Balloon Boy - Is it Abuse?
Balloon Boy – Is it Abuse?
There is a public outcry over the recent incident involving 6-year old, Falcon Heene. Heene’s parents, Richard and Mayumi, of Fort Collins, Colorado, are under criminal investigation by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office for, among other things, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, false reporting, and other crimes. Since flights were apparently disrupted at DIA, federal charges may also be forthcoming. People around the country, indeed, around the world, are understandably outraged at what now appears to have been a tawdry publicity stunt involving young children. Of course, there is now an enormous amount of public pressure pointing at the officials of Larimer County, Colorado, to “do something” to protect the kids.
But, what can be done? Or, perhaps it is better to ask, what should be done?
Under Colorado law, a child can only be removed from the home if he or she is “neglected or dependent”. This legal term requires that law enforcement has evidence that the parents subjected him or her to mistreatment or abuse, that the child lacks proper parental care, or that the child’s environment is injurious to his or her welfare (emphasis added). Based on the limited facts now known to the public, this situation likely does not rise to the level of abuse.
Are the Heene parents’ actions odd? Are they angering? Are they perhaps even a bit wacky? Probably yes. But, that doesn’t mean that they rise to the legal standard justifying a forcible removal of these young boys’ from their parents and their home. The reality is that social services should not bow to public pressure unless there is a lot more evidence that these boys are in immediately threatened. And, the fact of the matter is that, while most reasonable parents wouldn’t fathom involving their children in such a wacky, public hoax, there are many hundreds and thousands of kids who wake up every day in far worse situations – where drug abuse, coupled with physical abuse and severe malnutrition are rampant. Social services simply lacks the resources to handle all of the truly emergency neglect that happens every day in our communities.
Furthermore, we must not lose sight of two, critical facts.
First, for those of us who work in the child welfare system, it is far from a foregone conclusion that children in county custody are going to experience a better outcome than those who remain in their homes. Kids in foster care are too often the victims of further abuse. They often are emotionally traumatized by the indignity of multiple placements during their childhood.
Second, there is a fundamental, constitutional right for fit parents to exercise discretion over the proper upbringing of their children. We simply cannot allow overzealous social workers, while most often well-intentioned, to overstep their bounds and intrude into otherwise-intact families.
We must continue to urge our public officials, and our state legislators, to properly fund and investigate the real scourge of child abuse that is rampant in this country. Until we do so, we must be wary of those with political power who are tempted bow to public pressure when politically expedient.
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