets to decide what is in my child’s best interest? I’m going to go out on a limb again and say that the State is going to reserve that right to itself. What if I disagree? Hmmmm.
- The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-being. What does this mean? Who defines healthy attachment? Who decides what adults they should be required to form such an attachment to?
- The right to live in a safe and healthy environment. Sounds good, but again, who decides what constitutes safe and healthy? Don’t we have building codes and other things that already determine this? What does healthy mean, and how is it distinct from safe? What does environment mean? Is that physical? Emotional? What?
- The right to social and emotional well-being. Who defines these things? On what basis?
- The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical and social development. Again, who determines the best means for achieving these things? It sounds as though there is only one way to reach these goals. Is that true? If the State decides that my kids will only reach optimal social development by going to school rather than us schooling them, what recourse do I have? None, I’m going to guess.
- The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in adulthood. This seems like an even more pointed attack at my parental rights to determine how best to educate my children. The current state-sponsored public education system seems to be producing many children who do not have a quality education, and are unable to cope with the outcome of a presidential election, and who can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their ideas about the world, and who need safe spaces and other means of insulating them from opposing points of view. Does this mean that the State is going to find public schools inappropriate? Somehow, I doubt it.
- The right to appropriate, quality health care. Again, who decides these definitions? Given last year’s fear-based legislation mandating vaccines for as many children as possible in the state, what else is going to be determined to be appropriate and quality?
The Bill indicates that solutions will be “research-based”. What level of concurrence in research will be necessary in order to use it as the basis for a specific solution to one of the areas above? How will the State enforce this “comprehensive framework”, and what recourse will parents have – if any – in disagreement with this framework? And as is typical, what recourse do parents have if the solutions imposed through this Bill turn out to actually be harmful, rather than helpful? If you’re going to force me to do things to and with and for my children that I don’t want to do and don’t think are helpful to them at all, what recourse do I have if I turn out to be right? If your research turns out to be faulty? If special interests dictate questionable applications?
I don’t doubt that the intent of improving life for children is the actual intent here, but I dislike the idea that somebody outside of my family is going to make those decisions for me, particularly in the current ideological and intellectual climate. How is the State going to make meaningful legislation that is broad enough to be applied to every family in the State? I don’t think that’s possible, which means that the alternative is that some families are going to have their rights overridden by the State.
This seems like a really bad idea. The State unfortunately may need to intervene in situations where children are at risk through neglect or abuse, and I am grateful for such services. But to expand beyond this to create legislation that applies to all children and families is very overreaching. I hope that this Bill does not pass!