Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald's employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
Is it a crime to parent "free-range" kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
The pundits beating their chests and filling talk radio airwaves are missing the point. We're not criminalizing parenting. We're criminalizing poverty. And that's a very old story indeed.
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Debra Harrell didn't set her child free in a park out of any sense of trying to create an independent young woman- She did so because she had to work and couldn't afford child care. She didn't make the wrong choice; she just couldn't afford to make any better a choice.
The result? She got thrown in jail and embarrassed publicly, all because she was trying to find the sweet spot between the conflicting demands of raising a child. It's a conundrum that millions of the working poor understand intimately.
Notwithstanding the blather of Mitt Romney types who believe that 47 percent of Americans are takers, lazily relying on governmental largess instead of making their own way in the world, many of those folks are working as hard as they can â€"and still need help to clothe, feed, and care for their families. A McDonald's salary is, famously, not up to the task. And yet, it is adults â€" not the stereotypical teens working their first jobs â€" who increasingly fill those positions.
Harrell and those like her need more help than they're getting.
We need childcare that doesn't cost more than a poor parent earns. We need rules to govern when a parent is on call for work, so that they can make the proper care arrangements. If we're going to require work -- and the logic of our welfare laws since the 1990s says we do -- then it is unnecessarily cruel to turn our backs on parents who only have so many hours to give.
We are, despite everything that's happened the last few years, still one of the richest countries in the world. We can afford to help poor parents help themselves.