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Liberalism and child protection

Jeremy Sammut | 10 September 2010

Child protection is a confronting and controversial subject.

For those on the Right of the political spectrum who strongly identify with liberal traditions of social and political thought, child protection is a difficult issue – or perhaps one they are reluctant or prefer not to engage with for primarily philosophical reasons.

Liberals place a premium on limited state intrusion into the lives of individuals. They also defend the sanctity of the private world of the family and are wary of the potential abuse of power by capricious welfare authorities in violation of the rights of parents.

Despite these reservations, child protection reform that upholds the independent rights of children needs to be on the policy agenda of liberals because liberals live in a world that, in many respects, liberals did not make.

Liberals did not champion the right to unconditional welfare which has entrenched poverty in many disadvantaged communities. Nor did liberals press to extend the role of the state into more and more aspects of civic life at the expense of voluntary effort and civil society.

But liberals, and all other taxpayers, have to live with and pay for the destructive personal, social and political consequences of the rise of the welfare state, which include the terrible impact on the lives of increasing numbers of children.

Liberals cannot afford not to take an interest in child protection because the entire community pays a high price for the policy and practice failures that deny vulnerable children the emotional security, the educational opportunities, and the proper parenting all children need.

These failures perpetuate disadvantage and create the next generation of abusive and neglectful parents.

For liberals concerned about the size of government and maximising the freedom of all citizens, breaking the intergenerational cycle of neglect and abuse is essential to contain the growth of the state and extra-state entities that ‘bottom feed’ on the misery and waste of potential caused by welfare dependence.

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. This is an extract from The Power and the Responsibility: Child Protection in the Post-Welfare State Era, which was published by the CIS this week.