Unfortunately, because we live in California, we can’t live at Lake Wobegon or any resemblance of such an idyllic town. We have been saddled with the Sacramento legislature who continues to disrupt our lives by serving us ample helpings of wacky laws, smothered in good intentions and garnished with social engineering.
The latest example is Senate Bill 18 called the Bill of Rights for Children and Youth in California, sponsored by Richard Pan. On the title’s face, it sounds reasonable. Who would not vote for children and youth having rights not in the Constitution? The bill, if it becomes law, declares that all children and youth have the inherent rights to the following:
- The right to parents, guardians, or caregivers who act in their best
- The right to form healthy attachments with adults responsible for their care and well-
- The right to live in a safe and healthy environment.
- The right to social and emotional well-being.
- The right to opportunities to attain optimal cognitive, physical, and social
- The right to appropriate, quality education and life skills leading to self-sufficiency in
- The right to appropriate, quality health
The legislative intent is “to establish a comprehensive framework that governs the rights of all children and youth in California, outlines the research-based essential needs of California’s children, and establishes standards relating to the health, safety, well-being, early childhood and educational opportunities, and familial supports necessary for all children to succeed.”
But the devil is in the details: Questions one should ask – What research-based studies will be used? What standards will be established and by whom? What metric will be used for these standards and how will these be monitored and evaluated for compliance by the State on a case-by-case basis? Who will enforce these standards and what penalties or fines will be imposed on parents who are not to the State’s standard?
Education: Many parents have embraced home schooling, where parents choose to educate their children at home instead of sending them to a traditional public or private school. By 1993, home schooling has become legal in all 50 states. From 2003 to 2012, the number of American children 5 through 17 years old who were home schooled rose by 61.8 percent. Success
of home schooling is reflected in the high school graduation rates where 66.7% of home schooled students graduate, compared to 57.5% of traditionally educated students. Colleges and universities embrace home schooled students, recognizing that they are often better prepared than their brick-and- mortar schooled peers.
By all measures, home schooling compared to brick- and-mortor schools, is a success built on the freedom a parent has to teach their child the skills to survive and thrive in our society. But what happens to California’s 6.8 million home schooled children7 when a research-based study establishes a standard that is in conflict with the parent’s values and curriculum? Does the State come in and remove the children using SB18 and the long arm of Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Healthcare: A 2004 article in Pediatric Child Health provided physician guidelines when deciding health choices for children. It states that, “…parents usually have the legal and moral authority to act as surrogates for their children or adolescents, this is not always the case. For instance, parents might not be appropriate decision makers for a child or adolescent…” If SB18 becomes law, the State is given ultimate authority to decide healthcare decisions for the child. What happens when a parent takes their child to a doctor who recommends a course of therapy but the parent declines and selects other treatment options? Is the doctor obligated under SB18 to report this to CPS similar to the legal obligation to report unusual bruising or burns as potential child abuse?
When parents and physicians disagree about a child’s treatment, CPS can be contacted. CPS can take the child from the home and terminate parental authority. The term “medical kidnapping” has been used in these interventions. It can be done without a court order and with the assistance of local police.
The parents of an Amish girl in Ohio stopped her chemo therapy, however an Ohio court overturned a previous judge’s ruling and awarded custody of the girl to the hospital’s nurse/attorney and continue the chemo. The hospital claimed the child’s life was in danger if she did not continue with it. The child’s parents reported she was doing better without chemo and that chemo was actually killing her. An assertion was made that the child was part of a study for experimental drugs. Discontinuing the treatment therapy could cause the hospital to lose substantial funding for ending the drug trial too soon.
SB 18 on the surface sounds very attractive, but thinking it through, it becomes clear that it will be difficult to implement, difficult to fairly evaluate all cases and apply consistent standards. It imposes the will of the State and increase its reach into families by usurping parents decisions over their children and interfere with the parent-child relationship.
Garrison Keillor said, “If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it’s no longer the United States of America as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.” He is a very wise man.