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  • Rachelle Innocent

Parens Patriae: The “State” of Family

Many of us had a vision of the future that may or may not have included a family of our own.

Taking stock of your present reality, how close are you to that preliminary vision?

With the help of romantic comedies and other such unrealistic fictional tales, some of our present realities have shattered the rose-coloured lenses of dating, marriage, childbirth and the rosy happily ever after. For some of us, that reality may have very well manifested, while for a sizeable majority of others, that vision is far removed…

Far removed, yet far more realistic.


What do you mean by that cryptic message?


Families have shifted from this “picture perfect” ideal in more ways than we might initially consider.


History suggests “the beginning of the end” of the nuclear family, in real terms, during the late 1800s. While the nuclear family is still a sociocultural ideal that we cherish, it was largely destroyed during the Coal Revolution, an effect that oddly aligns with the introduction of compulsory schooling.


With compulsory schooling, also known as public education, came this notion of parens patriae.


Well, I don’t speak latin. Care to elaborate on what that term means?


Parens patriae is a fancy latin term that legally means that from the moment you bring children into this earth, the parameters of your role as a parent is limited to the legal duty of the maintenance and education of your child(ren). To take it one step further, parens patriae provides the government with the absolute sovereignty of your child(ren).


Which… is insane.


Also, not part of any of the versions of reality I envisioned when daydreaming about having a family one day. I mean, did you know the government had a claim on your reproductive output? Why would I go through the grief and (what I’m assuming is trauma) of childbirth and child-rearing if my children are not my own… especially when in fact, they are very much my own — based on genetics and grade 10 biology class.

Why would anyone agree to implement such a ridiculous law?!?!

I feel very privileged to have a global audience, so please check the status of parens patriae within your country and keep me informed. I feel confident in saying that it’s widely normalized across countries. Which is mind-blowing because it essentially grants the government the powers of old-time absolute kings, giving the political “State” the title as primary father of your child(ren).


I did more research, convinced this was some sort of a joke.


Instead, I learned that I was completely blind to the history that follows the introduction of compulsory schooling.


What the history books fail to mention is that your grandparents and your grandparent’s parents resisted the introduction of compulsory schooling with rioting and revolt. Public (mandated) education disenfranchised ordinary people, created division in families, created wholesale dependencies that didn’t exist, since families in North America prior to the Coal Revolution were self-reliant. It also grotesquely extended our concept of childhood.


In the end, the government won the battle by introducing this “parens patriae,” making it illegal for parents to choose to keep their children out of school.

So, we never actually wanted compulsory schooling? It was forced on us?


Yes.

Forcing children to go to school provided a guaranteed headcount for the booming job market that came with the Coal Revolution and also the Industrial Revolution. They needed children off the farms to create supply in factories.


For the parents that continued to resist, their children were taken from them and placed into foster care.

Which is also the actual beginning of the foster care system. Which, by the way, is very broken across both Canada and the United States.


An article written by Kovarikova, CEO & Founder of Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada, states that the typical outcome for youth who age out of the foster care system include “low academic achievement; unemployment or underemployment; homelessness and housing insecurity; criminal justice system involvement; early parenthood; poor physical and mental health; and loneliness.”

In Canada, only approximately 44% of children raised by the province (wards) complete high school, compared to 81% of children raised at home. An even smaller percentage of children of State receive a bachelor’s degree. As many as 90% of youth in foster care are anticipated on being on welfare within six months of aging out, (Macleans Article).

That’s heavy. What am I supposed to do with this information?


We just had our by-election here in Canada, and despite COVID many people went out and showed support for their preferred political party. My suggestion is that we hold our regional, provincial and federal levels of government accountable for modifying if not completely removing this notion of parens patriae. For my wonderful non-Canadian readers, I encourage you to do the same in your country, let’s put this parens patriae to rest, globally.

Let’s each of us step up and build community to help the children that need support.


Of one thing I am certain, in no world is the government a better parent than the people it was built to serve.


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