New British Law Will Call All Sorts of Things “Child Abuse”

Readers — The so-called “Cinderella Law” working its way through Parliament may sound as if it is going to rescue ragamuffins stuck in their own little corner in their own little chair. But in fact, by expanding the definition of child cruelty to include emotional, psychological or even intangible nnzersdana
harm, it holds the threat of criminalizing any of us who think  our kids can handle more than the state (or some tsk-tsk’ing agent) believes they can.

So if I think it’s fine for my kid to play outside unsupervised, or stay home alone a bit, but the state thinks, “That’s too dangerous,” or even, “The child could feel  abandoned!” the state just may win. As London barrister Jon Holbrook writes in SpikedOnline (and I urge you to read the whole piece — it’s terrifying. Boldface mine):

When the Cinderella Law is enacted, the line between the innocent parent and the convicted parent will be at the discretion of a law-enforcement officer. And that is a horrifying prospect….That the government’s proposal now includes such forms of intangible harm will mean that children and their many one-eyed advocates in the child-protection industry will find it all too easy to bring normal incidents of parenting within the scope of the criminal law….

Under the amended offence it will be possible for a parent to be convicted of: smacking a child; not providing it with regular meals; leaving a crying baby alone on the petrol forecourt while visiting the station checkout; even ignoring teenage angst. Indeed, the wayward and emotionally fragile teenager, not to mention the teenager who dislikes his parents’ style of parenting, should have little difficulty making a case for his parents to be prosecuted. Defenders of the new law may guffaw at these examples, and claim that such prosecutions could never happen, but they are wrong.

Under the current law, a number of parents have already fallen foul of child-protection officials who, having lost all sense of perspective, have used criminal law to prosecute parents whose behaviour fell a long way short of anything that warrants a ‘criminal’ tag.

He cites two cases in Britain that sound just like cases here. In one, a dad left his 2 year old in the car for 10 minutes while he went into the drug store. For this he was convicted of child cruelty. In another case, a mom left her 6-year-old at home for 45 minutes. Eight years later she is still fighting to have the “caution” (which sounds like a citation) removed from her record. Thanks to this scarlet letter, she has been turned down from two universities where she hoped to study nursing.

And these were BEFORE the Cinderella Law expanded the reach of the parenting police.

Now, you may not ever leave your own child alone at home or  in the car. But there is still a difference between cruelty — literally hurting a child — and making a parenting decision that is perhaps sub-optimal. But as Holbrook writes:

Child-protection agencies seem incapable of distinguishing criminal from non-criminal behaviour ….

The expansion of criminal law beyond its proper role is undermining parental responsibility, and it’s making parents dependent on the state to tell them how to parent.

The state does not know or love our kids more than we do. And yet, it can whisk them away. That sounds less like Cinderella and more like the Wicked Witch. – L

That will teach you not to let your kid eat the non-organic frosted flakes!

That’ll teach you not to intangibly affect your child’s self esteem! 

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29 Responses to New British Law Will Call All Sorts of Things “Child Abuse”

  1. no rest for the weary December 4, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Agh, who says leaving a kid in a car for a few minutes is “sub-optimal” anyway? Dragging a kid across certain parking lots is a lot more dangerous than sitting in the vehicle while it’s not moving.

    I am so very sad that it is on this which humanity in the Western world chooses to focus its laser beam of emergency concern.

    We have way, way, WAY bigger problems, folks. I think this hysterical concern about children being “neglected” as a criminal offence is kind of like the silly fantasy of the zombie apocalypse. Both would seem to be a convenient distraction from the actual dangers we face in the coming years.

    But we get ourselves all prepared to fight “child neglect” instead of climate change. Hilarious! Prepare yourselves for the zombie attack as well.

  2. Sigh December 4, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Okay……three things

    1) That’s not what Cinderella was about
    2) What happpens if a kid throws a tantrum about eating the healthy food?

    3)A caution is an offical/legal warning. it basically means two things. The first bit is the police officer gives you a stern talkin to. The second thing is that if you’re caught doing it again, you get harsher penalties than ,say, your cautionless relative would.

  3. Jacob Minas December 4, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    Funny. I name-checked you yesterday in the comments section of the spiked article.

  4. Jen December 4, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    What about the “emotional, psychological or even intangible harm” to the child of seeing their parent arrested, prosecuted or under the stress of having to fight these charges?
    That would be the government/agent causing that…

  5. BL December 4, 2014 at 12:12 pm #


    And some people wonder why these people lost their empire.

  6. SOA December 4, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    well better just arrest every parent out there in the world then. Because every parent I know is guilty of at least one of these things including my own.

