Child Rights & Remedies

By Robert C. Fellmeth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
The Underlying Context

Access to Political/Legal
Remedies

INTRODUCTION: REPRESENTATION OF THE LONGTERM PUBLIC INTEREST

Rights and remedies inevitably depend upon the political system that enacts laws, and then interprets and enforces them. Elected and appointed public officials decide federal, state, and local budgets, and prohibit or reward private acts affecting children. Using the power to invest public funds (including the provision of public education), the police power to tax (or to except from taxation), and the power to criminally or civilly prohibit, government exerts momentous and organized influence. Given the complexity of modern society, the public officials who make decisions necessarily depend upon outside advocacy to bring matters to their attention, to frame issues and present alternatives, and to provide information for decision making. Even the legislature, designedly the most pro active of the three branches, largely responds to advocacy before it. Who provides that advocacy? Is the result likely to reflect the ethical aspirations of the citizenry?

Child advocates argue that if decisions were made on their merits by those applying the underlying ethical mandate of the body politic, children would fare well. However, such a crucible for decisions may be distorted where public institutions are dominated by advocacy from those organized around a shortterm profit/stake in public policy. To the extent the three branches are driven in vector fashion by advocacy before them, decisions may sacrifice unorganized, long range interests not included within the cacophony before them. Children suffer particularly from such exclusion.

An examination of the rights and remedies available to children properly begins with an examination of the underlying process creating those rights and remedies. Their creation and amendment depend upon the political process within the three branches, federal, state and local. To what extent can children— or those who advocate on their behalf—participate in the process and achieve an appropriate impact on resulting policy?

Child advocates have undertaken two approaches to current advocacy imbalance. The first is to alter the rules to give the interests of nonprofit/stake interests (such as children) greater access to decision making. One theory holds that reforms to lessen the influence of organized shortterm interests necessarily enhance the prospects of those currently excluded, as the tinkling of a glass at a dinner may quiet the crowd so a soft voice can be heard. Political reformers argue that children and other diffuse interests will achieve a seat at the table only if decisions are driven more “on the merits” and less based on organization and wealth alone. Accordingly, lessening dependence on private campaign

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