State Sponsored Parenting: A Tale Of Two Sonyas
Dec. 3, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — I remember clearly when my parents would let me roam the neighborhoods surrounding our house freely. My friends and I would hide in bushes, ambush passerby with silly string, and climb the trees near my house. Today that sort of permissive parenting gets parents felony charges.
Sonya Hendren was arrested for felony child endangerment and neglect and had Tomahawk taken away. The alleged crime was letting him roam on a playground 120 feet from their front door.
“We have a CPS (Child Protective Service) case now and every time he’s not in my visual site we’re in violation,” Hendren said.
The horrendous crime of parenting your child by allowing him to roam freely in a gated apartment community was reported by a good citizen just wanting to see Sonya Hendren reprimanded by law enforcement for not being a helicopter parent.
“I thought she would just get a warning … and she wouldn’t let them be out alone again,” said Sonja Horrell, who reported Tomahawk to CPS. Horrell and her daughter said they were worried because Tomahawk was left unattended. They said they didn’t mean the family any harm.
Horrell and her daughter may have truly been worried. In their rush to judgment, they exhibited what the “World’s Worst Mom,” Lenore Skenazy, calls “Worst-First Thinking.” Their first reaction was to come up with the worst possible scenario that could have happened to Sonya Hendren’s son Tomahawk and proceeded accordingly. While Horrell’s intentions may have been pure, the family has now been harmed.
Sonya Hendren’s name will more than likely go on the California Child Abuse Registry, since CPS has probably “substantiated” Hendren for lack of supervision. Hendren can take comfort the registry isn’t publicly available to anyone with internet access and a knowledge of Google, but it will limit her ability to ever work with children, adopt another child, or serve as a foster parent. Hendren faces costly litigation as she fights to get the charges dropped. In the interim, she will have to abide by the byzantine parenting rules of California’s Children and Family Services Division.
Meanwhile, the Horrell family remains unapologetic.
Horrell’s daughter Brandi said, “I’m not mad that she has to do things now to teach her because what if somebody did take him away.”
Over at Reason, Skenazy asks the tough questions about the worries of the Horrells and their actions that led to the arrest of a mother and the state sponsored division of a family.
If the neighbors were worried, why wouldn’t they just talk to the mom? And if the cops were worried, why didn’t they tell her why this was dangerous (citing actual stats, not just “what ifs”), rather than threatening her with jail time? How does that solve any problems?
The answers are simple for anyone who actually works in juvenile law. In our disconnected society, people avoid honest discussions with others, so it’s better the police and bureaucracies deal with parenting we deem problematic. That attitude may lead to the deaths of children while in foster care, but so what? Better safe than sorry, right? My Fault Lines colleague Scott Greenfield poses an interesting meditation on that old chestnut that’s highly relevant to this case.
The weird thing about that old saying, better safe than sorry, is that we find it so incredibly easy to project onto the behavior of others, while realizing how ridiculous it is to have it projected onto our own behaviors. After all, we know we’re not a threat. Not to a child. Not to a cop. Not to anyone.
But hey, the other people don’t know us, and can’t be absolutely certain of our motives or actions. Aren’t they entitled to assume the worst first about us?
That mentality is precisely what led Sonja Horrell to call 911 when she saw Tomahawk 120 feet from her neighbor’s front door. Horrell wasn’t a bad parent. After all, she’d raised her daughter Brandi without incident. But she didn’t know Sonya Hendren was a “free range parent” and didn’t stop to think that style of parenting might not be a threat to Tomahawk.
So 911 was called. Tomahawk got the horrific experience of being separated from his mother, and Sonya Hendren still has charges pending against her because Sonja and Brandi Horrell deemed her a Bad Parent. As a result of that “worst-first” thinking, the State of California now gets to decide what constitutes good parenting for Sonya Hendren, and if she disagrees Tomahawk may never see his mother again.
Twenty to thirty years ago parents were free to raise their kids in the manner they saw fit. Today that privilege is no longer available. From the moment your child is born the state will show up at your door to provide “services and information” on how to raise your child, since you can’t possibly be trusted to do it yourself. You will be watched by others who will question your every parenting decision, and publicly reprimand you or call the police if they disagree.
No wonder we’ve got a rise in helicopter parenting. Those of us with children don’t want felony records.