Time to Foster Change

Parental Rights v Children Rights

A healthy parent-child relationship is probably the closest thing to unconditional love anyone of us will ever experience.  It’s natural to assume that nothing will ever measure up to a parent’s capacity to show affection without limitations and to love without conditions. Most would agree that the connection between parent and child is sacred and certainly not a bond in which to be messed with. How strong is this tie that binds parent and child together? Powerful enough that the Supreme Court interpreted parental rights to be unenumerated rights protected from government interference by implementation of the Due Process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments. Another term for unenumerated is unalienable. For those of you unfamiliar with this term it means rights not bestowed by law, but are God given and therefore cannot be taken away by governments. In addition to the U.S. Constitution, parental rights are also protected by Article 16 of the International Human Rights Law which states “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”  This is some heavy duty reinforcement and precisely why the dependency laws enacted by our legislature have child welfare agencies focusing on parental reunification as their main objective.

This would all be well and good if we lived in an ideal world, but we don’t. The sad truth is that almost all foster children that are placed in state care due to abuse and neglect are taken from their own parents. Think about that…THEIR OWN PARENTS. In 2018 there were approximately 440,000 children in foster care on any given day with the numbers rising every year. That adds up to a whole lot of individuals corrupting the steadfast presumption that parents make the best caregivers. Are we to believe that just because two people have a child that they automatically qualify as loving, nurturing and fit parent(s)? Society needs to recognize that some individuals are just not able to take on the obligation and responsibility of a child and should not be awarded the entitlement to make decisions and choices that negatively affect the physical, mental and emotional well-being of a child just because their seed and egg was used in the creation. Is it fair to an abused child that each parent be blanketed with parental rights protection based solely on the fact they copulated and reproduced? A benefit of this magnitude should not be allowed to be bestowed upon individuals who neither deserve nor respect this privilege. We must afford protection to children who unsuspectedly find themselves entrapped within the care of those incapable or unworthy of this sacred gift we call parenthood. These individuals are adults who have had the opportunity to live their lives as they choose. They alone made the decisions and choices that have shaped their lives. The child, on the other hand, had no choice in the matter. He or she is a pawn in their game of life. Every child should have a fair shake at life without the transgressions of his/her parent(s) predetermining their destiny.

Yet despite this simple truth it’s common practice that should a child be brought into foster care, the intended goal is reunification of child and parent(s)or other blood relatives as fast as possible. They do this because our state legislatures have chosen to enact statutes which give the indication that parental rights and kinship would be the most favorable outcome. The wording in these statutes are as such because the protection of these rights and relationships are so deeply rooted within our society and supposedly protected by our constitution (according to the Supreme Court). I would like to point out that our Constitution doesn’t specifically protect parental rights. It was the Supreme Court who first recognized these rights as ones that should fall under the “unenumerated rights” category. They most likely came to this conclusion because for centuries our society has been indoctrinated with the unwavering belief that all individuals have the right to create a family. I totally get it. It’s not hard to figure out why parental rights have become such a substantial heavyweight when it comes to rights in this country. It’s quite understandable that society, as well as, the government would come to expect and require that a child born from a sexual encounter should be the responsibility of the two individuals involved in the child’s creation. After all, it’s their right, their choice, and their obligation to care for this child. This would make absolute sense if the world wasn’t full of damaged individuals who completely disregard what it means to be a parent and the responsibilities such a gift entails. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and the number of individuals such as those described above do exist in the millions. The irreversible damage that is inflicted upon a child due to the poor choices, decisions and actions of these individuals should not be overlooked nor taken lightly. The primary and only focus in the crucial determination of whether a child should be reunified with a biological family, should rest solely upon the welfare, safety, and protection of the child. Such a simple objective, yet over and over again, the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of the child always seems to take a back seat to the transgressor’s parental rights.

