Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue

Some years ago I heard a talk by someone who, as a law student, had been involved in providing free legal services to poor people in his community. Much of what he had done involved helping people deal with the welfare bureaucracy, including the parts of it responsible for removing children from their parents. I asked him whether, on net, he thought giving the state the power to remove children from parents judged unsuitable was a good thing, whether on average it helped or hurt children. His response was that he could not judge its effect in general, but in the particular community where he had worked—I think it was Ithaca, New York, where Cornell Law School is located—it hurt them.

I was reminded of this by the FLDS case. In earlier posts I have discussed the evidence on what happened and some conjectures as to why. One conclusion I think clear is that the people controlling the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services could not have acted as they did if they cared very much about the welfare of children.

Assume, as we probably should, that they started out accepting the view of the FLDS offered by their unnamed confidential informant--presumably someone who left the sect a decade or two back and had never been inside the Texas ranch. On that assumption, they were legitimately concerned that teenaged girls were being pressured into illegal “marriages” with older men. They could have entirely eliminated that risk by seizing the teenaged girls—there were 27 from 14-17—holding them for long enough to make sure they were not being pressured into such marriages and make it clear to them that if anyone tried to pressure them into such marriages in the future they were free to refuse, and then turning them loose. Instead they seized more than four hundred children, many of them young, separated them by force from their parents, and are still holding them. Unless they are utterly incompetent, they knew that doing that would inflict enormous costs on those children. Obviously they didn’t care.

Within a week or two after the raid, the authorities knew that the story they had been sold about the FLDS was inconsistent with the facts, the striking lack of pregnant minors and the relatively small number—20 out of a total population of a thousand or two—of women who had born children before they were adults. They also knew that the phone call that triggered the raid was a hoax. Instead of returning the children to their parents, as any decent human being who cared about the welfare of the children would have done, the Department embarked on a deliberately campaign of misinformation, inflating the number of minors who were pregnant or had born children from five to 31 by classifying adult mothers as minors. Being unwilling to admit mistakes is a natural human tendency, but being willing to keep hundred of children from their parents in order to avoid, or at least postpone, the admission is not the behavior of people who actually care about the children in question.

The Texas affair is not the first, or the largest, example of this pattern. Decades ago, the Canadian government took a much larger number of children away from their parents on equally flimsy grounds, shipped them across the country, forbade them from speaking their own language. The Australian government was guilty of a similar outrage. In both of those cases, as, I suspect, in the Texas case, the real purpose was not to protect children from physical abuse but to remove them from a culture the authorities disapproved of—First Nation in Canada, aboriginal in Australia, polygamist in Texas. Somewhere in the world there are probably a few parents who care less about the welfare of their own children than the people responsible for those cases of mass child abuse cared about the welfare of other people's children, but I have never met any of them.

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.

One can, of course, imagine possible bad outcomes from that solution, as from any solution for real world problems. But it seems to me now, as it did thirty-some years ago when I wrote that chapter, that it is a better solution than giving the power to the state. The person most likely to care about my welfare is me. The people next most likely are my parents. State officials who make their living out of taking control over other people’s children are a very distant third.

47 Comments:

At 2:08 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous mith said...

"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."

Isn't this already covered in the laws prohibiting assault and/or homicide?

 
At 2:45 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

It is about time our government gave up its obsession with sex. If a child is being physically abused, he should be protected. But sex, absent injury, disease and unwanted pregnancy, is a GOOD thing, like a Snicker's bar.

Any injury a child suffers from unwanted sex is mostly attributable to the repressive society that calls the child "ruined" or "injured." We have a lot to learn from the Bonobos. It makes me ill to hear that a child who has had sex "will have to live with the pain for the rest of her life." The truth is that religion is what holds the potential to ruin a person for life. Witness Islam's honor killings.

Child protective services should have no right to harm children by taking them from their parents merely on account of either sex or a Snickers.

 
At 2:51 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger subpatre said...

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At 3:05 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger subpatre said...

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At 3:42 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Venya K said...

David: First, one quick criticism: You've mentioned a couple of times that only 20 out of a couple thousand women bore children as minors. From my understanding the 20 women are drawn out of the ~200 adult women present on the compound at the time of the raid. This still isn't particularly compelling in an argument for "systematic" child abuse but you probably want to make sure you have all your ducks in a row given the way our friends in the child "welfare" bureaucracy are wheeling and dealing with statistics.

On to the main discussion: I would say that in government bureaucracies are particularly ill-suited to oversee child welfare because of a nearly universal human tendency to accept the demonization of those not contained in our individual in-groups. To state it differently, most people are spectacularly credulous about even the most horrific allegations when they leveled against groups with whom they lack cultural affiliation.

Irrational prejudices towards out-groups can spawn everything from quirky to murderous behavior. As a fairly benign example, while attending graduate school at the University of Utah as a lapsed (i.e. atheist) Mormon, I witnessed it in both directions. On one hand, I heard university professors make assertions like: "All Mormon men molest their daughters" and "Mormons are genetically inferior--it's scientific fact." On the other hand, a casual visit to my parents' Mormon congregation exposed me to constant references to "The World," a nebulous place where child pornography, drug addiction, and a baseline morality akin to "Lord of the Flies" ruled the roost. In both cases, these folks all had plenty of personal acquaintances that contradicted their generalizations but they stubbornly clung to their stereotypes.

Why are we so willing to believe the utter worst of those not in our in-group? Perhaps it's hardwired in to our evolutionary hunter-gatherer psyche. Dawkins and others have suggested that the wide variety of appearance in humans (despite our having a species-wide genetic diversity typical of a single community of chimpanzees) is an evolutionary mechanism to reinforce group integrity. It could be that our tendency to demonize other groups is yet another evolutionary means to promote group cohesion.

