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Making Hard Lemonade Into A Lemon

I thought the case of the Georgetown couple whose babies were taken from them because one of them suffered a bump on her head made a pretty compelling case for the idea that the nanny state has gone too far in poking its way into parent-child relationships.

But now comes a case from Detroit that is even more mind-boggling and scary. A father whose only crime is that he's a professor who spends his time studying classical archaeology rather than immersing himself in American pop culture had his seven-year-old son snatched from him by the government because the kid was seen at a Detroit Tigers baseball game drinking "hard lemonade."

As Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson reports, University of Michigan professor Christopher Ratte and his wife lost custody of their son for several days because while father and son were at the ballpark, father bought the kid a lemonade--having no idea that "hard lemonade" is different from the traditional drink.

Ok, the guy might be living in something of a bubble, but that is his right, isn't it? I was only vaguely aware that there is an alcoholic drink called "hard lemonade," and the first dozen people I asked broke 9-3 with the majority knowing full well what the stuff is, but still, a significant minority had no clue.

Anyway, prof buys his kid the alcoholic drink, vendor hands it over, kid drinks, security guard sees kid drinking, and an hour later, the authorities have transported the boy to the hospital--by ambulance!--and the father is being interviewed by police. Dickerson tells the story in full, but suffice to say that even after the professor persuades the child protection authorities that he had no idea what he had just served to his son, and even after the hospital determined that no harm had been done, everyone just proceeded on, calling in the child protection folks, taking the child away, just because that's what the protocol demanded.

Just following orders.

So the state was willing to toss the boy into a foster home rather than hand him over to the Ratte's relatives--likely causing far greater trauma than imbibing a few ounces of a lightly alcoholic drink served to him in error.

The Michigan law professor who defended the Ratte family told Dickerson that the state's emergency removal powers, though "well-intentioned," are "out of control and partly responsible for the large numbers of kids in the foster care system."

Exactly. But child protection agencies here and across the nation continue to argue that, hey, by asking us to get tough on truly abusive parents, you are forcing us to these excesses against good parents. How are we to tell? too many social workers argue. I'd make another plea for discretion and the power of human intelligence, but I fear the powers that be understand all too well--they just prefer to declare themselves tools and victims of unthinking rules. That certainly makes their jobs easier.

By Marc Fisher |  April 29, 2008; 12:02 PM ET
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But it's for our CHILDREN! And Children Are Our Future!(c).

Posted by: Stick | April 29, 2008 12:27 PM

So what are you telling us that we didn't already know Marc: That the people making the decisions at social services are a bunch of mindless robots, incapable of independent thought?

C'mon, they have to work someplace. They can't all be Dallas Cowboy football players.

Posted by: SoMD | April 29, 2008 3:14 PM

So why wasn't the father carded for buying the lemon aide, which would have then maybe tipped him off that something was amiss with the lemonaide? W

Posted by: Anonymous | April 29, 2008 3:55 PM

I'm 32 and look 22 and have yet to be carded at a Nationals game. Plus if he's up at the stand with his kid and looks even slightly older than 21, I doubt they'd ask for an ID.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | April 29, 2008 4:05 PM

Marc, the problem is that you're asking people to make a judgment call based on imperfect knowledge. That simple fact right there means that mistakes WILL BE MADE. Not "might be made", but WILL BE MADE.

The social workers have imperfect knowledge because they are not omniscient and they know others are not omniscient. So, they can't possibly know who's telling the truth and who's lying. And it's not as if abusers are going to sit there and admit their abuse.

Anyway, obviously, the folks in Michigan went too far, but if you think allowing "discretion" will suddenly solve all problems with child protection services, you're considerably dumber than I thought.

Posted by: Ryan | April 29, 2008 6:43 PM

Mistakes are made either way, whether you allow for more discretion or apply rigid rules. The real question ought to be which method causes less harm to the children such rules are designed to protect? That, I cannot say. However, the application of rigid rules oftentimes is merely a way for administrative agencies to insulate themselves from blame caused by their actions or failures to act.

Posted by: M Street | April 30, 2008 12:25 PM

I just don't believe this actually happened

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2008 3:12 AM

I just don't believe this actually happened

Posted by: Anonymous | May 17, 2008 3:12 AM

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