children and to prevent the problems that hae arisen underrnthe preious sstem. What is not much talked about in thernerusade against child abuse is the scandal of children molestedrnb the teachers, social workers, and foster parents to whomrnthe hae been entrusted. The author of By Silence Betrayed:rnSexual Abuae of Children in America discusses well-knownrncases of abuse by workers in daycare centers, by youth grouprnleaders, and by foster parents. The governor of Illinois traveledrnall the wav to Rockford, a few years ago, to pin a medal on arnheroic foster father who had taken care of dozens of boys. Arnear later, the man was indicted for sodomizing his charges.rnThe truth is, most children are safer in all but the worst intactrnhouseholds than in the care of strangers. In Iowa, however,rnwhere the- arc eager to invade homes to sniff out neglect, thernstate legislature in 1990 rejected a bill that would hae bannedrnchild-abusers from teacliing school.rnDespite the obviousness of this obseration, judges and socialrnworkers continue to insist that thc have the right to decidernwhat is best for children. In children’s rights, the ease ofrnthe car for 1992 was the parental divorce case, but judgesrnare frequentlv asked to decide between a child’s natural parentsrnand alternatives. Without wishing to minimize the horrorsrnexperienced bv children in some families, I cannot bringrnmself to believe that either judges or social workers have thernexperience or the moral judgment to justify this assumption ofrnjjower, particulady when it is not a question of life-threateningrnabuse. At the age of ten, the Southern writer William GilmorernSimms was asked b- a judge if lie wanted to lic with his fatherrnor his maternal grandmother. Simms’ mother had died short-rnK after his birth, and his father had gone West to seek hisrnfortune, leaving the bo in the care of the grandmother. Afterrnhe had achicx’cd economic stability, the elder Simms wantedrnhis son w ith him. But, to his everlasting regret, the bov chosernto remain in the only household he had ever known: “Thernrights of the father were set aside—I think now impropedy,”rnSimms w rote later in his life, “and, as I nov- believe, to myrnirretricable injury.”rnWhat should the judge have done? There can be only onernanswer: the child belongs to his next of kin. Natural parentsrnunder natural circumstances will ver rarelv abuse their children,rnand if society has an’ interest at all in what goes on insiderna familial household, then its first impcrati’e is to do nothingrnto weaken the bonds between parent and child. It is in brokenrnhomes, not intact households, that children are most likelyrnto be abused or neglected, and the state’s first rule must be arnI lippocratie injunction not to harm the patient. If some deprarned parents arc harming their children, then it is the state’srnfirst business not to contribute to the depravity of sane parentsrnb- depriing them of their natural and historic authority.rnBut suppose the family is infected by one or another vice ofrnmodern times. Suppose the marriage has broken up amidrnmutual recriminations and allegations of abuse. The first assumptionrnshould be that the famils. including grandparents,rncan settle it among themselves. This is complicated by the fictionrnof no-fault divorce. I sav fiction, because there are eitherrnone or two parties at fault. In the case of a one-fault divorce,rnthe spouse who has broken the marriage, b’ committing adulteryrnor abjuring responsibility, must give way to the faithfulrnpartner. In the case of a two-fault divorce, the kinfolk shouldrnbe required to work it out among themselves, if a solution isrnpossible.rnBut, suppose there is no father and the mother is about tornbe imprisoned for prostitution or drug use. In such cases, thernburden devolves naturalK’ upon the next of kin. What if therernis no grandparent, or, which is increasingh common, what ifrnthe grandmother is no better than the mother? Even in suchrnextreme cases the state should first assume that there arc nongovernmentalrnbodies, such as church congregations, that canrntake charge without invoking the costly and perilous panoply ofrnsocial workers, juvenile authorities, and counselors who havernmade a career out of getting close to other people’s children.rnSo far in this Utopian model, we have only succeeded inrnminimizing the damage to healthy families and in limitingrnthe interference in community. Many children do not liverneither in families or in anything resembling a community. Inrnsuch cases, one must invoke a wider authorit”, and in earlierrngenerations that authority more often came from the churchrntlian from tlie state.rnIf we had the power to reconstitute soeiet, we could instituternneighborhood governments corresponding roughly to thernsize of a cit ward or an elementary school district. Among thernpowers given such a bod’—control o’er schools, zoning, adjudicationrnof disputes—one would include the provision ofrnwelfare. In the very imperfect world of contemporary America,rnwe would have to settle for a makeshift arrangement thatrnempowered the lowest existing level of government, the townrnor the county, to make the necessar’ decisions.rnSince I am not likely to be holding the reins of politicalrnpower at any time in the next millennium, it is pointless tornmake inv recommendations any more specific. But make nornmistake about it, these are perilous times for American families.rnBoth major political parties seem committed to programsrndesigned to “save the family” bv proxiding higher andrnhigher levels of assistance. The only proposals that are notrnpositively destructi’c ha’e to do with changes in the tax codernthat allow parents to keep some of the money they spend onrnprivate schools and health insurance.rnMost family assistance programs—Republican as well asrnDemocratic—would subjugate American families to the nationalrngovernment and provide for ever more aggrcssisc intrusionrninto the household. As parents lose their sense of proprietaryrnownershi|3 of children, they also lose the last materialrnincentixes to take care of the troublesome little burdens, whichrnin a moment of weakness thev consented to bear.rnIf children were once a contribution to the household incomernand a retirement plan for parents, thev are graduallyrnbecoming nothing more than a welfare project imposed uponrnmarried couples. As parents begin to feel that they have lostrncontrol of the project, thev might conic to regard their childrenrnas something like the common property of socict—as tlie alreadyrnare, to some extent, in Scandinavia. In the grim ledgerrnof cost-benefit calculations, the bottom line of common propertyrnwill aKvas be v’hat Garrett Hardin has termed “therntragedy of the commons.” Where everxone owns, no one is responsible,rnand een the natural impulses of parents will bernsubmerged under the weight of rcsponsibilitx, underminedrnby the accusations and investigations of the child-abuse industry,rnand torpedoed by family-assistance programs that strikerndirectly at household autonomy. The question “Why don’trnparents abuse their children?” will strike my readers as fancifulrnor obscene. In fact, it is the only logical question that canrnbe asked, given the premises of our children’s rights legislarion,rnand the day is not far off when, for the life of them, parents willrnnot be able to find the answer. crnlANUARY 1993/19rnrnrn