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We'll never make a good parent out of Big Brother

The state didn't keep Nadine Flam's boyfriend from beating her 2{-year-old son to death, so heads rolled.

Four workers with the Department of Children and Families were fired, demoted, suspended or reassigned.

They let little Jonathan Flam die, the ever-ready public outrage said. The state failed him.

We've gotten our requisite pound of flesh now from those lax state workers, the barbaric boyfriend is in jail, so the rest of us can resume our self-absorbed lives, slam our hair-trigger outrage back into its holster and wait till the next brutal bully pushes us to brandish it again.

We've done our job. The villains have all been rounded up.

Now we'll clamor for the state to have more authority to step in and remove children from potential danger, some beauty-contestant legislator will oblige, then we'll pull that outrage when it exercises that expanded muscle.

We'll accuse the state anew of not allowing us to raise our children.

No matter to what degree a state agency's lack of diligence can be construed as contributing to the death of Jonathan Flam, one thing is clear: Protecting children is not the state's long suit.

Nor should it be.

That is a parent's job. That is a community's job. That is our job.

But it is a job we're growing less willing to accept, more willing to assign. We have become more content to let chance raise our children instead of applying ourselves to the task by our consistent words and example. We have fewer qualms about leaving our children in the hands of strangers because it is more important for some of us to maintain our standard of living than to instill some standards for life.

We are more willing to turn our backs on evidence of abuse at our neighbor's house than to risk a confrontation.

We have developed a fondness for easy answers, especially ones that absolve us of responsibility and give us a direction to point the finger of blame when something goes awry.

The latest trend in that vein is the push to establish curfews for teenagers. Several Tampa Bay communities have already adopted them.

Establishing a curfew is the topic of a meeting today at the Enoch Davis Center in St. Petersburg. The sincerity of the participants is unimpeachable. Kevin Johnson, president of the Palmetto Park Neighborhood Association, is the force behind it. His passion for improving his city, especially for its children, has pushed the straight-talking man to broad recognition around the city.

He favors a curfew.

But the sincerity and good intentions of Johnson, City Council member Jay Lasita, and the others who support the idea of a curfew, are not enough. The idea comes with several built-in flaws.

The biggest, of course, is that it is an attempt to assign more parental duties to the agencies of government. As has been shown repeatedly show with efforts at child protection, the state is a dreadfully inept parent.

Imposing a curfew would at best be a short-sighted fix that assumes children are on the streets late at night because it's legal for them to be there. They are not. They are there because they don't want to be home.

If they are picked up by police _ who don't relish the role of babysitter _ and returned home, the problem hasn't been solved, just briefly interrupted. The children will not suddenly see the error of their ways and stay home. They will just find another place to hang out, one where the police are less likely to find them, and consequently may be more dangerous than their usual, comparatively more visible street haunts.

Perhaps such ideas that cast the state as parent just have to run their course before the sincerity and good intentions behind them will be shifted toward persuading communities and parents to reassume their responsibilities.

And toward teaching them how.

That is where hope lies _ not in pointing fingers, but looking in the mirror.