It is hardly controversial to say that the institution of the family is in crisis. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, in or out of the Church. Fertility rates have been in freefall for 50 years. Nearly a quarter of families in Britain are single-parent, with nearly half of these living in poverty. By almost every metric you can use, the family, which is the essential mechanism by which our cultural and social DNA is passed on, is in decline.

As there is abundant evidence for the massive social and economic cost of familial decline, you might think that the state would be eager to do what it could to shore up what is left of our family life.

You would be wrong. Across Western countries, families that have managed to buck the trend of our atomised secular society are under active assault from governments and courts. Indeed, with the extended family having been effectively killed off as a social force more than a generation ago, the concepts of the nuclear family and parenthood are now under open attack.

As the state has grown to fill the spaces formerly occupied by the family, it has assumed an absolute authority over parents and children which is genuinely chilling. In this country, it is now an offence to take a child on holiday during term time without permission: for 38 weeks a year, the state, not the parent, is the final arbiter of where a child may or may not go.

In Scotland, the infamous Named Person scheme, in which every child is to have a government employee designated to track their progress and assess their family life, continues to advance despite opposition and delays. Supporters of the plan dress it up in the cloying language of “caring government” but cannot conceal the basic premise that parents are a suspect class who need constant monitoring.

South of the border, it has broadly escaped public notice that already parental rights exist only under government sufferance. The UK’s Supreme Court has ruled that in any significant dispute about what is in a child’s best interest, the child must have an “independent” (meaning state-appointed) voice. This interpretation of the 1989 Children Act, which was meant to safeguard the interests of children when parents disagreed, has been broadened to include disagreements between unified parents and other authorities, be they educational, medical, or governmental. As the tragic cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans have shown, the results are a matter of life and death.

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