In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Talk About Your Nanny State

It's all over the news: a Grand Rapids-area woman has been threatened by the Michigan Department of Human Services with fines and possible jail time for babysitting her neighbors' children while they wait 15 to 40 minutes at her home for the morning school bus, so that their parents can get to work on time.

A local TV station reports that when DHS received a complaint from a neighbor that Lisa Snyder of Middleville was operating an illegal child care home, DHS contacted Snyder and told her to get licensed, stop watching her neighbors' kids, or face fines and/or 90 days' imprisonment. Mrs. Snyder says that she accepts no money for the babysitting, which she does as a favor for several of her neighbors because they have to leave for work before the bus arrives.

According to MSNBC, the 1973 law at issue says that anyone who watches an unrelated person’s child for a period of 28 days a year is running a day care center and has to have a license. It doesn’t matter if the child is being watched for five minutes a day or five hours. Mrs. Snyder said that she called DHS to try to find out why she needed a license when she was just watching her friends’ children and wasn’t being paid.
“I said that the children should be able to come into my house if it’s raining or there’s a snowstorm,” Snyder went on. “The lady said to me, plain and simple, ‘Tell the parents to buy an umbrella.’ She was serious.”

Snyder also asked if the kids could come to her house for playdates. She was told that if the children’s parents were at home during the playtime it was OK, but if they dropped the kids off to play and then went to the store or out to dinner, it was no longer a playdate — it was day care.
The MSNBC story also reports that James Gale of DHS confirmed the facts of the case and said that the department must look into all complaints about illegal day care centers. “In the interest of protecting children, we will investigate all allegations or complaints of unlicensed child care.” An Associated Press story reveals that the head of DHS and the Michigan Governor's office have now acknowledged that this application of the law defies common sense, and that the agency will work with the state legislature (a member of which is working on the project already) to change the law to exclude neighbor-helping-neighbor situations.

REALLY! Does it take national media exposure and the embarrassment of the Governor and state agency directors before common sense can prevail in such a situation? The thuggish, all-controlling mindset of even the pettiest bureaucrats is beyond belief. DHS defended its actions here by invoking a duty to "investigate all allegations or complaints of unlicensed child care." From what's been reported, there was no "investigation" at all--just a knee-jerk response to a (jealous, mean, or self-serving) tipster's report with a threatening letter and ultimatums. That's a lot easier and cheaper than sending a flesh-and-blood person over to the Snyders' house to find out what the actual facts were, and to hear their side of the story. Of course, if that had been done. someone at DHS would have had to exercise some common-sense judgment and responsibility, and chosen not to pursue the matter. But that's just not in the nature of a bureaucrat--to have power, and not flaunt it? To be able to control, and not do so to the maximum extent of the most liberal interpretation of the law? How else could they cover their own behinds if something unfortunate happened to one of the while at the Snyders'?

This case also reflects the bankruptcy of the license-and-regulate-everything-that-moves instinct of the Nanny Staters. Almost inevitably, the protective purpose of the law is quickly lost or never achieved, and regulation becomes an end in itself. As a commenter to another article about this case observed (I've deleted the expletives), "Mary Poppins could watch children and the law will come down on her if she does not have a license. Charles Manson could watch kids and the law will leave him completely alone if he has a license." Worse, the regulation becomes a weapon used against ordinary people to advance and protect the vested interests of some favored group--licensed professional day care providers, for example, or the unionized providers that monopolize the market in some states.

The Michigan case as well exposes the tendency of officials and other "socially responsible" people--typically, professionally-degreed, affluent liberals without nuclear families of their own--to take from ordinary people (whom they disdain and distrust) power over their own lives and affairs, and commit it to government agencies whom they are sure know what's best for all. Plain folks are usually unaware of how their freedom and independence are being sapped away, even inside their own homes, until they have an experience like Mrs. Snyder's. But in recent months the scales have been falling from more and more eyes, to the discomfort of the socialist crowd now prevailing in our nation's capital. As another commenter about this story remarked, "I gotta thank Obama. If it wasn't for him, I never would have paid attention to the damage that big government intervention does to society."

Unfortunately, it will take more than one embarrassing incident to slow down the Nanny State, for which even licensing isn't enough. According to the Boston Herald, officials of the Massachusetts Board of Early Education and Care have issued regulations providing (among other things) that:
  • Child-care workers are now called “educators.”
  • Written progress reports must be issued every three to six months that track the cognitive, social, emotional, language, motor and life skill developments of infants and preschoolers.
  • Day-care providers must “assist” with toothbrushing after all meals, or for any children on site for four hours or more.
  • Day-care providers must devise a “curriculum” that provides “evidence that programs provide specific, planned learning experiences” and that supports “school-readiness.”
I'd like to think that the bureaucrats who concocted these rules are well-meaning and idealistic, but so far removed from real life that they can't appreciate the virtual impossibility of compliance by any but the largest, most sophisticated, and most amply-funded day care operations. Or perhaps they know that perfectly, and fully intend to drive small-scale day care providers out of business, and their clients into government-contracted or government-run facilities. That, of course, would create employment opportunities for more day-care bureaucrats and business opportunities for their friends and hangers-on.

I can hear them gleefully hollering now: "Who's your Nanny?!"


Anonymous said...

Oh good grief--!! Why don't these Social Services people do their job and go after those who are REALLY abusing children, and leave kind-hearted neighbors like this lady alone!! Gee, I remember how my family's neighbors looked after all the kids around them, and they never had to fear being 'reported' to the Nanny State. Something's 'rotten in the state of Denmark (or Michigan or whatever-state-you-want)", don't you think? Ridiculous....

JoJo said...