Parental Rights versus State Needs: A History of Conflict and Compromise
Historically, parents sourced their rights regarding childrearing from one outlet, themselves. In modern times, the state has taken a more active role in family issues, to include parenting. This interaction between state and individual parent has not always been harmonious. This paper will discuss the issue from both perspectives.
When considering American history, governments treated parental rights as a private matter that deserved interference only under special circumstances. Guidance often came from the Bible, and encouraged conduct that, in modern times, is subject to ...view middle of the document...
Webster’s Law Dictionary defines parens patriae literally as “parent of the country” (Webster’s Law, 1996). This policy involved the state intervening and determining what was best for those not able to determine what was best on their own (Webster’s). Though generally an unwritten legal concept, it, nevertheless, became commonplace in English courts, to include their Colonial American counterparts (Wardle, p. 841).
Parens patriae ran concurrently with the doctrine of the “best interest of the child” (Wardle). This doctrine entailed the paternal parent gaining custody, as he was the only one in the family maintaining possessions and earning sustaining wages (Wardle).
Eventually, the “best interest of the child” gave way to the “tender years doctrine,” where the maternal parent, by default, was the best option for child rearing (Wardle). This concept first officially appeared in case law through Commonwealth V. Addicks, 5 Binn. 520 (Pa. 1813), where the courts refused to grant the father custody, even though the mother committed adultery (spokane.edu, 2009).
As modern law evolved to what currently exists, conflicting views often prospered. This author calls upon personal experience to demonstrate examples of such modern conflicting views.
As an active police officer, this author possesses much first-hand experience at how conflicting views may interfere with efficient interfacing between parental rights and state needs. Many of these conflicts center on the concept of corporal punishment, and involve Child Protective Services representatives.
23 Pa.C.S.A., chapter 63, defines Child Protective Services, and delineates their respective powers (Title 23 Pa.C.S.A, 2008). In the definitions section, § 6303(a), one can find the definitions for serious bodily injury, serious physical injury, and serious mental injury. They are as follows:
Serious bodily injury: Bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss of impairment of function of any bodily member or organ.
Serious mental injury: A psychological condition, as diagnosed by a physician or licensed psychologist, including the refusal of treatment, that (1) renders a child chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic or in reasonable fear that the child’s life or safety is threatened; or (2) seriously interferes with a child’s ability to accomplish age-appropriate developmental and social tasks.
Serious physical injury: An injury that: (1) causes a child severe pain; or (2) significantly impairs a child’s physical functioning, either temporarily or permanently (Title 23 Pa.C.S.A.).
During the course of performing family-related incidents, this author witnessed substantial numbers of Child Protective Services representatives interpreting the above definitions to preclude parents from using...