Time to Foster Change

Focus on the Kids

Thousands of children die every year from abuse and neglect with the majority being killed by their own parent(s). Not a week goes by that we don’t read about this type of tragedy in national or local news. A father throws his daughter from a bridge, a mother drowns her handicapped daughter, a toddler killed by blunt force, an infant shaken to death, a baby found in a bucket of tar. It’s never-ending. These deaths are heartbreaking and senseless, but what I find most unnerving is that a great many of these children had been taken into the child welfare system only to be reunified with their parents.

At-risk children are tossed into a system in which the direction of their lives and ultimate outcomes are decided for them based primarily upon the opinions and recommendations of complete strangers. This is how many of these parents regain custody. While it would be very easy to place blame on the foster care system that honestly wouldn’t be fair.

You see, these strangers are case workers hired to do a job in which dependency statutes limit their options. These child welfare employees have to follow the current laws which heavily favor reunification with the parents or biological family. Until these statutes are revised to provide these children with more protective rights they are basically screwed.

There are basically two scenarios that occur repeatedly in the system. In the first scenario the child remains in a family unit where they are subjected to a continuous pattern of abuse stemming from the harmful choices and destructive behavior of a parent or guardian until that person is reported and/or arrested; the child then enters the system while the parent completes their case plan; child is then reunified with parent until the cycle repeats itself or tragedy strikes.

In the second scenario the child enters the foster care system; the parent(s)are unable or unwilling to complete the case plan, but nevertheless, are given several chances to complete it while the child lingers in foster care for months and/or years; reunification with the parent occurs or termination of parental rights. In both of these scenarios, there is a likelihood that the child, especially if they are young in age, will bond with the foster family and begin to thrive in their new environment. But instead of allowing this family the opportunity to adopt or remain legal guardians to this child, the child is returned to the biological family because that is the mindset ingrained within our statutes.

Almost all foster parents know that reunification is the goal. We go into this well aware that the child about to enter our home will only be with us temporarily. But, it’s still difficult to watch how unfair life can be for the child you’ve come to care about. Just because some statutes dictate this is how it’s got to be doesn’t make it right.

Dependency laws allow for each parent the right of representation at every stage of the dependency process. As for the child, no such right exists. Instead, what the law does provide in lieu of an attorney is a guardian ad litem (a community volunteer with no legal training).

A guardian ad litem is appointed to look out for the child’s best interests. While to some people, an advocate of this standing may seem sufficient, it isn’t. There is a huge difference between being legally represented by a formally trained attorney and being represented by a volunteer with good intentions.

Being inside a courtroom can be an intimidating experience. Add to that a complex legal process, a lack of legal knowledge, and an underlying eagerness to please the case management team and/or the judge. Not to mention their own personal views on family structure.

It’s imperative that a volunteer stays focused on the best interests of the child and only the child. It takes a backbone to go against the grain when need be. Sometimes this can be a difficult task to do when there is constant pressure to reunify. It takes more than a charitable heart to advocate for these kids.

It takes someone with proper legal training to push back against a system that is wrapped up in a particular mindset. To make matters worse, the reality of a child even being appointed a guardian ad litem is slim to none. There is a vast shortage of volunteers wishing to undertake this great responsibility. Which leaves most of these kids completely unprotected without any support through the entire process. They become helpless victims with absolutely no voice.

I recently read in my local newspaper that the child welfare provider for my community will now focus on “family programs” so children can avoid the foster care system altogether. Just the thought of that makes me cringe. Does the government honestly believe the money would be better spent assisting parents get it together rather than focusing on a safe and abuse-free environment for their children?

What makes this organization assume that an abusive/negligent parent will be motivated enough to make the necessary changes to be a responsible adult, especially when dealing with a toxic habit at the same time? Whether it’s drug addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse, or any other harmful conduct, it basically comes down to an innocent child having to rely on their parent(s) to transfigure into healthy, stable, and selfless human being(s).

As the child awaits for this transformation to take place there is a considerable chance that more damage will be inflicted. Just imagine the countless number of children who remain in abusive and neglectful circumstances with nowhere else to go having to live a personal hell every day. A child deserves a chance at life without having to endure the constant existence of drugs, violence, neglect, and other various types of abuse in their daily reality.

It takes a whole lot more than a sperm donation and a trip down a birth canal to earn the title of Mommy and Daddy. A protective, nurturing environment is paramount if these children have any hope of recovering from a life of distress and difficulty.

This brings me to the topic of the right to life. I understand the premise of why so many would support this cause. Life is indeed precious. What perplexes me, however, is how much of the protesting is directed at abortion. What about after the child is born? I’ve never seen or heard any protesting for a child after their birth.

It must be nice to think so optimistically and believe that every unwanted pregnancy turns out for the best. Abortions occur because the woman is not prepared (whatever the reason, it shouldn’t matter). Not every unwanted child ends up in a picture-perfect adoptive home. In the case of many of these pregnancies, the baby ends up in foster care, or within the care of biological parents, ill-equipped financially, mentally, and/or emotionally. Which in many of these cases will ultimately result in neglect and/or abuse.

Right to life is not just about coming into this world. This child has to continue to survive, sometimes in a very precarious environment 24/7 for the next eighteen years. A comprehension of the lasting damage that can be done during this time frame needs to be accepted and understood by our politicians and the ones out there protesting that life is God’s will.

For many of these children, life is a personal burden and the devastating effects remain well beyond childhood. Let’s not hide behind denial, we are all well aware that some of these children suffer horrific lives and sometimes death as a result of an action or non-action of a trusted family member. So for those of you who believe it is God’s will or have the perception that any life is better than no existence at all, I implore you to reexamine your thinking.

