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November 12, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Seriously folks, it’s come to this. In the United Kingdom, there’s an “adventure park” that prohibits lone adults from entering unless they’re accompanied by children. Honestly, I’d love to see the reactions of our dead ancestors or those of future generations not yet born. I’m convinced they’d either be howling with laughter or sobbing in despair, possibly a bit of both. Here’s the article (BBC, 11/10/14).

We’ve of course seen the ratings system for films, some of which require parental accompaniment of children. Some may find that overkill, but at least it makes a modicum of sense. If kids see images of violence or sex, they might be disturbed or have questions that a parent could readily answer. So, parental presence with children at those films is at least defensible, albeit a tad overly cautious.

But over the years, many of us have noticed a tendency, particularly in films, to depict adults/parents as children and children as mature. It’s become a routine trope of the industry, so much so that, to me at least, it no longer seems as weird as it actually is. So we’re often treated to adults, particularly parents, on the verge of hysteria about one thing or another, only to be brought down to earth by the sensible advice of their children rendered in the calm tones we might expect, well, a parent to use with a child. Sometimes the conceit is played for laughs, but often it’s in earnest.

Whatever the case, it’s one thing to view it in the movies or on television, but another altogether to find it popping up not just in everyday life, but in the policies of a company that interacts with the public daily. But that’s exactly what’s happened.

The ban at Puxton Park near Weston-super-Mare came to light when a man was refused entry to a falconry display because he had no children with him.

Puxton Park said it was being "safety conscious" in introducing the ban…

Puxton Park managing director Alistair Mead said the attraction did offer "falconry experience days" for individual adults, but Matthew Richards, from High Littleton near Bath, said he was turned away last week.

“I was told, because I was a single adult I wasn't allowed in," Mr Richards revealed.

Mr Mead defended the policy, saying: "The society in which we live has sadly forced us to implement necessary and stringent child protection policies.

Sigh. Where to begin? In the first place, the “society in which we live” no more demands such ridiculous policies than the man in the moon. As will soon be made clear, the concern that supposedly warrants a policy of children chaperoning adults seems to be the potential for sexual abuse of children by adults. Now, just how it is that requiring adults to be in the company of children while at Puxton Park in any way reduces the likelihood of child sexual abuse is anyone’s guess. I can see how it might do the opposite, but not how it diminishes the chances.

Second, while I don’t have the figures for the U.K., here in the United States, children have about a one in 1,666 chance of being sexually abused by an adult according to figures from the Administration for Children and Families. Stated another way, that’s a 0.06% chance. And of course the overwhelming majority of that abuse is committed, not by strangers (the type of person who might appear at a park like Puxton), but by people known to them. The chances of sexual abuse by a stranger are vanishingly small, and my guess is that the numbers are similar in the U.K.

So naturally, Puxton Park’s policy has essentially nothing to do with the reality of child sexual abuse, much as Mr. Mead may fantasize otherwise.

But the whole thing gets even nuttier. You may think that Puxton Park’s policy came about in response to some horrible event in which an adult abused children there. Or something. (Yes, I understand that, in order to do so, the said adult would have had to be in the company of those children and, that being so, the current policy wouldn’t have prevented the abuse. But we’re not dealing with a sensible policy, so perhaps that could have been the rationale. But it wasn’t. That would have been altogether reasonable compared to what actually occurred.)

The Puxton Park policy on adults unaccompanied by minors was established, not in response to a case of child abuse there, thank goodness. No, it was instituted because the former mayor of the nearby town of Weston-super-Mare, Phillip Judd, was caught with indecent images of children, including films, presumably downloaded from the Internet.

That’s right, Puxton Park refuses to allow adults without children to enter the park because Mr. Judd committed crimes that had nothing to do with the park or anything like it or anyone there. Make sense?

It doesn’t to me and it didn’t to Matthew Richards either. It turns out he’s a family man with three grandchildren who’s acutely aware of the need to keep kids safe. Obvious questions occurred to him.

But Mr Richards said: "It made me feel a bit discriminated against. I'm actually a family man. I have three young grandchildren, so child safety is something I think is very important.

"Is it going to get to the situation as a single person you're not allowed to go for a walk in the park, you're not allowed to go to the swimming baths?"

Why not? After all, if adults unaccompanied by their moral betters, i.e. children, are prohibited from attending falconry exhibitions at Puxton Park, why shouldn’t the prohibition be extended to anywhere children might be? Public parks and swimming pools are just two possibilities. What about the movies or sporting events? The ballet, the opera? Schools? How about just walking down the street? Those are all places in which fiendish adults might be able to abuse children. Given that the “abuse” in question in Mayor Judd’s case was the photographing of children, might that not occur in any of those places? Surely British authorities are being remiss in ignoring the potential for child abuse in all sorts of places heretofore unnamed. Yes, the probability of child abuse by a stranger is one in thousands, but, when children are concerned, we can’t be too careful, right?

It’s high time those in policy-making positions, whether for public or private entities, came to their senses and realize the facts. For example, children in the U.S. and the U.K. are overwhelmingly safe. In school and out, at home and in public, the likelihood that children will be abused in any way is extremely low. Again according to the Administration for Children and Families, the probability of a child being abused in the U.S. in a given year is about 0.2%. And the chance of child sexual abuse is much lower and that of sexual abuse by a stranger, close to non-existent.

Of course we want to keep it that way; we don’t want to increase the chances that children will be hurt. But child welfare has become the open door through which the state has stepped to govern adult behavior in ways never before imagined, and now private companies are getting in on the act.

Still, I can see one ray of hope in Puxton Park’s requirement that children accompany adults. If they truly are a buffer against bad adult behavior, maybe we should start requiring family court judges to heed their preferences in child custody matters. After all, studies show that the huge majority of children, both those of divorce and those in intact families, want to maintain meaningful relationships with both their parents. In that alone they’re far smarter, more constructive and prudent than are the judges who routinely break up those parent-child relationships under the ironic rubric of the “best interests of the child.”

So who knows? Maybe Puxton Park is on to something. Maybe we should take the concept of children accompanying adults to an entire new level — to the family itself. What a concept.

Thanks to Malcolm for the heads-up.

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