On the flip-side of the coin, recent psychological research has shown that, at least to some extent, our sense of morality is probably hard-wired. Experiments in social intuitonism have demonstrated that for a great many moral dilemmas human reactions seem to be culturally independent (e.g. http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/articles/haidt.emotionaldog.manuscript.pdf ). Yes, there are going to be social deviants in any group but most of us hew to a pretty narrow moral path.

But the fact remains, whether it be lurid tales of Jews consuming baby blood infused pastries or 50-year-old polygamist-rapists deflowering 13-year-olds in their temple sanctuary, people eat will eat these stories up like a hot cake breakfast on the 4th of July. And therein lies the problem with government child welfare services: Child-rearing is an inherently idiosyncratic and culturally-ladened process.

As a father myself, I long ago concluded that there is no one right way to be a parent. I think the permissive approach I've used with my daughter have been spectacularly successful. However, I've watched other parents crash and burn using similar approaches. Both my ex-wife and current girlfriend were subjected to abyssmal parenting at the hands of first-generation immigrants. However, those same parenting methods might have worked wonderfully in the parents' countries of origin.

Parenting is a highly fluid task that requires constant adjustment to both internal and external contingencies. Parents in your out-group are practically bound to use techniques that strike you as quite alien. Combine that with an innate human tendency to read malice into out-groups' actions and I would think that dire outcomes in child-welfare cases are almost inevitable for the very minorities least able to defend themselves.

 
At 3:56 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Some Guy said...

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At 3:57 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Some Guy said...

I know you offer the anecdote about the law student volunteer as just an anecdote, but it occurs to me that his work would expose him only to those cases in which a problem arose in child removal. Couple this with attorneys' tendency to believe clients, and you have a situation where it would be extraordinarily surprising if his opinion were to be anything other than what it was.

In other words, I missed the main point of your article by concentrating on the anecdote.

 
At 4:19 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

"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."

Why should we base our decision on this one case? I've been involved in dozens of cases in which children have been removed. In one, the kids (ages 2, 4, and 7) were encouraged to have sex with each other (and, once, with the dog) in addition to having sex with dad. In another, the 5-year old can't be left alone with an animal, lest she try to have sex with it; her brother (age 7) cheerfully describes his fantasies about tying up girls and raping them. (The parents of his classmates just loved that one.) Another case involved a kid who set his house on fire four times. Another was a kid who was regularly beaten with a baseball bat, for things like putting the wrong number of ice cubes in his father's drink. In another household, the boys (7 to 15) were having sex with their sisters (2 and 4).

No sane society would leave a dog in households like these. And you want to leave children there? Because the Texas authorities got carried away (and, in a fairly short time, the children were returned)? As for criminal proceedings against the parents, forget it: you can't make a criminal case based on the testimony of little kids, and there is almost never physical evidence unless one of the kids gets the clap from Dad. Letting the kids leave on their own doesn't work, either: they never want to do that, because what they've done is all they know. Sometimes they're grateful to have been removed a few years down the road, though. And sometimes, a few years down the road, they're the ones perping on little kids.

 
At 5:51 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

Alan Gunn,

Try repeating a few times: We have a lot to learn from the Bonobos, like sex is GOOD, especially when it doesn't involve injury, disease or unwanted children.

I can't imagine how the world got this far without Child Protective Fucking Services.

 
At 6:21 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger subpatre said...

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At 6:39 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Will McLean said...

What Venya said. If you're measuring pregnancy among minors, the denominator isn't the total population. It's pubescent females at the time of pregnancy. Furthermore, I really doubt that Texas CPS has identified as many as half of minor pregnancies ever experienced by the current adult females. Many of them are over thirty. Many could have had a child at sixteen more than a decade ago. Many of these children would have left the community years ago, particularly if male. Some might have died. Some would have miscarried before being carried to term. I doubt Texas CPS knows about all of them, or could match them to a specific mother if they did.

David is smart enough to know better, but I don't think the falsehood was deliberate. Instead, he got a result that he wanted to believe, so he didn't scrutinize it too closely.

He's shown exactly the same tendency when he conflated Texas teen pregnancy and pregnancy among FLDS minors. They aren't the same, since teen pregnancy includes 18-19 year adults.

If he did a preliminary calculation and made an error the other way, I suspect he'd catch it pretty quickly. "Wait! That can't be right! I need to recheck! Aha! I see my error! Government is still evil after all!"

This is standard confirmation bias. Still, I can't help but suspect that if a government agency did the same thing, he'd believe it was a deliberate lie.

I have to say that I think agencies need a little more slack before we assume that what seems like incompetence is malice. Individuals only have one chance to get it wrong. Agencies have many.

David observes the relevant facts, comes to a conclusion, and states it. There's only one brain to insert bias or distort a conclusion.

In the case of CPS you probably at a minimum have a case worker. They write a report, with inconvenient truths minimized and congenial ones emphasized. Their investigator does the same. They hand a report to Public Relations, who repeats the process

 
At 6:46 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

subpatre, your argument can just as easily be used to deny any crime ever occurs because somebody gave false testimony or somebody was erroneously convicted. Presto, rape never happens! Presto, theft never occurs either. A conspiracy theory for every occasion!

Plenty of crimes against children leave physical evidence such as bruises, scars, semen, etc. Alan described a number of cases where behavior of children could easily be observed. But I guess none of that is as important as your mere denial that any of it could ever have happened. It seems to be very important to you that the government be demonized, and you'll deny any evidence that it could ever do any good. Pathetic.

 
At 7:16 PM, May 29, 2008, Blogger subpatre said...

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At 8:40 PM, May 29, 2008, Anonymous Nathan said...

"No sane society would leave a dog in households like these. And you want to leave children there? Because the Texas authorities got carried away (and, in a fairly short time, the children were returned)?"