  7. SOA December 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Hey leave zombies out of this! Zombies are real.

  8. Andrew Jones December 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    It is to be sincerely hoped that since the House of Lords, like the Canadian Senate, is still largely unelected, there will be enough people whose common sense is not overridden by the drive to please the electoral sheep, and will prevent the law’s approval.

  9. Julia December 4, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    Children are a byproduct of adult pleasure-seeking behavior. It is the responsibility of those adults to turn their byproducts into productive members of society.

    The most productive members of society are those who appreciate the values of hard work and the inherent scarcity of good things. They know what it means to work for their reward. they know what it means to respect the time and space of others. They know that there will not always be mommy or daddy to clean up their messes for them. Each one of them would have a story of a “lesson learned” that would now be classified as child endangerment, abuse, or neglect.

    The reason that discipline falls to the parents and that parents’ methods must be supported by the state is that the lack of discipline will create an adult who is not a productive member of society, one who expects good things to be handed to them, one who will be quick to anger when they are deprived of those good things which they never earned in the first place.

    If parents are too afraid to do their job, we will have an abundance of tax-receivers and a lack of tax-payers. Not just tax receivers in the welfare line, but in prison and on disability, where before someone who took pride in being able to do for oneself and that reward would cause many to overcome great obstacles to be productive, will now be replaced with one who feels entitled to the benefits of society without having earned them.

    In Dallas, a teenager killed 4 people while driving in drunken stupor and his actual legal defense was that he was so spoiled by his upbringing that he could no longer be accountable for his actions. Google: “Affluenza”

    In California, in May, a 22 year old shooter with destructive levels of narcissism went on a rampage because he was angry that he couldn’t get a girlfriend– as love is the reward for learning how to be a decent and mature human being…and something his parents could not buy for him.

    My prediction is we will see more such cases until we stop criminalizing responsible REAL parenting and start penalizing the indulgent ones.

  10. renee December 4, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    This sounds very similar to the issues I hear surrounding the treaty re: children with disabilities. Hopefully the link will work. The UN treaty is to protect children with disabilities, but if ratified in the US, it trumps states rights and parental rights. My understanding is that ‘disabilities’ is undefined. The link is from a homeschool site. You can clearly see the similarities. I wonder if this is where the “cinderella law” is coming from.

  11. Warren December 4, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

    UK parents are either screwed or have to move.

  12. Maggie December 4, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    What I’m reading:

    You can provide your child a healthy meal. If he refuses to eat it and demands ice cream, you could end up in jail for either:

    1-Not feeding him because he refuses to eat
    2-Feeding him ice cream because that is all he will eat

    And the teen angst thing? How many kids have already cried wolf and gotten their parents in trouble? Refuse to let them go to a party, ground them for bad grades, don’t let them date at 13. All could be grounds for removal by CPS according to this law.

  13. Wombat94 December 4, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    “Now, you may not ever leave your own child alone at home or in the car. But there is still a difference between cruelty — literally hurting a child — and making a parenting decision that is perhaps sub-optimal. ”

    Lenore, I hope I am not reading this correct, but as I interpret that paragraph it sounds like you are saying that the parenting decision to leave a kid at home or in the car for brief, age- and capability-appropriate periods of time is in fact ‘sub-optimal’ parenting.

    I will not in any way concede that the general category of those actions is at all sub-optimal as I believe that when done appropriately they actually encourage child development, independence and confidence.

    Again, I hope I’m mis-reading your intent but I think the way the statement is constructed you indicate that those choices are actually sub-optimal – but are drawing the line at considering them criminal or punishable

  14. J.T. Wenting December 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    “What about the “emotional, psychological or even intangible harm” to the child of seeing their parent arrested, prosecuted or under the stress of having to fight these charges?
    That would be the government/agent causing that…”

    AH, but that’s for the good of the child, and the child, abused and neglected by its parents, of course instinctively recognises that.

  15. K2 December 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Curious how many people in the UK will be having babies in a few years time. There is some evidence that over-involvement on the part of the government doesn’t make the families in general stronger or even encourage families to exist. There is a book called “Disturbing the Nest” that is available on Amazon that has some evidence to that effect. Social services were originally intended to deal with only the most egregious offences. Most of the cases do not fall into that category, leaving normal/average and above average parents feeling helpless and vulnerable.

  16. Michelle December 4, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Wombat, Lenore isn’t saying that leaving your kid in the car or at home is inherently sub-optimal, but that even if it was, being less than perfect should not be a crime. She has long advocated both of these things. Not only that “good parenting” doesn’t necessarily require constant hovering, but also that it’s ok for parents to make mistakes. It’s not just moving the goalposts for “perfect parenting,” but recognizing that perfect doesn’t exist.

