JUST LET PARENTS BE PARENTS
(THE WORKER WAS) ASKING ME ABOUT IF WE’VE EVER DEALT WITH CFS BEFORE, WHAT MY CHILDHOOD WAS LIKE, HOW I PUNISH MY CHILDREN. — JACQUI KENDRICK, MOTHER YOU CAN’T THROW COMMON SENSE OUT THE WINDOW JUST BECAUSE PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM ABUSE AND NEGLECT IS A SERIOUS PRIORITY.
Winnipeg mom Jacqui Kendrick says that earlier this month, she opened her door to find an unexpected guest: a Child and Family Services (CFS) worker intent on checking on the “well-being” of her three children.
Just like when the RCMP scolded a Squamish, B.C., couple last April for allowing their four-year-old son to play naked in the front yard after getting soaked in a playful water fight, no one knows which disapproving neighbour or passerby called the authorities on Kendrick. All we can say for sure is that whoever lodged the objection didn’t approve of her choice to allow her twoyear-old, five-year-old and 10-year-old to play together, with no adult present, in the family’s fenced-in backyard.
The children weren’ t exactly unsupervised: Kendrick says she always keeps an eye on them from the living room windows overlooking the backyard, when she’s not out in the yard herself. She also says her inter- action with the CFS worker was so upsetting it brought her to tears. “(The worker was) asking me about if we’ve ever dealt with CFS before, what my childhood was like, how I punish my children,” Kendrick told The Canadian Press.
And to further put the screws to Kendrick, the worker requested a look at where the children slept and what kind of food was on hand in the kitchen. Everything checked out, but the CFS will now be keeping a permanent file on Kendrick, just in case.
As a mother who frequently lets my three children (ages nine, five and five) play around in the yard while I glance out the windows, I think Kendrick is right to be irritated and worried. Whether a nine- or 10-year-old can responsibly look out for his or her younger siblings for short periods of time depends on the nine- or 10-year-0ld, and on the younger siblings — who may favour quietly pick- ing dandelions, or be prone to climbing fences and dashing into traffic with gleeful smiles on their faces.
Kids are a mixed bag, and an arrangement that constitutes responsible parenting with one child could constitute reckless disregard with another. Parents may not always make the perfect calculation about where to draw the line, but their calculation is still likely to be less imperfect than that of a random guy walking down the street.
Yet all it takes is an anonymous call from the ran- dom guy to land a parent in the middle of an unsettling interrogation and with a permanent record at CFS, even if the complaint was eventually found to have no merit.
If children are to be protected from abuse and serious neglect, we need agencies like CFS to be active and responsive. And as we’ve seen recently with the heartbreaking case of Ezekiel Stephan, even a well-meaning parent can make errors of judgment so serious hey cost a young child his life.
Children aren’t autonomous and they depend on their caregivers to keep them clothed, fed, sheltered, shielded from avoidable dangers and taken care of. If a parent is falling down on any of those counts, I want CFS to be dropping by.
But there’s no reason we can’t insist CFS change how it operates. It needn’t react the same way to an anonymous complaint of kids playing in their own yard as it does to a call from a doctor treating a severely malnourished child.
You can’t throw common sense out the window just because protecting children from abuse and neglect is a serious priority. Doing so ends up freaking out a lot more kids than it saves (children tend to be no less sensitive to CFS investigations than their parents) and leads to defensive over-parenting that smothers kids’ development.
This, fundamentally, is why we need to let parents do the parenting when at all possible. And when you’re looking at a few kids playing around in their own backyard, it’s definitely possible.