Kellyanne Conway is back in the news because of her tumultuous relationship with her 16-year-old daughter, Claudia. This time, serious allegations of abuse have surfaced after a fleet of photos uploaded to Kellyanne Conway’s Twitter account reportedly included a picture of her daughter unclothed. The photo was swiftly removed, and it’s not clear if it was uploaded intentionally, accidentally, or by someone hacking Conway’s account. But the incident has fanned fears about Claudia’s welfare, fears which were already aflame due to videos the teenager had shared on TikTok of her mother swearing at her and calling her a “bitch.” Claudia then shared a statement on Tuesday, saying that she loves her mother and is taking a break from social media to repair their relationship, but that has done little to calm spectators’ fears, not least because Claudia has previously stated that if she ever took a break from social media, it would not be by choice.
The material in the videos, and Claudia’s statements about her mother, are extremely upsetting, so it’s only natural that they’d engender empathy and concern (from anyone, though Kellyanne’s provocative role in the Trump administration certainly adds a bit of fuel here). Unfortunately, speculation and calls for greater police involvement on social media with the family are as likely as not to make the situation worse. Child protective services, while necessary in cases where the life of a child is in imminent danger, have a very mixed record in resolving these kinds of situations. In many cases, intervention does more harm than good. And although wealthy families like the Conways always have a measure of protection from the worst abuses within the CPS system, the downside is that CPS is even less likely than usual to get a clear picture of what’s really going on.
We’d all like to believe that, when we see someone in pain, there’s something we can do to help. We want to believe that police officers or social workers can enter into a family, find out the truth, then intervene to protect the child—and that the child’s life will improve after that. But police and social workers are only human, our foster care and group home systems are terribly flawed, and often the information an investigation turns up only makes a complicated picture more confusing still. One of the hardest things for people who don’t have experience in this area to understand is that it is not even clear that a child leaving their parents is in the child’s best interests—even when the parents are abusive. That calculation is always an incredibly complicated one.
I don’t mean to suggest that we should do nothing when we know a child is being abused. Family members and friends can and should intervene when they believe a child is being harmed. There’s even a role for strangers getting involved if they have direct, unambiguous knowledge that a child is in serious danger at home. But TikTok and Twitter are not windows into private lives, they’re businesses trying to make money off of our engagement. We do not, cannot, and likely will not ever know the full picture of Claudia Conway’s home life and relationship with her mother. By trying to help, strangers to the family bring more scrutiny and more pressure to bear, without offering anything of value to support them. In such situations, as hard as it might be, we must accept that the best thing we can do for Claudia Conway and her family is to leave them alone.