I personally don’t believe any higher power would allow an innocent child to endure such torment needlessly. And unless such a fate was personally experienced, none of us should possess the privilege of asserting an opinion that life in and of itself is better than no existence at all.

With that said, how can the recent astounding decision made by the Supreme Court in which the majority voted to uphold the state of Texas abortion law be ignored? It should scare everyone in this country how easy it was for the Court to form their own interpretation of the constitution and manipulate the law to such a degree that it echoes the majority’s perceived sense of moral righteousness. To inflict a decision that imposes upon a woman’s right to her own body is a slap in the face not only to women’s rights but societal progression.

This decision will send ripples throughout the country even though it all started in Texas. This nation is supposedly a democracy, but let’s break down the reality of what transpired that allowed the highest court in the land to deliver such a blow.

Millions of U.S. citizens had absolutely no say as to who would be elected to the Texas house and senate. There are a total of 181 members, of those members 101 voted for the new abortion law. Let that sink in, 101. The Supreme Court then upheld the law with a 5 member majority decision (three of those members appointed by Trump). So if we do the math, that is a total of 106 individuals who had the power to objectify their personal biased perceptions regarding a paramount issue that will have long-lasting effects on the rest of us.

I know that is just how this country operates, but it still feels exceedingly unfair. To add fuel to the fire the Supreme Court felt justified in using what is referred to as the shadow docket. A method used by the Court to dispatch key rulings without oral arguments. Many of these rulings are without signed opinions or detailed explanations.

Many legal experts refer to it as lawless behavior and improper use of the court’s monumental power. How does any of this imbalance resonate with the founding framers’ conception of a republic ruled by the people for the people? What I just described above is not a democracy. It’s total domination over millions of people who find themselves at the mercy of a contentious bipartisan government.

Here is a perfect case in point. The Supreme Court finds it perfectly okay to uphold a law invading a woman’s right to self, but leaves untouched the issue of mandatory vaccination in the fight against a deadly world virus. Both of the above issues deal with an individual’s body and the choice of determining what happens with another human being’s life. Both issues are also based on medical science.

Interestingly enough the Supreme Court finds no trouble in making a ruling that encroaches on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of a woman, but opts not to take up the issue of a deadly virus that can be spread and inflicted upon innocent people. Why? Because that would infringe upon an individual’s personal liberty and the right to choose.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who took notice of their unabashed hypocrisy and blatant partisan stance. I’m sure it makes no difference to them, they are after all appointed for life. But, it does matter to me.

I hate that this political divide is destroying this country and I resent the fact that it’s seeping into everything, including our court system. As frustrating as all this is, it’s been going on for centuries. Our nation’s case law is chalked full of biased opinions that corresponded with the recognized, but distorted viewpoints of the day. It just unnerves me that it still continues to happen in 2022 leaving many of us to wonder when this madness will stop. I for one am tired of regressing backward.

This political division and governmental complacency with the status quo are beyond aggravating. I suppose if our political figures are going to continue with this nonsense then it’s up to us as individuals to press forward with the change we want to see. There are so many causes and issues worthy of attention.

I personally would like to thank those of you that have already gone public with your cause, as well as those that are immersed in silent battles without fanfare. I honestly believe it is everyday people that will actually turn this world around so thanks for the inspiration.

My cause centers around children, the most defenseless innocents among us. I am drawn to advocate on their behalf for so many reasons, personal motivation absolutely, but it’s much more than that. When I think about how exposed and helpless they truly are it awakens emotions in me that I find hard to describe.

The subject of children’s rights conjures up so many issues for me besides guaranteed legal protection. It makes me cognizant of all the other areas where their vulnerability is apparent. Foster care, child abuse, diagnosis labeling, bullying and so on. All of these actions cause trauma.

It’s important to me for society to understand that any type of trauma will cause a detrimental impact on a child’s psyche leaving an everlasting scar. Whether the harm inflicted is physical, sexual, mental, and/or emotional the trauma suffered is irreversible. You can’t help but to notice the effects of its aftermath.

Just take a look at what is currently going on in our world today. Your mass shootings in our schools carried out by children; teen and child suicides at an all-time high; teen drug and alcohol addiction; opiate exposed babies; child depression and anxiety. This is our reality and quite frankly just the beginning.

Children who continue to struggle from the after-effects of harmful abuse who do happen to make it into adulthood will most likely become a greater risk to society. Their ignored and untreated afflictions will eventually be imposed upon others, be it their own offspring or their community. If our laws remain stagnant this wheel will continue to spin and this toxic cycle will never end. This country has got to do a better job protecting at-risk kids.

The entire world has recently come together to express its support for Ukraine. Our collective conscience understands when it witnesses a bully trying to evoke power over a less dominant nation. It is of course distressing to observe an unprovoked attack using unspeakable methods to obtain a self-serving goal. We know such an act can not go unnoticed and be ignored. So, the world unifies in its moral sense of justice and responds accordingly. As we should.

This same inner voice is what the children of the world need from us as well. What our children face when it comes to the laws enacted to protect them is the same overpowering injustice along with the flawed and deficient means used to impose it. These children didn’t ask to be placed in the unsettling situations they find themselves in. It’s not their fault they became a victim of someone else’s selfish acts.

That still voice inside that has me empathizing with Ukraine and its people is the same one that has been nudging me to bring awareness upon these children. To allow these children a genuine chance of growing into mentally healthy, emotionally stable, well-adjusted and productive adults is an aspiration worth striving for and one that I will passionately stand by. They are entitled to some bona fide hope, not a toss of the dice.