Thursday, December 15, 2016

California Senate Bill 18 Unnecessary, Vague and Dangerously Open Ended


On the surface, Senate Bill 18, recently introduced by Senator Pan, looks like a good idea. It is titled The Children and Youth of CA Bill of Rights. The bill outlines seven different areas which children and youth should be protected. However, the seven areas outlined are vague and open ended which ultimately seems to not be consistent with the best interest of children and families.

Most people want to protect children. Most parents want to protect their children. Progressive minded people care for all chldren. However this particular bill seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

SB 18 is unnecessary. There are already laws in place that address the extreme cases in which children do not have protection and nurturing from their parent or guardian. In fact, the first line of SB18 states: "Existing law provides for the care and welfare of children and youth in various contexts, including, but not limited to, child welfare services, foster care, health care, nutrition, homeless assistance, and education." So, admittedly the author is aware that these areas of need are already covered by California law. Further, there are over 300 Welfare and Institution codes already in place that protect the children of California. They give social services the authority to intervene when basic needs are not being met, including adequate medical/mental health care, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and making sure kids have adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education.

The question becomes do you remove the parental rights of all California parents due to the negative behavior and decisions of a few, when there are already laws in place to respond to them? The answer is NO. To do so would be unconstitutional. The US Supreme Court has affirmed parents' fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit. In the case of Troxel v. Granville, the United States Supreme Court stated: “The liberty interest … of parents in the care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized. It is cardinal … that the custody, care, and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder. It cannot [therefore]… be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.” Id. at 65 (2000). SB18 looks to remove this right from parents and place it in the hands of the State.

What seems to be quite dangerous about SB 18 is that is both vague and open ended. Once amended, the bill might not be consistent with the best interests of children and families.

Here are some areas below that may be impacted because of the vague nature of SB 18

LGBT Families- If the state determines that it's in the best interest of a child to develop bonds with a mother and father, what does that mean for families that don't comply with that "traditional" model? Or for single parents?

Special Needs Families- We all know that each child with special needs is unique and requires individualized care and services. But if the state, under authority of SB18, decides that all children with a specific diagnosis should be treated and served in a certain way, that removes the right of the parents to make decisions not consistent with the state's one-size-fits-all "research-based" standard of care. That's unconstitutional.

Pharmaceutical choice- If the state determines that children exhibiting certain behaviors should be medicated, that would effectively remove the ability of the parent to utilize alternatives to medication.

SB 18 is not the answer to California's problems. Certainly children need the seven key elements outlined in the bill. But SB 18 is not the vehicle to ensure those needs are met. There is nothing in SB18 that indicates that the most vulnerable children--those at risk because their families are under untenable stress--would be any better served with the passage of this bill. Instead the state is seeking to take on more intrusive oversight of children and families whose kids are NOT at risk. This is beyond the scope of the state's power. We do not need to waste California’s funding, time, and effort on SB18. Put that funding , time and effort toward what we have in place now. Let's improve the social services system we already have in place. Pay social workers more and decrease their excessive case loads. Let's improve our public education system and raise CA's national rank in that area. Let's improve the foster care system and better protect those children from imminent harm. We don't need to spend 5 years researching what our kids need. We already know what our kids need. And again, there are laws in place to address when parents fail to meet those needs. The state does not know best. Parents know best. And the United States Supreme Court agrees with us--parents should provide children with protection, special care, and assistance, not the state.

Call your California legislator and ask them to vote NO on SB 18. Ask them not to co author SB 18 either.

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