"When Should a Child Be Taken from His Parents?" is the headline on a New Yorker story by Larissa MacFarquhar.
MacFarquhar recounts the struggle of a mother named Mercedes to prevent New York City's Administration for Children's Services from removing a child from her household. Three of her four children have been taken by social services. She is accused not of abuse but of neglect.
As Nick Saffran points out in City Journal, that plural noun–parents–in the headline misrepresents the situation described in the story:
[T]he the story’s title notwithstanding, children are rarely taken from their parents—that is, their biological mother and father, especially if the mother and father are married.
You wouldn’t know this from MacFarquhar’s story, which mentions men only fleetingly and marriage not at all.
. . .
MacFarquhar devotes plenty of space to exploring whether Mercedes is up to the challenge of raising her children, but she never asks why she has to do it alone.
There is nothing in the story about the fathers of Mercedes' children. We are told that her father–a drunk and deadbeat–reappeared in her life and beat her before her first child was born. But of the children's fathers–nothing:
The story describes a world in which children arrive spontaneously and inevitably, and where women, but not men, are compelled to bear the burden of raising them. Eliding the question of the parentage of Mercedes’s children and focusing exclusively on her difficulties with child services might make sense if the men who got her pregnant weren’t so central to what is happening. Social scientists have compiled overwhelming evidence on the benefits of marriage for children, including rates of child abuse and neglect.
The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, conducted between 2004 and 2009, found that the rate of maltreatment for children living with married biological parents was far lower than for children in any other family structure. Similarly, a 2010 study coauthored by Brown University president Christina Paxson found that only 5 percent of families in which the mother lives with the biological father of her children (even if not married to him) have any contact with protective services by the child’s fifth birthday. The rates for other types of family structure are two to three times higher.
No one in MacFarquhar’s article will acknowledge this reality.
MacFarquhar heaps lavish praise upon a family court judge who was “was notorious among caseworkers for her obsession with summer camp: if a child was not enrolled by the middle of spring, she would issue an order requiring it,” as if the real problem for kids being raised in poverty by single mothers is that they don't get to go to summer camp as much as more fortunate children.
State services step in when families fail, but government can't provide what families with two parents striving to bring up their kids can provide.
It is telling, Saffran notes, that the absence of married, two-parent households is now so pervasive that even a good reporter and writer like Larissa MacFarquhar doesn't even notice it.