If all drivers need a license, then why shouldn't parents?

March 10, 2004|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Pardon me if I don't get upset about the idea of gay people getting married. I've heard the arguments, pro and con, but if we're going to pass a constitutional amendment dealing with American families, there's a more urgent matter we need to address.

Next month is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and we will no doubt hear gruesome statistics like we heard in 2003:

- Washington County had the third highest child abuse and neglect rate in 2000 in the state.

- Between 2002 and 2003, reports of child abuse and neglect here increased by 10 percent.

- Between October 2001 and September 2002, Safeplace, the local child-friendly Child Advocacy Unit, served 413 children - 262 for sexual abuse and 151 for physical abuse.

Last April 13, The Herald-Mail's Andrea Rowland quoted Carroll Springer, the assistant director of adult, child and family services at the Washington County Department of Social Services, as saying that the problem is getting worse.


Springer and others in the field cited a number of factors including drug and alcohol abuse and an alarming teen pregnancy rate.

Which brings me to my own "modest proposal" for alleviating this problem. It's time to start licensing parents just the way we license motor vehicle drivers.

If you're any kind of a caring person, this has probably occurred to you, probably as you watched some lout in a shopping center parking lot smack his or her child in the face just for whining, which is what kids do.

Your thought process probably worked just like mine and you said to yourself:

"You've got to get a license to drive a car and yet anybody can have a child."

Unlike you, however, I'm ready to do something about it. In my plan, would- be mommies and daddies would have to take a course - driver's ed for parents if you will - before anyone decided to have a child.

I would be lenient to a certain extent, allowing parents who got their biology done before their classwork to enroll in the course.

But if you didn't take the course and had the baby without benefit of instruction, you'd have to pay into the equivalent of the uninsured motorists' fund, until you finished the course.

Would this require a vast new bureaucracy? Yes, but with all those high-tech jobs being outsourced to other countries, aren't new jobs just what America needs?

We'd have instructors to teach parenting skills, people who would work with hospitals to make sure those who gave birth were licensed and enforcement people to garnish the wages of unlicensed parents.

Why do we need a fund? Because there's a cost involved in dealing with the results of child neglect. It stands to reason that children whose parents never read to them or who don't teach them how to behave in a group will need more help and supervision in school. That means more aides and more aides will have to be paid more money.

Why should those who worked hard to fulfill their parental responsibilities pay for the cost of dealing with children who were allowed to run the streets until midnight on school nights or to watch TV until their eyes bugged out?

Please don't write me letters about how tough this would be on families. I know it would be. Perhaps if it were a little tougher, people would treat having a child with the same care as they take when deciding whether they can afford to buy a new car.

Of course, if you buy that car and don't do the normal maintenance things like changing the oil, it doesn't run as well or last as long.

But when it sputters and dies at the side of the road, it's not up to me to pay for the tow truck and the repairs.

If the federal government is ready to interfere in everyone's private lives, let's not do it halfway. Back the parent-licensing program now!

Here's a reminder that tomorrow is the City of Hagerstown's "Thursday Night Out" event for March. The event runs from 5 to 9 p.m., during which many of the restaurants and shops will remain open. According to Karen Giffin, the city's spokeswoman, many retailers will have coupons good for free desserts at participating restaurants when you buy a dinner.

Send me an e-mail and I'll get you a list of all the participating businesses and their specials. My e-mail is: Thank you.

If you don't have e-mail, call Giffin at 301-739-8577, ext. 116. Thanks.


In the Saturday, March 6, edition of the The Herald-Mail, I made an error in the "thumbs up, thumb down" column.

The item dealt with the statement made by Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner during the recent "State of the City" program, in which he said the city's snow-removal problems were inherited from previous administrations.

Unfortunately, I erroneously attributed that quote to former Mayor Robert Bruchey II, who has announced he'll run against Breichner for the mayor's post.

The Herald-Mail regrets the error.

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