Child Protection Ethics: The Case of the Boozing Third-Grader

This isn't Patricia Denault 's son. I hope...

This isn’t Patricia Denault ‘s son. I hope…

In Longwood, Florida, Patricia-Ann Jackson Denault thought it would be funny to post pictures of her son, 7, drinking whiskey on Facebook, titling it “first shot.” Someone thought it was more alarming than funny, and called the police. Three uniformed officers and Child Protective Services came to her house and interviewed both her and her kids. Denault explained her humor theory, and said she wanted the children “to experience alcohol in a controlled setting.”

They were not impressed. She was arrested and charged with child neglect.

Apparently this is becoming a cause celebre in conservative circles, and example of the nanny state going too far. I don’t see it:

  • A photo on Facebook showed an adult persuading a very young child to drink a substance that can be dangerous in large quantities. Was that the only sip, or the first of many? I think the inquiry was responsible.
  • The mother used her child not only as a prop, but as a prop involving alcohol. I would be dubious about the judgment of such a parent.
  • She said that she wanted a seven-year-old “to experience alcohol in a controlled setting” ??? Why? What else would she like to see a child experience in a controlled setting?

I think these were sufficient reason to check on the welfare of the children in that home, and to be concerned. Should she have been arrested? I don’t know what the children said, or what she told the police. The news reports make Denault sound like a fool, but being a stupid parent does not necessarily make one a dangerous parent. If this is all there is, the arrest is overkill.

I salute the Facebook non-friend who reported her, however, for the same reasons I supported the actions of the man who infuriated Jeff Gates by checking to see if Gates’ two teen daughters were being exploited rather than having their photos taken by a fond father who happened to be a photographer:

“We should all be proactive: not paranoid, hysterical or seeing monsters around every corner, but alert and ready to take action to prevent harm if there is good reason to believe that harm may occur…We all have an obligation to look out for each other, and along with that comes an obligation to be understanding, forgiving and to extend the benefit of the doubt when a well-considered intervention is based on seeing a situation from the wrong perspective.”

I would not expect Patricia-Ann Jackson Denault to be forgiving, however, I won’t blame her.

23 thoughts on “Child Protection Ethics: The Case of the Boozing Third-Grader

    • Good, then I’m not crazy. Here was Glenn Reynolds’ reaction:

      “YOUR CHILDREN DO NOT BELONG TO THE STATE: Florida mom lets her kids try booze in controlled setting, gets arrested and charged with child neglect. And have you noticed that the “Child Protection” people always have time for cases like this, but are seldom to be found when there’s actual abuse? Tar. Feathers.”

      • I don’t fault Glenn Reynolds at all. In total, state and local CPS organizations have a rotten record in all kinds of cases involving abusiveness and neglect of children. Don’t I know it! I’m just glad that they got this relatively minor case right.

      • Having witnessed first hand the deplorable conditions of two children and the appalling lifestyle their mother maintains and learning that CPS determined there is no grounds for removal of the children, I know it takes tons to break that up. So yeah, when authorities get tangible evidence of abuse — and Whiskey for a 7 year old is — then I wouldn’t doubt that they jump on it.

    • What a dummy. Why would you want your 7-year-old child to drink alcohol in any environment?! Is that the age she was when mommy or daddy gave her her first shot of Jack Daniels?!? Did they send her to AK-47 shooting lessons, too?

      Kids that are are so small and have absolutely no tolerance to alcohol and not only could get drunk in no time. I’d be afraid of damaging to their still-developing little brains.

      Besides the stupidity of this situation, it’s still illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol anywhere in the US. Whether you like the law or agree with it or not is irrelevant; it’s the law, and you can be arrested for serving alcohol to a minor up until the day before their 21st birthday. By that point most people have experimented on their own, anyway, without a parent’s guiding presence. (I think I prefer it that way; who wants their parents watching them drink?)

      I agree that this parent needed to be arrested to impress the seriousness of her irresponsible behavior. I don’t think she should do any jail time, but she should have to attend parenting classes. What the hell was she thinking?!?

      • I agree with the rest of your post, but will point out it’s not always illegal to give your own child alcohol in the US. Many states permit parents to give their own children alcohol in their own home.

        I would advise parents to stick to limited quantities of beer or wine to older teens if they are going to permit it though. That’s a LONG ways from a pre-teen consuming hard liquor.

  1. Parallel to the 9 year old accidental Uzi killer:

    1) trying your children out with items requiring responsibility demands GRADATION. If you are going to “introduce” them, you start with beer, and a small amount… Not whiskey!

    2) trying your children out on controlled items (it is controlled as there is an age limit) also implies possibly waiting a little later to try it

    3) taking photos and publishing them implies your goal actually wasn’t to introduce your kid but rather wanted to do a “hey look at me”

    • Should a responsible parent also “introduce” their children to light cigarettes before eventually graduation to menthol cigarettes?

      Don’t answer.

    • I disagree. I snuck a sip of whiskey when I was about 6… put me off alcohol for the rest of my life. :p Start with the hard stuff when they are you and impressionable and you can create someone who just doesn’t like alcohol…

      More seriously, yes, absolutely wait until the child is older, and don’t teach them to drink hard alcohol at all.

  2. “What else would she like to see a child experience in a controlled setting?”

    Would hiring two strippers to give him lap dances “in a controlled setting” for, say, his 16th birthday party (and subsequently uploading the pictures to Facebook) be too far-fetched?

  3. Even committed dipsomaniac W.C. Fields proudly claimed that: “I never drank anything stronger than beer before I was 12.” Age seven seems a bit young indeed, and certainly worthy of a check on the child’s welfare…it seems there is a limit to my libertarianism.

  4. I can see 16-18 year olds (and to the 18-20 yrs young adults) getting small tastes and being taught matter of factly about alcohol. Ignoring the topic or giving it the forbidden fruit glamor and the infamous parties when parents are away. A seven year old should still be learning kitchen safety and how to cross the street. Some things are for when they get bigger.

    If the kid wants to celebrate a special event, there are plenty of virgin punches that will make them feel special too. (and some of them are better than alcoholic drinks)

  5. When I was 6 or 7, my grandfather gave me a sip or two out of his beer, almost everytime he had one. Didn’t hurt me much, except that I now like the same occasional beer. But I agree with Jack…SEVEN?

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