David's argument is based on much more than the Texas case. He mentioned in passing situations in Canada and Australia with indigenous populations. Read up on these. They'll shock and disgust you as much as any anecdotes you can provide about child abuse and neglect. Just as a starter, read the wikipedia article on Australia's stolen generation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_generation)--some have described it as an attempted genocide.

The key point, as stated in the original blog, is whether government power to remove children from their families does more harm than good, not whether it can do good in certain situations. An analogy for the non-libertarian liberals. Should governments be able to sterilize citizens? Surely we can agree that there are some people who shouldn't have children in the first place. Or does the horrific history of this practice convince you that government should not have such power, even though in certain isolated instances it would be for the better?

 
At 5:09 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

"Alan Gunn is pushing a system that has no checks or balances; one that relies on unsubstantiated allegations from people (children) who don't have the facility to distinguish fact from fantasy."

The day-care cases were an outrage, and I am not advocating anything like that. In Indiana, children suspected of being abused are interviewed, on tape, by professionals who do not ask leading questions. I've watched hours of these interviews. Their parents get lawyers, paid for by the state. In all the cases I discussed, the conclusions about what happened were based on careful investigations. In most of the cases I've worked on in which the kids weren't returned, the parents gave up after the evidence was compiled (y favorite story--Dad claimed "it wasn't sex--I gave the kid suppositories prescribed by Dr. X in another state." I called Dr. X--no suppositories. Dad then folded.)

I have re-read my comment to see what I might have said that caused you to think I was taking the position you ascribed to me. I remain puzzled.

 
At 5:34 AM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Chris said...

Huben, It seems to be very important to you that the government be angelized, and you'll deny any evidence that it could ever do any bad. Pathetic.

 
At 5:53 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

I was going to make a similar correction that Will did in his 1st paragraph.

...

My politics may be as libertarian as David's, and had he stopped his objection of the raid at the sucker phone call I would never have commented. It was the assumptions and conjectures that his fuzzy arithmetic relies on that forms what I find to be a very weak basis for his conclusions.

And this:

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.

Let me see if I have this straight - you're arguing that children everywhere are, in the net, worse off at the hands of government protection services because of a select number of anecdotes (which you claim suggest a "pattern") where the outcome was bad?

Certainly this very same "consequential analysis" could be readily applied to condemn institutions you wouldn't want to conclude are bad in the net.

Consider: our money is better off kept under our own mattresses rather than invested in capital markets based on a "pattern" of corporate wrongdoing (Enron, Global Crossing, etc.). Surely you would have no difficulty mounting a persuasive argument to demolish that nonsense. Likewise, I have no doubt someone much more intimately familiar with the favorable outcomes of child protection services could do the same to yours here.

If you ask me, this nicely highlights the problem with the consequentialist approach to libertarianism.

 
At 7:31 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous William H. Stoddard said...

I don't know how this would be implemented, but my take on parents and children is that the parents are not the owners of the child's body and mind; they are its trustees, until the owner gains the ability to control them for itself. Isn't there an established body of law for dealing with trustees who abuse their powers or fail in their trust? Could any of it be adapted to this purpose? Duties of care, standards and methods for removal of trustees, selection of successor trustees—all seem relevant. In particular, the model "you've voided your parental standing: the law has to find who is meant to be the next in the chain of parents" may be more useful in many cases than "you've voided your parental standing; the kid's on their own now."

 
At 8:32 AM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Douglas Knight said...

I think it's worth pointing out some psychological issues. People are almost unable to believe in trade-offs. Giving CPS the power to take children and doing it repeatedly probably destroys their ability to consider a cost to their actions.

 
At 12:13 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Unnr said...

I think that it's really hard for people to really understand (deeply, honestly, etc.) that difference is ok.

I think the FLDS case is particularly useful as an example becasue of the two issues involved: marriage shortly after menarch, and polygamy.

The reality is that menarch really does happen, and trying to replace a biological milestone with any method of counting involving revolutions around the sun is a bit daft. We are animals, after all, and most mammals start trying to have babies pretty soon after menarch. If we choose to do differently, that is a cultural choice, in a cultural context.

I wouldn't want my daughter to marry right after she got her first period, but I live in a cultural context where women are flat out prevented from behaving and thinking like adults at that age. If I had been permitted to make decisions and build a life at that age who's to say I wouldn't have been ready to decide about these things.

By 14 I knew what I wanted in terms of family, I certainly haven't changed my mind yet. (If someone had taken all the kids from my highschool and investigated who was doing what with whom, I'd certainly have had a few lies to tell, too.)

It was perfectly legal that I was asked at 13 to make a decision which has affected my life as significantly as a marriage would have. As it turns out I was pressured into making the wrong one. Does that mean I was abused by my grade 8 guidance counsellor?
I'm certainly not pleased by the experience.

Polygamy may not be the way mainstream modern western civilization structures families, but I think you'd have a hard time finding a decent argument to say that it's not perfectly good human social structure. In the scheme of things, it's probably more common than not.

These are both cultural issues, not moral ones. The FLDS is different from us. But the things they do, as far as I can tell, are well withing the tapestry of human experience. I wouldn't want to live with them. But they're different, not evil.

I am very afraid of allowing people who exist in a culture which has this much trouble with the 'different is ok' thing to excercise this kind of power. I consider some of the things that are routinely taught to children in our society to be dangerous, damaging, and even abusive (many of the standard lies, for eg). What about my right to have a truly different opinion on these things?

And now I'm getting all choked up. I have a family member who is a employee of the Ontario flavour of CPS. It's not that I don't like her as a person, she's great. But I don't want her raising my kids, and I don't want her having the right to take them from me.

So. No, I don't think that the government should be able to take people's kids away. But then, I don't really think the government should be able to do much!

