Time to Foster Change

Amendment of Current Child Welfare Statutes

My personal and professional life has allowed me the opportunity to experience the inner goings of the child welfare system firsthand. Personally, I have fostered and adopted children within the system. Professionally, I have worked within the court system and spent countless hours pouring over case law and statutes. I think it’s fair to say, I have a more than average understanding of what these children are forced to prevail against.

My experience has been within the Florida foster care system, however, I’m pretty positive that any other state system is much the same. It doesn’t matter where in the United States a child may reside, if they end up in the system, the direction of their lives will be decided for them based primarily on the opinions and advice of strangers. The reason for this is because that is what our current dependency laws allow. It’s hard not to have a soft spot for these children because they have no voice.

Our statutes need to place and keep the primary spotlight on the child. There are too many other factors that come into play that interfere with this main focus. Parental rights, the family unit, friends, school, and community are all indeed important, however, these factors should always take a backseat to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the child.

In a majority of these removals, a dangerous person or persons, environment, and/or situation is directly present. Almost all foster children are taken from their own parents. Why then do we freely accept the notion that these parents are best suited to care for and raise these abused and neglected kids? Are we to believe that just because two people have a child they automatically qualify as loving, nurturing, and fit parent(s).

Abuse is a very difficult and painful issue to deal with. I’m not just referring to physical abuse. A parent or guardian can abuse a child in many different ways without showing bodily scars. Mental, emotional, and sexual abuse can impair and destroy a child’s self-worth as much or more than broken bones or bruises. These are adults who have had the opportunity to live their lives as they see fit. They alone made the decisions and choices that have brought them to a point where authorities feel their child(ren) are unsafe.

The child, on the other hand, had no choice in the matter. He or she is essentially a pawn in someone else’s game of life. How fair is that? Why are these parents/guardians given chance after chance? I honestly believe that one occurrence of abuse is one too many. Anyone who has ever been a victim of any type of abuse knows that the pain and the hurt never truly go away.

Reunification should not be the automatic go-to answer. Love, empathy, understanding, and acceptance are what is needed to save these children (especially very young children who haven’t formed a strong or healthy attachment to a parent) not a bloodline.

The absence of common sense and empathy is severely lacking in this convoluted process. The simple truth is that it takes the love in one’s heart, not the blood in one’s veins to protect the life force within a child. There needs to be some expansion in the thought process that “family” is the indisputable, preferred solution when it comes to restoring these children’s lives.

What is so wrong with following the love, not the blood found in a child’s case file. It seems so simple, yet constantly overlooked because our laws and perhaps society too, can’t grasp such a concept. At least not yet. Until we can think outside the box for better ways to protect these children, the current laws on the books need to be amended so that these children are legally protected as they move through this unfair process. They at least deserve that much.