Thursday, July 17, 2014

More helicopter parenting...

I really think helicopter parenting is getting way out of hand in the United States.  Yesterday, I read about the sad case of Debra Harrell, a 46 year old mother of a nine year old who now sits in jail because she let her daughter play in a nearby park while she worked at a McDonald's in North Augusta, South Carolina.  I was particularly interested when I read that Harrell lives in South Carolina, since I got my social work and public health degrees there and had some casual dealings with their Department of Social Services due to my academic work.

During the school year, Harrell had a place to send her daughter.  The girl went to school and there were child care options for after school.  But during the summer, Harrell had no place to send her daughter.  She would take her to work with her with a laptop computer and the girl would take advantage of McDonald's free wi-fi.  Sadly, someone broke into Harrell's home and stole the laptop.

Not wanting to be cooped up in a McDonald's for hours with nothing to do, Harrell's daughter asked her mother if she could go play at a nearby park instead.  Harrell agreed and gave the girl a cellphone so she could call if she needed anything.  The park was less than two miles away.  If this solution hadn't gone so tragically wrong, this would almost be a breath of fresh air.  I mean, imagine a child who wants to be outside playing instead of sitting in front of a computer at a McDonald's, drinking sodas and eating French fries and Big Macs.

After a few days of seeing her alone at the park, someone asked her where her mother was.  Harrell's daughter said her mom was at work.  The "Good Samaritan" then called the police, who swooped in and rescued the girl from the park.  She is now in the care of the Department of Social Services and her mother is in jail.  I'm guessing mom has lost her job by now and will be even less able to provide for her child.

This story hit close to home for me because it highlights a big problem that I was working on when I lived in South Carolina and worked as a graduate assistant for the Department of Health and Environmental Control.  My boss's primary job was tracking health care policy, so I spent most days looking for new health related laws in South Carolina's legislature.  But she was also very involved with maternal and child health and one project that was near and dear to her heart was the availability, affordability, and accessibility of child care.

People have to work in order to be able to provide for themselves and their families.  I don't know what Debra Harrell's situation is, but I'm guessing there's a reason she took her child to McDonald's instead of a child care center.  Child care is expensive and it's doubtful that a paycheck from Mickey D's would pay enough for Harrell to take advantage of it and still manage to pay her other bills.  I don't know if Harrell has other children, a spouse, or other family members around who could care for the girl, but again, I'm guessing that if other family members were around, they would have helped if they could.  Maybe not?  Again, I don't know.

Above all, I remember how things were when I was nine and I would spend hours on my own, exploring my environment and learning to solve my own problems.  My mom had no idea where I was and that was the way we both liked it.  People were not nearly as paranoid back then as they are now, even though we had way fewer laws designed to protect children.  The vast majority of people of my generation grew up mostly fine.  Given that we have less crime now than we did in the 80s, you'd think today's kids might be able to enjoy a little more freedom.

Aside from the fact that the overall crime rate is lower than it used to be, children are rarely abducted by "strange men".  In fact, most children are abducted and abused by people they know…  family members or friends of the family who know the child and has their trust.  Yes, the park is in an area where there may be a lot of traffic, but the chances of that child actually being swiped by a stranger are very low.  And risk is a part of life.  Bad things happen to people all the time, even when they do all they can to prevent them from happening.

It seems a shame to me that Debra Harrell's daughter is now having to deal with the drama of DSS and her mother is now in jail for doing something that many of our mothers would have done back when we were kids.  It's a waste of resources to drag this woman through the legal system for doing her best to provide for herself and her child.  Something more has got to be done to help people like Debra Harrell, who is just trying to get by.  Putting her in jail does not serve society.  When she gets out, will she still have a place to work?  A place to live?  A daughter to raise?

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  1. Sometimes a person just cannot win. We want people to work. This woman does, and watches her child the best she can, and some idiot social services department sticks its nose where it does not belong. Surely there are children who need the assistance of social services far more than does the child of this somewhat resourceful mother. I would like to think that both philanthropists and legislators are looking into what they can do to reunite a hard-working mother with her child. I wish I could hand over my own laptop, although at this point it wouldn't do much good. Sometimes the middle class just doesn't get it.

    1. I feel sorry for people trying to raise kids these days.


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