If a situtation is really bad, then I think it would be ok for a temporary alliance of concerned individuals to act. But each individual should take personal non-corporate responsability for the results (forseen or un-forseen)of the action.

eek, this is a bit long.

-Unnr

 
At 1:02 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

"He's shown exactly the same tendency when he conflated Texas teen pregnancy and pregnancy among FLDS minors. They aren't the same, since teen pregnancy includes 18-19 year adults."

A point I think I have now raised several times over. Thus, for example, I wrote:

"The calculation is probably a bit high, since I have assumed that pregnancy rates were constant over the range 14-19 and they almost certainly increase with age."

That's one of several reasons I have been deliberately making approximate statements. To figure out how many of the minors 14-17 should, on average, have been pregnant or mothers one would need both the age distribution of the female minors seized and the Texas pregnancy rate, year by year of age. I don't have those data.

"If you're measuring pregnancy among minors, the denominator isn't the total population. It's pubescent females at the time of pregnancy."

Of course. And in earlier posts I cited the ratio of girls 14-17 who were pregnant or mothers to the number of girls 14-17, so I don't see what you are objecting to.

If your reference is to the 20 women cited in this post, then obviously I am assuming that all of the adult women were at some point in the past pubescent minors, and so could have become pregnant as such.

Various points have been made about why the number of women who had been pregnant as minors would have been understated. Some of these points would apply equally to the measurements that produce figures on teen pregnancy rates--an early miscarriage is unlikely to ever show up in the data, for instance.

The more important question is how good the data on births are. My guess is that the Department is using the FLDS records, which they seem to have kept for their own purposes and which were seized during the raid. I would expect those to go back quite a while.

Vanya writes: "You've mentioned a couple of times that only 20 out of a couple thousand women bore children as minors."

It would indeed have been misleading had I said that, but I didn't, as he can easily check by reading my post.

I referred to "a total population of a thousand or two," not to "a couple thousand women." I assumed my readers could figure out for themselves that in a total population of a thousand, not all are women.

I don't know where he gets his figure of 200 adult women present in the compound. I would have guessed a larger number, given the total population, but I don't have an actual figure.

 
At 1:09 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

rkn objects that I am drawing a conclusion from anecdotes.

Actually, I am taking some real world data, forming a conjecture on the basis of it, and then offering a theoretical defense of that conjecture.

And my anecdotes, in total, involve a very large number of children--surely at least tens of thousands, summing the Canadian, Australian, and FLDS cases. Anecdotes on that scale are data.

They aren't sufficient data to prove my conclusion, and I didn't claim they were, but they are sufficient to make the possibility I raise worth considering.

 
At 1:13 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

One further addition on the exchange with rkn.

If you read carefully, I think you will see that the form of my argument, with regard especially to the FLDS case, is not "something bad happened due to government power, so the government shouldn't have that power."

It is rather "from what happened we can draw a conclusion about the people in charge of taking children away from their parents in the state of Texas." I see no reason to expect the people in that profession in Texas to be radically different from the people in that profession elsewhere. If my conclusion about them generalizes--as the Canadian and Australian examples suggests it well may--then giving such people the power to take children away from their parents is quite likely to do net damage.

 
At 3:45 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Will McLean said...

David writes:

"I referred to "a total population of a thousand or two," not to "a couple thousand women." I assumed my readers could figure out for themselves that in a total population of a thousand, not all are women."

It would be difficult for them to figure out the relevant number of women without further information, particularly if the population count given is wrong.

Under 500 children, and thus 500-1,500 adults? In a community of child-loving polygamists?

Where did you get your population of a thousand or two, and why didn't it immediately occur to you that it was grossly implausible?

This story give "at least"168 mothers and 69 fathers. The bishop's list suggested that there are a few unmarried daughters over 17 and childless couples, but not many. 200 adult females is probably in the right ball park.

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iIdMpRHjN4hpNKBhfYyAsR4DDo4QD90O6F0G0

 
At 4:06 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

I don't see what the Canadian and Australian cases have to do with the question whether the government should have the power--subject to judicial review--to remove kids from their homes when child abuse is suspected. Those cases involved taking kids who were not even suspected of being abused, the purpose was not child protection but some sort of "ethnic" or "cultural" improvement (so thought back then), and the courts were not involved. If the argument is that government officials should not have an unreviewable right to take kids away from their parents for any reason at all, who would disagree? What I don't see is how you jump from that to the conclusion that kids being raped by their parents, being put out as prostitutes, born addicted to crack, or being beaten with baseball bats shouldn't be removed, either. It's like arguing that because the communists (or whoever) put millions of people in prison for bad reasons, governments should lack the power to imprison anyone.

One of the hardest things about working on these kinds of cases is that people are very reluctant to believe that parents do these things to their own kids. They do. Fairly often--maybe 70 or 80 times a year, in Indiana, they kill them. The structure of your argument seems to be that because governments have taken children away for bad reasons, they should never be able to take them away for any reason. I've been working on these cases for several years, and I have yet to see a removal that comes close to those in Canada, Australia, or Texas. (And it's worth noting that the Texas removals have been judicially reversed.) And your conclusion that the overall result involves "net damage" seems to me to be based on no recognition at all of the damage that's prevented by removing children.

One more thing--in most places, volunteer court-appointed special advocates ("CASAs") work on these cases and make recommendations to the court. That's what I do. This provides a check on the government's removal power (and also at times on its power to send kids back home). So the image you seem to have of all-powerful bureaucrats unchecked by anyone else doesn't match reality.

 
At 4:49 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

David wrote:
And my anecdotes, in total, involve a very large number of children--surely at least tens of thousands, summing the Canadian, Australian, and FLDS cases. Anecdotes on that scale are data.

Once again: the plural of anecdote is not data -- it is propaganda. I recommend that you and your claque read the Denialism and Science-Based Medicine blogs a bit more often to understand your own faulty thinking.