  17. Jill December 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Can Prince Charles report his mum and dad for neglect? They left him alone a lot when he was a kid and they went traveling all over the world. Yes, he was cared for by nannies and paid hirelings, but still, they left him and that had to leave emotional scars.

  18. Lynda December 4, 2014 at 4:13 pm #

    Just to be nitpickingly precise, this proposed law change is for England & Wales, not the whole of Britain. Scotland (where I live) has its own legal system and this law wouldn’t cover us. (Now keeping my fingers crossed the the Scottish parliament doesn’t follow suit!!)

  19. Donald December 4, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    The whole reason for bureaucracy in the first place is to make a mechanized system where rules are followed automatically. If a person or committee is in charge of the bureaucracy, the system can be compromised with corruption. Therefore the human aspect must be removed in order to eliminate the possibility of corruption

    However this created another problem. Bureaucracy has become a living form of it’s own. It grows like a virus. Even the most senior people within the bureaucracy can’t stop it. That’s because of, ‘their powers must be removed in order to eliminate the possibility of corruption’.

  20. rhodykat December 4, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    If I’m not mistaken, Scotland is worse than Wales and England – isn’t it Scotland where they decided that every child needs to have a government overseer at birth?

  21. Donald December 4, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

    Bureaucracy is very limited in it’s thinking ability. Most of the arguments on this page are good ones. However the bureaucracy can’t ABSORB or comprehend the information. It’s thinking ability has been INTENTIONALLY pruned so that rules cannot be bypassed, favoritism is restricted, and people can’t get special treatment by pushing their clout around.

    Even the most senior people within the bureaucracy have a very tough time trying to control it!

    @lynda This particular law won’t effect Scotland – YET because Scotland isn’t immune to Parkinsons law

  22. lollipoplover December 4, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Ignoring teen angst???
    I’d be in jail already for dealing with mine.
    Apparently, I am, like, the ONLY mom who won’t let her kid have an iphone. My son has a classmate at school who has 5. Cue the violin, kid. I don’t even have a nice phone. Get a job if you want it that bad. Or just report your parents.

    Another source of *angst* (we call it bitching and moaning around here) is household chores. Do families make their kids contribute and help out around the house anymore? My kids are pretty good about helping out but I don’t know of many parents who require chores. I hear “He’s too busy with sports and school” and wonder with his hectic schedule how he finds time to play Xbox for hours at a time yet can’t pick up his dirty clothes off the floor.

    I see so many kids treating their parents as maids and servants and wonder what the hell we are teaching them about real life. It’s the parents who are being treated like Cinderella, not the kids. The object of parenting is to work yourself out of a job. Transfer your knowledge and skills to your child to grow up self-sufficient and independent, not dependent and spoiled.

  23. Vicky December 4, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Good grief! Has the world gone mad?!?

  24. J.T. Wenting December 5, 2014 at 12:57 am #

    “Good grief! Has the world gone mad?!?”

    no, at least not recently. It went bonkers decades ago, you just didn’t notice.

  25. Crystal December 5, 2014 at 8:45 am #

    I’m an American living in England and can confirm that the parenting style over here compared to home is vastly different. The biggest difference, I have noticed, is that only children are quite common and even expected. I have never once gotten a comment about my “big family” (3 kids) in the States but hear that at least once a week here.

  26. Tim December 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm #


    In what ways do parents treat their children differently in the UK, and how do you think parenting styles there relate to the proposed law?

  27. Jenny Islander December 5, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

    @no rest for the weary, way back in the first post: In the U.S., at least, I think part of it is a deep unspoken fear of poverty. In the U.S., the conventional wisdom–even among the irreligious, if they stopped to imagine their own thoughts!–is that God (or whatever) rewards virtuous people with wealth. Therefore, anybody who is poor must have been bad.

    Therefore, things only financially comfortable or rich people can afford to do, such as having somebody on hand to mind their children every-single-second (kids are always at home with the nanny so you never commit the horrible sin of leaving them in the car while you pump gas, for example), are nevertheless good. And not doing those things is bad. And bad people get punished.

    Hence, legislate middle-class behavior as compulsory and put people in jail for being too poor to emulate it.

    Not sure how this translates to the U.K., however.

  28. Ien in the Kootenays December 6, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    There may be more to this than just a social worker establishment looking for more to do. Populations everywhere are restless and starting to wake up to basic inequities in the status quo. Laws like these can be applied selectively to harass and intimidate parents who are a bit too awake for the governments taste. I hope I am being paranoid here.

  29. Tanya December 9, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    I know this is an old thread and my comment probably won’t be read, but I have to say it anyway.

    How ironic that the society that brought us Oliver Twist and work houses should be at the forefront of the parent criminalization movement. Maybe it is penance for centuries of genuine state-sponsored child abuse.