Parents have the primary responsibility for raising children in our society. This includes deciding which school or treatment facility the child should attend for whatever reasons the parent thinks are important. This responsibility is not absolute however since parents must conform to certain basic standards like mandatory school attendance laws and laws against abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. The schools and programs they might choose must and should conform to these basic standards as well. However, for the most part our laws and the courts have protected this right and responsibility of parents to raise their children in the way the parents think best.
In general, the more options parents have to choose from, the better choices they are likely to make. This is part of what in this country we call freedom, that is, as some have stated in other issues, "Freedom is choice!"
Congressman Miller, in the first draft of his HR 5876, seems to be focusing on restricting parents' right to choose regarding when a child needs residential placement. This isn't stated in so many words of course, but the intent of the proposed legislation is to allow parents to choose only those schools and programs that have the stamp of approval from the federal government. How much restriction depends on the wording of the final legislation, the biases of the federal employee regulation writers, and the intentions of the federal regulators assigned to monitor conformity to the written regulations.
One possible outcome would be to virtually eliminate the existence of private parent-choice residential programs, which would force parents back into the bad old days before the network of private parent-choice residential schools and programs came into existence. That is, the choice of placement would be up to law enforcement or mental health professionals, leaving going along with what the officials decide being the only choice parents might have. In this worst-case scenario, parents would lose the options now provided from the parent-choice network, and in reality, would have almost no options in the matter of residential placement when needed for their own child. In this scenario, responsibility would be taken from parents and turned back to "professionals".
This worst-case scenario is plausible for a couple of reasons. First, the "Inside the Beltway mentality" in Washington DC seems to be heavily tilted to favor control freaks. The colossal egos common in DC truly believe they have better answers than anybody else to society's problems, including what is best for children needing residential placement and their parents. Second, the two hearings orchestrated by Congressman Miller were stunning in their lack of fairness or balance. Ex-student testimony was presented that was very critical of the schools and programs they had attended, with no attempt to solicit testimony from other ex-students with positive experiences who were available if the Committee had wanted to hear from them. NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs), the professional organization for private residential parent-choice schools and programs, was hamstrung in a way that it would have been impossible for NATSAP to present a balancing viewpoint. In addition, statistics were presented in a way that led the media to blame private parent-choice schools and programs for public boot camp or public mental health tragedies.
Although it was never stated in so many words, the hearings deck was stacked against parent rights and against this network that has come into existence to serve families and their children needing residential help. These parents sometimes sacrifice their fortunes to get their children much needed help. The network of private residential parent-choice schools and programs was founded on parent choice, and an attack on the schools and programs in this network is essentially an attack on parents' right to choose the school or treatment facility they think is best for their child.
There is no argument that there are some very scary private parent-choice schools and programs, just as there are some very scary public programs. In all of the "scary" public and private programs, the children and their parents are very poorly served. However, the impression from Miller's Congressional hearings, the wording of the first draft of HR 5876 and its title, is that so far as residential placement, parents are clueless and must be protected from themselves. Congressman Miller seems to want to control the choices parents now have. Parents should be outraged or at least deeply troubled by this mentality coming from the US Congress and Congressman Miller's belief that he knows a child's needs better than the parents of that child.
Thank you Lon, for speaking out for so many of us who have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to get help for our child.
I shudder to think what Congressman Miller would have recommended for my daughter without ever having had known her. Would she be the happy, healthy productive young adult she is today if he had his say? I sincerely doubt it!
Well written and well said!
Dore E. Frances, M.A.