 
At 8:00 PM, May 30, 2008, Blogger Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Not to argue with anything that's been written...

a) Like abortion, isn't the problem of abusive parents self-limiting in the long run? Won't abused children reproduce at lower rates than non-abused children if the State lets nature take its course?

b) I conjecture that adult survivors of child abuse are over-represented among CPS staff. Based on their experience, abuse is to be expected. When they compare experience with other staff ("You too!"), their expectations are confirmed.

 
At 9:45 PM, May 30, 2008, Anonymous Nathan said...

The question David has posed is quite simple: does letting the government have the power to remove children from their parents do more harm than good?

Posters who support giving government that power seem to have simply assumed that he has the burden of proof. I see no reason why this is so. One could argue that one wishing to change the current system has the burden of proving it's broken, I suppose. But one could also argue that historically, the state did not have such power, and that giving it such power is an experiment which, absent convincing evidence of its success, should be discontinued.

As much as certain people seem intent on attacking David for arguing by anecdote, they then turn around and do the same themselves with nauseating tales of child rape and violent abuse, even though the original post specifically states that the state could deal with such abuses by charging the parents with crimes. Alan Gunn's claim that such cases can not be dealt with through normal judicial procedures, and thus the rules and standards of evidence must be relaxed to reach the "right" result strikes me as scarily similar to the Bush administration's attempt to bypass civil courts to try terrorism suspects like Jose Padilla.

Regardless, such stories are anecdotes too, and hardly serve as effective rebuttals, especially when posters like Mr. Gunn exaggerate wildly in claiming that in Indiana alone, parents kill 70-80 of their own children every year. BoJ statistics suggest the figure is likely no more than 10% of that, unless Indianans are killing their children at rates much higher than the national average.

Returning to my first post, would anyone care to endorse forced sterilization (after adequate judicial review, of course)? Certainly preventing abusive and evil people from having children is better than removing children from them after the damage has been done. Or does the history of government (ab)use of that power scare you too much to allow it, even with promises that this time around, the power will be used only for good, not to target unpopular religious or ethnic minority groups?

 
At 5:16 AM, May 31, 2008, Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

"Alan Gunn's claim that such cases can not be dealt with through normal judicial procedures, and thus the rules and standards of evidence must be relaxed to reach the "right" result strikes me as scarily similar to the Bush administration's attempt to bypass civil courts to try terrorism suspects like Jose Padilla."

An odd comment, considering that I have repeatedly pointed out that court review--in a "civil court," as you put it--is essential to having a well-run system. This is the "normal judicial procedure." In the Texas case, it's what got the children back with their parents. What I've objected to is the suggestion that the state intervene only through the criminal law--a suggestion that has few if any parallels elsewhere in the legal system. The standard for approving the termination of parental rights in a civil case is "clear and convincing evidence." Parents are entitled to a trial. Limiting the system to the criminal law would leave children almost completely unprotected. You simply cannot use young children as witnesses in criminal cases, nor can you use taped interviews if children by trained interviewers. I was once told by a prosecutor that only about one or two percent of child sexual abuse cases lead to criminal prosecution.

Furthermore, some cases in which children are, and should be, removed don't involve crimes. I once worked on a case in which a mother, an alcoholic and drug addict who made a sort of living by taking money from her boyfriends, left her five-year-old son alone at home in the Summer for three days in an un-air-conditioned apartment with no food and stopped up toilets. She wasn't a bad person--just extremely incompetent. It would help no one to put her in jail. But it took years of therapy and a terrific foster home to get the kid to the point where he would even look at other people, and sometimes talk to them. You'd have left the kid where he was?

As for anecdotes--I haven't claimed that mine are "data," unlike Professor Friedman, who gathers anecdotes about cases not involving abuse at all, ignores anything involving abuse, and then claims that his "data" make a case for the proposition that any removal power does more harm than good. If you ignore everything that suggests that your proposal has problems, your proposal will indeed come out ahead. Is that how economists normally work?

 
At 6:22 AM, May 31, 2008, Anonymous RKN said...

And my anecdotes, in total, involve a very large number of children--surely at least tens of thousands, summing the Canadian, Australian, and FLDS cases. Anecdotes on that scale are data.

My problem with your reasoning isn't that you've bundled anecdotes into a dataset for "theoretical analysis", it's that you selected only those anecdotes which support your conclusion. That's called bias. Surely you can't believe that there aren't thousands of cases worldwide where state-run protection services produced good outcomes for the children involved. Did you look for those?

With all due respect this is statistical analysis 101. If, so to speak, you want to reject a null hypothesis ("CPS on net does more good than harm") then you have to populate the null distribution with an adequate number of many outcomes.

They aren't sufficient data to prove my conclusion, and I didn't claim they were, but they are sufficient to make the possibility I raise worth considering.

But the data aren't sufficient if they are biased, and careful readers therefore are not going to give any serious consideration to your conclusions.

 
At 6:24 AM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Will McLean said...

"That's one of several reasons I have been deliberately making approximate statements. To figure out how many of the minors 14-17 should, on average, have been pregnant or mothers one would need both the age distribution of the female minors seized and the Texas pregnancy rate, year by year of age. I don't have those data."

You were, however, given the data for 15-17 year olds earlier, in the comments on a previous post, and that information is not that hard to find with cursory googling. That's still going to be an overestimate, since the 14 year olds will bring down the average and they were even younger the prior year. It will be a lot closer approximation than the teen rate.

For 2000, this source gives it at 6%, and a tenth of that for age 13-14

http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/state-data/state-comparisions.asp?id=3&sID=19

 
At 6:56 AM, May 31, 2008, Blogger Will McLean said...

