Parental Rights at the Crossroads

Our nation is at a crossroads, and countless American families hang in the balance.

First, we are at a crossroads between administrations, as Joe Biden replaces Donald Trump in the White House and in setting policy and direction for our federal government. 

Whatever one thinks of either man or his party, there is no question they are different—and this change of administration will bring significant change for family policies. 

While many have strong feelings either for or against the outgoing president, we have seen real strides in keeping families together as a matter of law and policy, thanks to the direction set by a Trump appointee in the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). 

And in the Family First Prevention Services Act, we have seen a groundbreaking new law passed to keep families together.

Now as we shift to the Biden Administration, we are left to wonder if the new president will keep these developments or bring “change,” which in this case would mean reverting to the system of splitting families without good cause.

While that potential change is a big deal on its own, is facing our own crossroads as we prepare to close the books on one fiscal year and launch our efforts in a new one.

How we finish this fiscal year will shape what we can do in the next.

At this juncture—both historical and fiscal—I am prompted to look back not just on the nation but on our organization, to consider what we have accomplished together in the last year. And I am prompted to ask myself how we will address the challenges that lie before us for the year ahead.

Thanks to the generous and passionate support of our giving partners, this past year has been one of victories.

Legislatively, though the 2020 session was fraught with challenges to parental rights, we escaped relatively unscathed due to many supporters voicing their opposition to dangerous bills. In Virginia, for instance, a bill that would have limited a child’s counseling choices based solely on content—a threat to both parental rights and the First Amendment—was tabled for the year. 

And an “education amendment” in Minnesota, which would have added to the state’s constitution that “every child has a fundamental right to a quality public education,” was likewise put on hold. Enough parents raised their voices against this dangerous notion (which might have unintentionally removed any other educational option from parents) that the bill could not go further.

Now, the scary thing about both of these examples is that they have come back this year. That was not unexpected, but it means we have to remain vigilant. We have to keep up the pressure, because the sponsors of these measures have not given up.

No sooner had we defeated these bills last year, than COVID-19 struck in earnest and the whole landscape changed. Suddenly, “what are my rights if my child is bullied at school?” was no longer a big question for us. 

Instead, it was, “what are my rights if I don’t trust this experimental new vaccine?” 

Or “what are my alternatives if I don’t like how my child’s school is handling online learning?”

This last question was huge, as more and more parents opted out of the online schooling provided by their district and took up other options instead. The number of families homeschooling approximately doubled. Private school enrollment took off, too.

Of course, some parental rights concerns not only didn’t improve but actually intensified—like the tendency of child welfare departments to separate families, or to use COVID as an excuse to keep families who were already separated from receiving the visitation or the court hearings they were due.

In a time when businesses and activities were being labeled “essential” or “non-essential,” families were being tossed in the wrong pile. 

Families were in danger again.

Fortunately, thanks to your partnership, we were in place to take a stand.

We immediately set out with a bipartisan group of allies to call Congress’s attention to this error and urge the federal government to fix it. And while Congress has been slow to act, the Children’s Bureau of the DHHS was listening and actually lent its voice to the call to halt family separations and recognize family as “essential.”

Now, I’m not trying to tell you we put words in their mouth. At best, we lent them a little bipartisan cover so they could take a bold stand for families. Most likely, we just happened to be on the same page at the same time. 

But that was enough to start a real conversation about reforming federal law to protect families, and that’s a conversation that is still ongoing as we enter this new Congress.

While all of that was going on, the Parental Rights Foundation—our 501(c)(3) policy and education arm—was enjoying a string of victories, getting innocent names off child abuse registries, siding with a fit father before the Texas Supreme Court, and getting bipartisan support for legislative policies both to provide due process before a name goes on a registry and to do away with anonymous reports to child abuse hotlines.

Like our political efforts to halt bad legislation and to halt the clock that is separating families who just need more time, though, these policy efforts are also still ongoing.

Most recently, we have been engaged with Congress to halt the dangerous Minor Consent to Vaccination Act in Washington, DC.

This dangerous and ill-advised law would allow a child as young as 11 years old—an elementary school student!—to provide legally binding consent for a vaccination the parent has already opted out of. 

Even worse, it contains provisions to make sure the parent never finds out about it.

Imagine if you could never be sure you know the full medical history of your 11-year-old.

Worse yet, one unintended consequence of these provisions is that if your family doctor is not the one who gave your child the shot, your doctor won’t know your child’s medical history, either.

Serious harm can come from giving a child too many doses of some vaccines, but neither you nor your doctor would know you were making that tragic mistake.

This bill is dangerous to every child in the district, but it is also dangerous to your child—because if this law stands in DC, its proponents will be bringing it to your state next.

We’re standing guard against that threat, along with the other legislative dangers I mentioned. 

Yet, through all of this, your support has sustained us and kept us in the fight. 

In fact, fiscal year 2021 has been our strongest year in recent memory, and that is thanks to our partners. That is thanks to you.

We remain a tiny organization with a large voice for families, but this tiny organization may be starting to grow.

And all of this is why I’m writing to you today.

You see, we have to continue our efforts into fiscal year 2022, because none of these vital projects are finished. 

State lawmakers are still coming after parental rights in mental health, vaccine decisions, educational choice, and a myriad of other areas of law.

Innocent parents are still being wrongfully included on state child abuse registries.

Healing families are still being kept apart, or even separated permanently, because of onerous restrictions and obstacles brought on by the government’s response to COVID.

And that DC vaccine consent bill is still sitting before Congress, on its way to becoming law if we can’t get our lawmakers to act.

So we need to finish this fiscal year well and launch the next with our best month possible. We need to stay financially healthy so we can stand strong in the face of these threats to our families.

With a new American president, things are going to change. We don’t yet know how, but change is inevitable. 

And to be ready to meet that change, whatever it is, we need to be in the strongest position possible.

You have made this year a success both fiscally and legislatively, which is where it matters most. But our job is not yet done.

Can I count on you to help us finish strong as we take up the challenges of the year ahead?

Together, you and I can win these victories and secure lasting change for America’s families.

Will you join us in launching fiscal year 2022 on the best possible ground for victory?

Thank you for partnering with us this year and always. Thank you for standing with us to protect children by empowering parents, together.


Michael Ramey
Executive Director