The state vs parent round two: how much oversight is too much?

Story number one: No doubt many of you, like me, read with some disbelief about the British Columbia father who was investigated by child welfare authorities because he let his kids – five of them between the ages of 7 and 11 – take public transit to school without being with them.

He had spent some time familiarizing the children with the bus system, initially riding with them, then watching them get on the bus and following it as they made their way through the city, gradually decreasing his supervision of them until they were able to ride the bus safely on their own.

Someone complained to the provincial child welfare agency. Because complaints to child protection authorities are anonymous, we don’t know who made it or why. Perhaps it was made out of genuine (if misplaced) concern because the children were not with an adult; perhaps the kids were a bit rowdy on the bus and a fellow passenger became irritated and made the call; perhaps the caller had some malicious intent.

Regardless of the reason, once the call was made, the officials investigated and told the father that he could not let unsupervised children under 10 years of age out in the community alone.

Unsupervised fun

I don’t know about you, but I had a lot of fun when I was under 10 years of age and out in the community unsupervised. I am the oldest of six kids and, by the time I was 10, had four younger siblings. My friends and I spent many a summer’s day roaming the neighbourhood, riding our bikes to the closest corner store to buy wax lips filled with some disgusting sugary liquid and playing in a small forest near my family’s home. Warm evenings were spent playing kick the can with a dozen or more kids until mothers started summoning all of us home. Winter time meant tobogganing on the slopes of a nearby golf course.  No one got hurt and no one caused any harm. I would not have wanted to give up the independence that those activities afforded me, and I have no doubt that my mother was more than happy to have at least one kid out from under her feet for part of the day.

Of course we want to make sure our children are safe, but the truth is that kids are most likely to be harmed not by a stranger while they are riding a city bus in broad daylight but by an adult they know and trust and who is trusted by their parent. Surely, there are more serious child protection concerns to be pursuing than five kids, well trained by their parent, taking a bus to school.

Story number two: Kristjan Gottfried and Michelle Hurtig were delighted when they made it to the top of a waiting list to get into a housing co-op in Vancouver. They had one child – a son—and were expecting another – -a daughter – and were keen to get settled in their new two-bedroom home before the birth.

However, their delight was short lived when a member of the Board of Directors informed them that, since their as-yet-unborn baby was going to be a girl, they were not eligible for a two-bedroom apartment because opposite sex children were not permitted to share a bedroom. Apparently, Canadian housing co-ops follow the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporations National Occupancy Standard(NOS), which prohibits opposite sex children over the age of five from sharing a bedroom.

Co-sleeping is common

Really? Don’t families in large parts of the world sleep together (parents, kids, cousins, grandparents) with few, if any, ill effects? Isn’t co-sleeping a popular parenting trend in North America?

While I don’t agree entirely with Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s infamous statement in 1967 that “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” this situation, like the kids taking the bus to school story above, seems to be a clear case of government over-involvement in how families run their own business.

(Since this story first broke in mid-September, considerable confusion has arisen over whether co-ops do, in fact, have to follow the NOS. The B.C. Housing Authority says it uses the occupancy standard as a guideline but often waives or adjusts it depending on a family’s situation. This may be the case, but members of some co-ops feel their co-ops enforce the rules in a way that can make it difficult for families to secure affordable housing.)

One thought on “The state vs parent round two: how much oversight is too much?

  1. Also in BC, my stepdaughter’s family has been under investigation by the ministry because she let her nine-year-old daughter walk two blocks home, after extensive training and testing. They have been trying to foster independence, and choice making, and have been put through hell because of it. And there was always a parent there waiting for her.

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