David writes:

"The more important question is how good the data on births are. My guess is that the Department is using the FLDS records, which they seem to have kept for their own purposes and which were seized during the raid. I would expect those to go back quite a while."

Why? The only FLDS record I've heard refered to as giving evidence of earlier pregnancies is the Bishop's list: a snapshot census from about a year ago. It generally, but not always gives ages and family status as husband, wife, son or daughter. To a certain extent you can infer past teen pregnancies, for example, if it records a thirty year old wife with a fourteen year old daughter.

But: It doesn't record everyone taken into custody, perhaps because it was never complete, perhaps because of migration since the census. It frequentlly lists all the children in a plural marriage without matching them to a mother.And it's quite silent on the large number of males that were born into the community and are no longer there.

 
At 6:35 PM, June 02, 2008, Blogger Andrew said...

I suggest a scenario that is more likely than yours. Saying "they don't care about the children" is difficult for most reasonable people to believe. CPS is a painful, difficult job with low pay. I don't think most people do it for the money or because they can't get jobs elsewhere or because they want to promote their beliefs; most are in it because they care about children.

A government agency makes a big mistake based on a tip which is misleading. They likely face a huge amount of liability due to this. As you also mention, #1 in their mind is their own survival. To avoid liability, huge lawsuits, probably a lot of upper management being fired from CPS, what can they do? They can go on a publicity campaign to try to minimize their liability. They will not admit their mistakes, as that will expose them to this liability.

I find this far more likely than not caring very much about the welfare of the children and more likely than any top-level disapproval of the FLDS.

 
At 7:59 PM, June 02, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Andrew suggests that the people in question probably cared about children but, having made a mistake, cared more about protecting themselves from liability. I see several problems with that interpretation.

1. Suppose everything they were told by the supposed Sarah and the confidential informant was true. The only immediate threat would have been to post-pubertal minor girls. There were 27 from 14-17. Add in some younger, and perhaps a few older whom they might reasonably think were minors, and you might get to fifty.

If they believed the story and cared about the welfare of three year olds, they would have taken only the fifty--instead they took all of them, from infants up. On the other hand, if they, believing or not believing the story, wanted to destroy or drive out the FLDS, taking all of the children would be a much more effective means--three year olds being a lot more vulnerable to separation from their parents than seventeen year olds.

2. They find out they had made a mistake. At this point, admitting it and giving the children back would make them look bad, but I don't see any basis for civil liability. They had a judge's decision, after all, and they relied on it.

And, from the other side, what they did meant keeping a whole lot of children, including hundred of little children, separated from their parents for another month--longer if the court hadn't intervened. I find it hard to see how an organization of people who really cared about children could have made that choice, even if the alternative was a few of them at the top losing their jobs.

3. On the other hand, what they did opens them up, I think, not only to civil liability but to some risk of criminal liability. Suppose it can be shown that, as I suspect, they deliberately reclassified about 26 adult mothers as minors in order to make their PR point. They were preventing those adults from moving freely. I suspect that if they were doing it on purpose they are subject to criminal charges--although I'm not a lawyer and may be mistaken.

 
At 10:20 AM, June 03, 2008, Blogger K. OF Creich said...

As to the notion that Abused Children will have fewer children--this seems dubious,
but I think it likely that abused children KEEP fewer of their children to adolescense, even if parental intentions are initially good.

They are often coupled with codependent partners from families where one parent was co-dependent and in deep denial.

It would have been reasonable for CPS to require parents to
bring their children to meetings where the parents and children were taught what child abuse was, that it is wrong, that abusive parents and older siblings who abuse
are often abused, sometimes by the
same abuser.

I don't think Jeffs knew what the moral limits were. I'm glad he was put away and think he should stay away, confined to a low security federal pen,
or in a mental facility that does not use negative behaviorism
or other abuse, and
be allowed to write.

I don't think he is a criminal, he was groomed for his role, and I know myself that early marriage was hardwired in--very common during Viet Nam and was highly tolerated by the military.

Some of my girlfriends who married early and whose mothers said
they were living on military bases in Texas,
I doubted the truth
of it.

My best friend's father lived near Kanab, and my grandmother would
not let me sleep over--the best cue that something was wrong.
Her father was one of Grandma's step-uncles or one of that family's sons.

Texas CPS workers were abusive themselves and I question their ability
to do competant assesments.

Can you imagine leaving an unweaned child in a stroller for 24 hours, not fed, no liquid or diaper changes, one infant left alone and neglected overnight and found by cleaning staff in the morning?

I don't think these women were just
possibly victims of childhood abuse,
I think they were purpetrators themselves of criminal neglect.

I hope Utah and Arizona can legalize
and regularize mutually consentual [all parties] polygamy and pass strong laws against forced or assigned marriages at any age. Interviews with young couples still be required by 2 church officials
and a secular physician, not one handed
a rubber stamp by a Church Official.

I had a run in with the Senior Broadbent and learned later, from a student in Provo 10 years before that he required regular pelvic exams [at twelve in this case]. She learned this from a distressed
mother, her neighbor.

He nearly denied us a temple recommend two weeks before our
wedding. I moved our records to the town ward as soon as I got
home from that unsceduled meeting.

Our grevious sin was to talk past 10:00. We were 23 and 24. His son, I beleive, is a Doctor at the old ranch, which is not to assume that he was made of the same stuff. He could be a mirror image of his father.

The Temple Matron came to town when I was 15 for a Saturday afternoon talk with the girls. One girl asked how young girls could be married in the temple.

She said there had been a few instances of 14 year old brides and talked another sweltering hour on the Commandment ''Love thy neighbor AS THY SELF. She said young girls should learn to love themselves first, and get an education, and that she in no way approved of early marriage.

These workers have plenty of Texas ranch women and children to
compare the Yearning for Zion families against, and I'd guess that
YFZ comes out ahead on every
category.

