Child Protective Services and the Bazaar


CatB cover In 1996, Eric Raymond published a remarkable document titled The Cathedral & the Bazaar which took a look at the even more remarkable growth of the Linux operating system from a student project to a stable and usable operating system. Today, Linux has thousands of programmers adding to it and writing new applications. Linux is a credible replacement for network servers running Unix or Windows and beginning to turn into a non-programmers's personal computer platform.

Eric's document has grown and been polished over time and explores how volunteers were able to create Linux in defiance of conventional wisdom about how large software projects are best structured. It and several related writings have been combined into a book that examines why people have joined the new Open Source movement and explores business models that exploit it. The original audience, the computer hackers working on Linux and other Open Source projects, has expanded to include the executives of multi billion dollar computer companies.

On the book's cover is this quote:

"The most important book about technology today, with implications that go far beyond programming." - Guy Kawasaki

Child abuse and child neglect

NH plate H8DCYF Let's jump to a completely different topic. One of the great accomplishments of the 20th century was the medical revolution that brought antibiotics, vaccines, and surgical procedures that have greatly improved and extended human life. Better nutrition and safer workplaces have also contributed.

The biggest impact has been the control of the risks of childbirth and childhood diseases. We've gone from a society that accepted those risks to one where every child born can be expected to reach adulthood. The death of a child has always been tragic, now it is closing in on unacceptable.

Children have been abused since time inmemoriam. Sweatshops, dangerous jobs, and Dickensian society are virtually a thing of the past in the developed world. Child abuse arouses stronger emotions than it once did and society has deemed it unacceptable. State and federal governments in the last third of the 20th century have greatly expanded their investigation and prosecution of child abusers.

However, in their allegience to the slogan "It shouldn't hurt to be a child," the fundamental rights of raising your own family, privacy, and due process have been trampled. Many states' Child Protective Service agencies (CPS) have become more powerful than the police in their ability to intrude into families' private lives.

These threatened rights were articulated and put into constitutions in response to abuses of monarchies and other rulers over the past several centuries. Indeed, CPS agencies have been accused of dictatorial behaviours in their interference of families where no abuse has occurred. Anonymous reports of child abuse to CPS have been used to get CPS to harrass innocent families.

Many people vehemently refute these claims, and adequate documentation would overwhelm the scope of this paper. These claims are immaterial to this paper, all that is needed is to recognize that CPS and the families they interact with can be at odds with each other. There is a battle between the two sides, and both want to prevail. Over the last few weeks I've noticed parallels between the CPS battle and what Eric Raymond discovered about Linux devlopment. That is the subject of this paper.

The CPS Cathedral

The state agencies involved with Child Protective Services are generally under the state's Department of Health and Human Services. The Federal government is less involved than it is with many other social programs and provides more of a information sharing service and money than anything else.

Living in New Hampshire, I am most familiar with its Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), but other states have similar agencies, some even use the same name. Several aspects of DCYF's investigations work in their favor:

The Citizens' Bazaar

The other side of the battle consists primarily of families. The cases where children are abused are outside of this document's scope. Our concern are the innocent families accused of abuse or neglect.

How do they stand up to DCYF? Until recently their two main avenues of support were:

The situation is improving, and the Internet is playing a key role in the process:

Who participates in these forums? It's a varied lot and includes lawyers, doctors, former foster children, and people scarred by their involvement with CPS who are out to destroy it. I participate in part because my wife is a lawyer who specializes in defending people unjustly accused by DCYF. I've also created the majority of our Web pages about DCYF. For someone who has never been accused of neglect or abuse, I've put in a lot of time and have cut back on enjoying my other hobbies.

What is the reward for participation? I do much more than needed to support Paula's law business. Some of the pages by other lawyers have content that reaches far beyond their practice and contributes nothing to their income. Eric Raymond puzzled over the same question when he wrote his essays looking at the volunteer effort that created Linux. The Cathedral & the Bazaar, was the first and most important overall, but "Homesteading the Noosphere" looks at motivation and I think his answer applies here.

A Gift Culture

Raymond describes three mechanisms people have developed to deal with scarcity and wants. A command hierarchy is simplest and feature a centralized hierarchy backed up by force. They are most successful in small groups, say up to the size of an extended family or nomadic tribe. Larger hierarchies are more brutal and have to parasitize another economy.

An exchange economy, our free market, scales much better. It fosters competition and weeds out inefficient organizations.

A gift culture can arise when participants have sufficient resources and income for a comfortable life. In the Linux community, people who work on Open Source projects gain respect and influence on that and other projects. In short, "social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away."

No one in a command hierarchy has told me to develop this web site. My time spent on WWW pages and USENET discussions is not in exchange for income. It appears that the gift culture applies here just as well as it does in the Linux community.

I'm pleased when I'm thanked for our WWW pages or when someone has spent an hour reading them. Every so often I check a search engine or two to see what WWW pages link to ours. I'm well respected in the USENET group I created. What great leverage! Both WWW and USENET provide a platform with a global reach. It sure beats writing letters to the Editor of the local newspaper.

These rewards are as important to me as seeing DCYF submit to the limits of the US and NH Constitutions.

Looking around the web, I'm not the only one with the same motivations. There are a few people with a vindictive, all-consuming passion at attacking CPS whenever possible for having turned their life into sheer hell for years. There are many sites around the Web run by people who have had run-ins with CPS but have not been as badly scarred. There are some organizations devoted to helping people with CPS problems. I'm not intimately familiar with them, but I doubt they're making much money at it. As I mentioned, other lawyers have wide ranging sites.

Our site has a New Hampshire accent, but that's mainly because there's so much that needs to be done for NH. Still, I've written pages about the Wenatchee Witch Hunt and other important events. The important service we all provide is a record of CPS misdeeds in our respective states. That allows people to learn how to handle future encounters with CPS, something people have never been able to do before.

There is no one overarching WWW site that can bind the CPS resistance together, but that's okay, it's a very big job and the lower tier sites are evolving too rapidly to keep up. However, there are several niches itching to have their own WWW sites and I expect more sites like ours will appear over time. Ultimately, someone will create a WWW site with a national scope that includes links to various state and service sites around the country. For the most part, these sites will continue to be run by individuals. Linux development has followed a similar "bottom up" progression. With the operating system in good shape, activity has been shifting to application development.

Our Impact

One could argue that I'm just following the spirit of volunteerism that has been around for decades. In large part, I am. However, the difference with a gift economy is that volunteerism generally involves people with some free time to help with fairly menial tasks at hospitals, museums, or other public institutions. That's not what the Linux community is, and it's not what the anti-CPS community is doing either. We're both creating a new entity. At times we work alone, at other times we work with peers. Ultimately, we both are trying to create new institutions and give people more control over their lives.

To date it is difficult to point to our successes. Probably our main impact has been consciousness raising, which is fine, as that is where a movement starts. Their are enough WWW pages now so that the media and others can see that CPS excesses are not isolated cases or claims meant to divert attention away from real abuse. This may be part of the recent increases in news coverage which is more sympathetic to families. Families are looking to the WWW and to USENET sooner, but not yet soon enough. More WWW pages are showing up all the time. All these feed back into each other. Media scrutiny will increase, people will learn what to do before CPS knocks at the door, and still more WWW pages will make CPS secrecy a thing of the past.

Epilog: The Judge and the Engineer

At a meeting of NH's Judicial Conduct Commission, Judge Korbey commented on serving on a subcommittee with a couple engineers that
"Engineers are unreasonable people."
I promptly put it in my .signature file and eventually was rewarded with this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Contact Ric Werme or return to his home page.

Written 2000 April 7. Last updated 2002 May 9.