Debra Harrell is currently in jail because she let her 9-year-old daughter play, unsupervised, in a public park. Almost everything about this story (which I noticed courtesy of Lenore Skenazy) is horrifying. Harrell works at McDonald’s. Her daughter used to tag along and stare at a screen at her mother’s workplace during the day. She asked to go to the park instead, was discovered to be without an adult, and her mother was arrested.(Harrell has now lost custody of her daughter.)
The article goes on to note - entirely correctly - that this a transparent case of helicopter parenting, and part of a more general trend of obsessing over paedophiles despite actual cases of child abduction being mercifully extremely rare.
I don't think we should ignore the broader picture here. The appalling treatment of Harrell isn't happening in a vacuum, it's the inevitable result of conservative public policy, which states the following:
1. Working class people should not be allowed access to abortion;
2. Working class people should not get financial support for their children;
3. Working class people should not be allowed access to cheap childcare services;
4. Working class people should not be allowed a guarantee of working hours known in advance to allow them to put together a workable routine.
(Note that I'm not saying Harrell would have wanted an abortion, I'm just pointing out the degree to which the system is borked in general.)
The end result of these three policies is a system in which working class people either refrain from having sex entirely, or they accept there will be times when no-one can look after their children. Now we learn that unless on those occasions they literally keep their children at their jobs at all times without any form of activity to keep them busy they will be arrested.
5. Working class people should not be allowed to decide for themselves when a child is old enough to look after themselves in a public place, and whether endless days of staring at the wall might be a problem in itself.
This isn't an issue free of sexism; I find it hard to believe a father would be thrown in jail over this. This isn't an issue free of racism; I find it hard to believe a white mother would be thrown in jail over this. But at it's heart, this is about the right-wing belief that we should give the poor nothing but our judgement.
Somewhere a Coca Cola executive is thinking how to use this story as proof the world needs fewer unions. Somewhere a Daily Telegraph writer is putting together another piece on how much the UK could learn from US Republicans. Somewhere Iain Duncan Smith - ironically the worst "fit to work" call the Tories have made in power so far - feels a stirring in his loins and doesn't know why.
And somewhere a woman learns to live without her daughter because she thought letting children play in parks is a nice thing for them to do.