Gaining full trust will be very difficult. Those at Texas who were reponsible for the abandoned infants,
and it wasn't their mothers, should go
to jail.

I think they should be allowed to return to Utah and put their
children in foster care there if the Utah workers find it neccessary.

It is very unconstitututional
to impede interstate traffic.Our founding fathers foresaw tyranical states and felt itshould always be legal just to leave with your kids--the CPS and Family Service workers make the transfer--in this case en masse.

www.mountainmeadowswiki.blogspot.com

 
At 1:37 PM, June 03, 2008, Anonymous Venya K said...

First, let me back down from the assertion that there were only 200 adult women on the YFZ Ranch and that would imply 10% (20) of the FLDS had been pregnant prior to adulthood. At least one news account reported that the ranch was requesting 600 voter registration cards. It's possible (but unlikely) that there were a lot of single young adults on the at the ranch that the MSM has overlooked. Additionally, given that the FLDS use some sort of "worthiness" measuring stick to assess both an individual's readiness for marriage and whether they were allowed to live on the ranch, IMHO, it's very likely that the overall percentage of FLDS women who conceived children prior to turning 18 is quite a bit lower than the ranch residents.

Having read through the bishop's family records, I would say that they're not terribly revealing. There's no record of marriage dates and for many of them it's impossible to determine which children belong to which wife. I doubt this ambiguity was deliberate. Mormons have a preoccupation with perfunctory record-keeping that goes all the way back to Joseph Smith. The most likely scenario is that when a new family moved into the congregation, the bishop shoved a xeroxed form in their hands and told them to fill it out at their leisure. There probably wouldn't have been any follow-up and the forms that were turned in were probably thrown in a pile somewhere and forgotten about. At least that's how it would have gotten done in a mainstream Mormon congregation before the days of computers and modems.

But I digress: CPS. The problem with assessing the effectiveness of CPS is a lack of quantifiable measures which is compounded by CPS's exclusive control over most of the data that is available. In this sort of situation, anecdotes can and do offer invaluable insight because they allow you to check whether the information you're being fed jives with the facts on the ground.

I spent several years volunteering as a harm reduction coordinator, helping adolescents and young adults with substance abuse issues. I cultivated extensive relationships with many of them and was regaled with often horrific tales of parental abuse, living as runaways, and the like. The one common thread that I saw over and over again was these young people's universal condemnation of CPS. I've never met anyone who said, "CPS rescued me from a horrible situation and really improved my life." Instead, time and time again, I was told that CPS's defining characteristic was their ability to walk into atrocious situations and find ways to make them worse.

No, I don't have any charts or graphs to back up that assertion but given that CPS is the gatekeeper for any pertinent data, that isn't very surprising. In contrast, I found the fact that I kept independently hearing the same thing over and over again from the people that CPS was supposed to be protecting to be very compelling.

In answer to some of the other posts, I would agree that in some cases of parental abuse and neglect extra-judicial intervention probably is required. We have a name for it: family and community. As far as I can tell, government bureaucrats make a pretty lousy substitute. So maybe what we really should be doing is creating incentives for people to cultivate the sort of familial and communal bonds that were once ubiquitous to our society. However, I have no idea how that would be accomplished.

 
At 7:31 AM, June 06, 2008, Anonymous sportember said...

"State officials who make their living out of taking control over other people’s children are a very distant third."

That is heavy, because in that situation the state uses it's oppressing powers effectively on children.

But for example in the case of war on drugs the state uses it's oppressing powers on adults.

However democratic nowadays a state can be, it's powers seems to be always based on the greatest force available.

In my view, the effect you described in "A Positive Account of Property Rights" used on large scale produces large power monopolies. Those power monopolies are governed by states.

However the inner layout of those states are built, the essence of the state is being a power monopoly.

It is interesting, that in some form, parents are also power monopolies above their children. The relation between state and adult is much like the relation between parent and child.

What you describe, I understand as an offer for the state to make it easier for children to overcome the monopolies their parents present for them. But that would have a side effect of providing methods and knowledge for the adults to overcome the power monopoly of the state.

However, mathematically that seems impossible, because if a state looses it's power monopoly over it's population, than another power monopoly forms around it. At least this is what I come up after "A Positive Account of Property Rights". There is alway a strongest who rules. If there is not such strongest, the second strongest takes it's place.

History shows such figures.

Therefore the interesting thing is how to be the most powerful and provide the most freedom (use the least power) at the same time.

 
At 1:21 PM, June 11, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Readers interested in the case I mentioned of mass child abuse by the Canadian government may be interested in a recent news story on it:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7447811.stm

In total, more than a hundred thousand children were forced to attend boarding schools with the objective of assimilating them. It sounds from the story as though physical and sexual abuse were pretty common. The project ran from the late 19th century into the 1990's.

I find it hard to believe that the total of child abuse by Canadian parents of their own children over that period could have been that large, although I obviously I don't have any figures on it.

 
At 6:05 PM, June 11, 2008, Blogger K. OF Creich said...

I came to your page by looking for mine which is www.mountainmeadowswiki@blogspot.com which posted many pictures of the raidand a few of returned children and a reunited family.

Another site that cited mine was someone asking for citations so that the information I added could be disscussed on wiki. The trouble
is that beyond Juanita Brook's
Mountain Meadows Massacre, all my sources are oral. I have a close
relative who would not want it suggested that he could be working the UN Conventions on Genocide angle with Texas or that
he might even know who is.

There was a green tinged white
haired gentleman in plainclothes
who had driven from Vegas or
down from Salt Lake to try to explain the situation in China and why the situation had to be discussed at the UN and Olympics
talks--there was an acticle added
to the Chinese Constitution [Article 23] outlawing a religion called Falong gong. He objected that if
the Texas CPS mass transfer of children to the state is ignored, it puts the United States in a weak
barganing position with China.

