e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


mistakes, overreactions, abuses of power

This story is all over the papers in Detroit and has even gotten a bit of coverage from the national news. Maybe a movie-of-the-week will follow.

The events look something like this. Guy takes his seven-year-old to see the Tigers and buys the thirsty tyke what he thinks is an expensive lemonade. Actually, it's a bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade, an alcoholic beverage. A security guard spots the kid imbibing, takes the bottle away, and calls the cops. The kid is rushed in an ambulance to Children's Hospital and then placed in foster care for several days while Child Protective Services and the Department of Human Services investigate. The father, who insist he had no clue the drink had alcohol, is ordered to vacate his home for a week even after the boy is allowed to return.

Now here are two additional pieces of context. 1. The parents of the boy are both academics who don't watch television. 2. Michigan DHS and particularly the foster care system is, by most accounts, in utter shambles, dealing with a severe lack of foster care parents, a high-profile lawsuit for gross mismanagement of the children who are wards of the state, and the fall-out of the murder of young Ricky Holland who was murdered by his foster parents after the overworked DHS workers failed to intervene.

Response to this unfortunate series of events at the Tigers game has been informed by those two pieces of context. Driving home from my teaching gig yesterday, I heard a.m. talk radio take calls from folks from two camps. One camps suggested that DHS, in the midst of a p.r. nightmare, grew overzealous and is probably trying to reverse its do-nothing reputation. The other camp (the "blame the dad" camp) fell into two sub-camps, one who couldn't believe anybody would be unfamiliar with Mike's Hard Lemonade, and one who saw this as an example of the "no common sense," out-of-touch, too-good-for-tv academic.

The show's host rejected the "blame dad" logic, put the parents on a pedestal for being "too smart for television," and praised academics as icons of the smarter, more bookish lifestyle that all Americans should strive for.

I'm not sure any of these responses are all that useful. Blame the "no common sense" guy. Turn the academic into a cliched icon. Even the blame DHS camp--members of whom made valid points, don't get me wrong--seemed like a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks. What if the story could become an impetus for action? What if the story could change the minds of those who advocate for the gutting of public support for social services? What if the story could encourage folks to organize against the abuses of power that are all too common among law enforcement agencies? What if the story prompted more people to take a role (parental and otherwise) in reforming the foster system?

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