Friday, January 11, 2008

Allowing Harm

I've been talking with some foster care friends of mine, and I've been thinking about another thorny issue when it comes to biological parents.

As I think I've said before I have no sympathy for people who abuse their children. In my opinion, ALL abusers should face criminal charges (e.g. not just those who commit really egregious acts of abuse, whatever that means) and I don't think the system should try to reunify with abusers.

But what about those who allow abuse to occur? The young mom of the two month old who lived with a dad who broke his arm? The mom of the 10 day old who didn't know who had shaken her baby so violently that she will be severely mentally delayed, blind and unable to walk for the rest of her life? The uncle who knew that his sister was using drugs and neglecting her kids but did nothing to intervene? The grandparents who suspected boyfriend was sexually abusing the 3 year old but didn't intervene?

Should those people have custody? Should they receive services to support reunification? I have to say, I'm not sure. I know these family members haven't harmed the child. I know there must have been tons of reasons why they didn't intervene, that the mom whose child's arm was broken might have been a victim of domestic abuse herself, that the mom whose baby was shaken might have had to leave her with an unsafe relative in order to keep her job.

But I'm not sure I care. Well, not that I don't care. I do care, in a macro level, systematic way. I do wish women didn't have to live with abusers and didn't have to choose between making a living for their children while leaving them in subpar childcare and living meagerly off public assistance. But, as much as I don't like it, we live in a world with these realities.

And when it comes down to a real child in a real situation, I don't know. To me, the failure to protect a child is a serious issue. Although the uncle didn't want his sister to use drugs and didn't want his nieces and nephews to be abused and neglected, the fact of the matter is he allowed it, or at best didn't stop it. And even if the mom was young, and scared of her boyfriend, she still was present while he hurt her child.

The bigger question is how do we determine what potential relative placements ought to have done to prevent the abuse or neglect in the first place? And how can we know what they will do, in the future, should such situations happen again? One possibility is to say that if there is any evidence the potential relative placement was aware of the issue and didn't try to solve it, we won't place with them. But how could we ever know what they really tried to do? And what if they tried to help and failed? Maybe placement is OK then, if they haven't participated in any of the abuse or neglect themselves.

I just don't know. But I don't like the thought of sending children home with people who knew they were being harmed and were unable OR unwilling to stop it.


JUST A MOM said...

OOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhh you are singin my song girl.... This is where my sayign the "system" just does NOT work. To tke it one further,, should a parent who has a child run over by it's parent in the driveway, or drown in a tub or pool be charged???? well I SAY YES yes they should where were they why was this child NOT under their eye AT ALL TIMES!!!!! ok I will stop ,, our last foster daughter came to us herion addicted, failure to thrive,, and we nursed her till she ws almost 4,,, this child was placed back with the mother who was pregnant with a child with half a brain cause of the drugs she was taking at the time and a man in the hosue who abused mom.. ok we are going to turn her back to her parents AND she will come back to you and "visit" OH NO SHE IS NOT she will go home and I will never see her again,,, bye bye now... we never took another child. It sucks ok I will jump off my box.... have a great weekend.

Yondalla said...

With the people who knew but did not act, I am more interested in their ability to keep the child safe in the future than whether they had a good reason for not acting in the past.

I see kids who have been in so many foster homes, and kinship placements have a much better track record for permanency.

That doesn't mean they always work, of course. But I can forgive inaction easily if I can believe that future action will be appropriate.

MommyNay said...

Where to draw the line? I think that's the bigger problem. Ive yet to meet anyone who's family didn't experience some type of abuse. Maybe a member of the parental unit was an alcoholic and lost their temper "from time to time" or....I mean it goes on and on. Almost all of my women friends experienced some level of sexual abuse at some point in their childhood, many also experienced "discipline" that in many ppls eyes would be considered serious abuse---belt buckles, being drag by their hair, hit in the face, made to sit in wet or soiled underwear or worse to wear them in public etc. All of these are things that I grew up around, experienced myself or have heard stories from friends about their childhood.. Its not to say that any of this should be accepted or condoned. I just think its hard to decided where to draw the line. I was sexually abused as a child by a member of my family, I have read on blog after blog and message board after message board the opinion that sexually abused children should never be reunified. Id have a hard time saying I personally would support reunification if a foster child of mine had been sexually abused. OTOH, I can VERY easily say I am SO GLAD that I was reunified after being placed in foster care as a child. I also have a hard time imagining most of my friends (who endured what today would be considered abuse) would have rather been adopted or languished in foster care. Anyway I know its not a popular view. Ive only experienced two of my 7placements in the past 2years return to bios. I think to be completely honest I think one huge reason that I couldn't adopt Bella was because I did not agree with the counties decision to terminate on mom so quickly. Yes Bella was physically abused...I still believe that with support she should have been able to go home. Again, and unpopular view I know.

steph said...

As a former CPS worker, let me tell you how subjective this can be.
The state/government sets up the rules, but they are usually vague at best. And they can be swayed depending on how much support you provide, the evidence or lack there of of the intent, and the services available (and their level of ability).
We often discussed that abused animals are given more consideration then children. To prosecute an adult, you need evidence up the yang. After 7 years, I only had one parent go to jail, and to be honest, I thought that claim was fishy - parents in custody battle making accusations for years and the kid was brain washed.....
I have seen parents I NEVER thought would get it together, get it together. I've seen parents I thought just needed a little help go down the crapper. Majority of my cases went to severance, but majority were drug and mental health issues, not abuse.

Now as a foster parent, I see it from the other side as well, and boy is it shit. But even as a CPS worker, I told all parents I didn't care what they did, I was not their cheer leader or their friend. I would give them tasks and they would complete them or they wouldn't. My concern was making sure their kid's needs were met and that was where I put my energy and focus.

But the laws can be revised if everyone piped up about them. Write letters, vote for the right politicians. I fully realize there is only so much one can do, but in order to change the way things are, we have to start at the top.

Dream Mommy said...

I understand the feeling much too well now. It makes me so mad I can't even speak about it!

FosterMommy said...

Yeah. That.
And, sure, it's hard to know where to draw the line, but, damn, *something* has to be done.

I do know that not everything is always as it seems. Niblet's aunt & uncle, for instance, took her for weeks at a time and knew she was being neglected at home. However, her aunt saw marks & bruises on her and *called CPS* and NOTHING HAPPENED. Apparently, obvious slap and strangle marks aren't enough to warrant a removal. So I don't blame them for what eventually happened.

Niblet's dad, on the other hand, as far as we can figure, sat around his house and listened to his baby's mother beat the crap out of her and did nothing. And that's the best-case scenario. Who knows what kind of abuse (besides emotional) he inflicted on her, as well? He's still protecting the mother. He can go straight to hell, imo. As can all the drug dealers who were selling to Niblet's mom while she was visibly pregnant with her. Oy. I'm carrying on.
Yes, there are social ills that need some damn fixing, but there's also personal responsibility.