These folks are really out of the mainstream and couldn't beleive
that anyone farther away than Texas could have any interest
in what happened to them.
He was more likely a spy. He said
he was LDS, but who could tell--
she's got an eye out for assasins.
Yep, a gun in her holster and a knife in her boot. I was watching
the live feed and he probably already knew how angry a Utah
woman could get.

Anyway, how do I give citations
for information I've always known?
[Private conversation with mother 1957?] or[ with Grandfather 1975?] [My Great Grandfather took over
from Jacob Hamblin who took over
from John D. Lee.]

Suggestions?

 
At 8:18 PM, June 29, 2008, Blogger Belinsky said...

I just stumbled upon this post, and I wanted to say "right on!" Giving the choice to the children is the perfect solution. The state's attempts to attack this particular form of patriarchy have obviously yielded bad results, but that doesn't mean that we should abandon any attempt to attack it. Patriarchy must be crushed, and the best way to crush it is from the bottom up—in this case by allowing the children to make their own choices.

 
At 6:13 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Ren said...

I agree that giving children more protection legally would be a great solution to many ills in society. If an adult hits another adult it's called "assault" but kids get hit every day under the guise of "discipline".

The government tends to make things worse, not better. But then I lean pretty far towards the libertarian philsophy.

 
At 6:13 PM, June 30, 2008, Blogger Ren said...

...philosophy that is.

 
At 12:35 PM, July 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I would completely eliminate the power of an authorized outsider to take custody of a child, although I don't think I want that power in the hands of the state. However, I would limit both the circumstances under which the power could be exercised and the duration.

The only circumstances under which I see it doing any good would be in three situations. First, in cases of imminant physical danger from the parent or guardian. Second, in cases of abandonment. And finally, if the child requested protection for other reasons. I might broaden this final category to include a petition by a close relative.

Anyone taking custody of a child away from a parent should be able to present one of these reasons to a judge immeadiately. To allow for the physical impossibility of an instant appearance in court, 24 or 48 hours might be appropriate. At that time, give the judge the power to grant a brief period of temporary custody while the situation is investigated or dealt with.

 
At 1:00 PM, July 27, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This raid has created the impression that it is easy to take a child from his or her parents.

Most children in foster care or adopted, as our rate of incarcerated adults the international high,
have parents who
are in jail, or are incompetant parents due to abuse as children,
or foster care.

People are hard to
figure, as my grandpa used to say, and Social
Workers can make grave errors. A friend of mine attempted suicide
after a foster care
placement of a
gravely sexually abused child went
horribly wrong.

Children need education as to how
and when to report
abuse, and extended
family need to stay
on the situation
and not leave it to
the Government.

If they have bruises subsequent
to abuse, they need
to report the incident at school before the bruises fade. Every child
over nine or so needs to know that
a doctor can tell if they have been sexually assaulted.
They need to know
that if someone tries to abuse them, it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Now this is my opinion as an
Aunt with long experience in the
Family Services system in Utah.
My mentally ill sister in law and brother were monogamous.

The problem now will be in establishing trust
between the system
and parents--they
could have been there, the mistrust
stamped upon Fundamentalist Mormons by the raids during the war and imediattly
were beginning to fade.

 
At 9:54 AM, July 28, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue of marriage age in
Southern Utah
through 1998 when the 18 year old rule began to be enforced by the State, must be evaluated by economic and educational status, isolation of communities and not on religious grounds or marital
status of parents.

I absolutely disagree that the state has full jurisdiction over
crimes against
children-endangerment,
neglect, assault
whether physical
or sexual, whether
perpetrated by a
member of the
populace, household, or a person in authority
who has access to
the child by means
of public trust, including CPS or
Family Services,
should be prosecuted and the
child removed to
a competent private home where
its physical and emotional needs, including religious
convictions, can be
supported or met.

Otherwise crimes against children will be underreported or not reported at all.

I can't get the symbolic impact of
the caged unweaned
toddlers, penned in
a rusten wrought
iron play pen that
was open at the bottom and so crowded that the
front rows of children were crushed against the bars and one toddler was supported by only one leg, one toe just barely touching the floor.
This pen was, by its age, had very obviously been built, for removed
Native Children and
possibly even dated
back to the days of
slavery, when toddlers were sold
in exchange for food, going back some 170 years and
more. Though Spanish law for bade the sale of any child under 14
away from it's parents, three was
a common age in the Northern Slave trade area.

During the Utah War, when women and children sometimes lived with the Native peoples, as my
GGGGrandmother did
Mormon Women were
in some instances
pressured without
force to sell their
children in trade for food.

Xrays were needed in the YFK,and the person responsible for the care of these toddlers and taking them unlawfully
from their mothers
should be tried for
gross neglect.

Forced Marriage, or
marriage at any age
and by any form of
duress should be
prosecuted whether
in Monogamy or
Polygamy. As Incest
should be.

States where the gene pool is limited, or there
has been contamination with major mutagens such
as Dioxin and Radiation should ban marriage between Cousins.

The idea that religion is the only reason that raped children are
injured is so obviously dangerous
that I think that
Mith's comment should simply be
deleted by the site
operator.

Children who have
been assaulted in
their homes are
at the least likely to ignore
abuse of their own
children or to
marry into a family where abuse
was perpetrated or
ignored.

Since YFK is envisioned as a self sufficient
community, I think
they should be asked to provide housing and office
space for a Licensed Genetic
Counselor and licensed social worker who can work with all children in the
community, because
at this point all
have been traumatized and need counseling.

Services should be
equally available
to men and women
taken in the 1953
raids and who still
feel their effects.

Anon.

 
At 2:45 AM, August 30, 2008, Blogger lijiale said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:22 PM, March 16, 2009, Blogger moto said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

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