What is currently used in an attempt to protect children in the United States and around the world is what is referred to as the “best interests of the child” standard. This standard is a child rights principle acquired from Article 3 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. This landmark agreement sets forth the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children and the responsibilities of governments to uphold these protections. Interesting enough, however, is the fact that this treaty was never ratified by the United States, the only country in the world not to do so. In all 50 states these best interest standards are determined by each state’s legislature. The dependency laws enacted by that state’s lawmakers set forth the factors that must be considered to ensure a child’s best interests in that particular state. The statutes set forth describing each of these standards (which vary from state to state) are then subjectively interpreted by the judge appointed to each child’s case. This inconsistency is not protection nor is it justice for these children. There is nothing concrete about these standards. It basically comes down to a game of chance with odds being placed on which judge will be appointed. There is an unfairness that permeates best interest cases because much depends on the lens in which a particular judge chooses to view the circumstances before them. It’s a match that weighs the severity of the child’s abuse/neglect and child’s ultimate safety over the heavily favored parental rights stance and reunification. A child is not removed from home without reason. In a majority of these removals a dangerous person or persons, environment and/or situation is directly present. A parent or guardian can abuse a child in many different ways. Physical abuse will show bodily scars, but mental, emotional, and sexual abuse are just as horrific and will ultimately shatter and destroy a child’s self worth as much or more than broken bones or bruises. This should be reason enough for a child to be afforded the same rights and protections as the parent who inflicted this trauma. Even if a parent is deemed unfit, the return of the child to another blood relation does not guarantee the child will not be reentering into an unpredictable and troubled family dynamic. Generational toxicity is real. The sad reality is that in many of these cases, the parents themselves are victims of abuse or dealing with an addiction caused by a dysfunctional upbringing. This is why an innocent child’s bloodline should not take precedence over the quality of their life. Biology and kinship should not play a prominent role in finding solace for these children. The opportunity to grow and develop within a healthy unimpaired environment should be the ultimate target in a dependency case, not who they are related to.

This is the 21st century and bloodlines continue to take precedence over empathy, concern, and compassion for these kids. The protection of parental rights and inadequate state budgets are the predominant reasons why the child welfare system is such a hot mess. Whether or not a child may still be at risk, the ultimate goal of reunification with a parent(s) has basically become a quick fix with the least amount of financial burden upon our states and federal government. Other good sense options such as adoptions, permanent guardianship, or just long term foster care within the right family cannot be utilized because current dependency laws immerse a biological parent with a force field of protection. This protection is often given without a second thought given to the child. To give you an idea of the protection I am referring to, allow me to describe a typical dependency case outline. One of the very first steps in the process is constructing a case plan for each biological parent. Every parent is lawfully entitled to receive and complete a case plan. If the case plan is completed within the specified time frame, more likely than not the child will be reunified with one or both biological parents (even in cases of infant drug exposure, sexual abuse and/or physical harm). Not only does the law allow them to work through this case plan, the State will actually pay the cost of the program(s)they are required to attend. It appears as well, judging from my own experience, that each parent is allowed to take their sweet ass time completing this plan. Why would they rush through when they have the perfect set up. Free child care, no responsibility, worry-free when it comes to birthdays, Christmas, or any other holiday. Many of these children are left completely ignored during their foster care stay. In some cases, the State will even offer financial assistance for housing and/or other services the parents may need. In the meantime, as the parent(s) work on their case plan, the child lingers within the foster care system. In the case of our foster child it took 18 months for the parent to complete this process. That is a long time for a young child to be in the care of another family. To feel a sense of love and security only to be returned to a precarious situation with the hope that what led to the child’s removal won’t happen again. Once reunification occurs, the bond between child and foster family is usually severed. The State, at this point, will continue keeping tabs on the family and the welfare of the child. However, this safeguard is only temporary. This supervision by the State will ultimately come to an end six months after reunification has taken place. After that, the parents are free to do as they please, until the time comes when the cycle repeats itself.

We all make mistakes. We are all fallible to some degree and should be allowed the opportunity for a second chance. But, when that second chance turns into a third, fourth and fifth chance for the same offense, then it just becomes a cruel joke. Redemption may be a good thing, but not when it occurs at the expense of another human being, especially a child. In the cases of abuse and neglect each of these failed turn-arounds generate more irreparable harm to the child. Whose life should be of paramount importance here? The adult parent whose actions and choices are suspect or the innocent child?

For those out there who contend a child will suffer irreparable harm should they be removed from their parent(s)/families, I couldn’t disagree more. The family units involved in a majority of foster care cases are nothing more than havens for abuse. Do you understand that the damage inflicted upon these children will most likely be permanent? These kids will grow up with all of their pain, torment, and mental suffering intact. I’m sure there are many of us who can relate to how the grievous actions and detrimental decisions of a supposed loved one can mess with one’s sense of self worth. How can we expect these children to evolve into a mentally and emotionally stable adults when the parent(s) and/or family units aren’t. All life deserves love, compassion and respect. A child’s life deserves in addition to these basic essentials… care, concern and protection. I know from my own experience as a foster mother that children can be very resilient when placed in a safe and loving environment. I have no doubt that any child will thrive when given the proper attention and care no matter what their age or circumstances. A healthy bond between a parental figure and child can be created through the transfer of love. DNA and biology have absolutely nothing to do with it. The simple truth is that it takes the love in one’s heart, not the blood in the one’s veins to protect the overall well-being of a child.