January 21, 2007

Parental Licensure

Raising a child is one of the greatest responsibilities humans undertake. A child might grow up to cure diseases, prevent wars, or a host of other great accomplishments. A child might instead grow up to be a psychopath, leaving a trail of pain and misery in his or her path. Of course, it would be naive to claim that what you do as a parent could determine this. However, it seems quite reasonable to me to think that society has a vested interest in making sure that you are at least minimally competent as a parent. This is why I would like to see parental licensure.

Operating a motor vehicle is a tremendous responsibility. To ensure the safety of the individual driver and everyone else on the road, a system of licensing is required. We want to make sure the driver has at least minimal knowledge of the rules of the road and can demonstrate minimal competence in the operation of the vehicle. We may complain about the inefficiency of this system, but there are few who would argue that we should abandon it completely.

Raising a child is certainly no less a responsibility than operating a motor vehicle or the other activities for which licensure is required. But what exactly would be the minimal competencies that would be required? Fortunately, a model already exists in the form of the parenting classes already offered by hospitals and community clinics. Topics typically include basic nutrition, discipline, knowing when to take one's child in for medical care, etc. There is certainly nothing advanced about this, however, treatment providers will tell you that many parents lack these skills and are not always motivated to acquire them.

Assuming that a standardized curriculum could be developed and that it would prove beneficial (there is already evidence that this type of education reduces infant mortality, child abuse, etc.), the question becomes whether it should be mandatory. "I should have the right to raise my child any way I want!" Really? Why? You don't have the right to drive your car any way you want, hunt any way you want, etc. Your rights with regard to your child are already limited by the law as well. In fact, you do not currently have the right to raise your child any way you want. All parental licensure would do is make it easier for you to raise your child by making sure that you had minimal competencies to do so.

In our current system, it is extremely common for parents to be court-ordered to attend parent training classes. Of course, this happens only after harm has already befallen the child. This is unfortunate. Why should the child have to suffer before the parents receive education? Some parents do mistreat their children out of malevolence but many more do so out of ignorance. Parental licensure would not stop the former, but it seems like it could help to prevent the latter.

For more information on parental licensure, see The Case for Parental Licensure.

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