The Boston Globe – TPR Series
I found this article moving and profound. The reporter clearly did an excellent job of presenting the nuances of terminating the parental rights of so-called chronically neglectful parents.
Barbara’s story is, sadly, typical of the families who are all too frequently involved in the child welfare system: often impoverished, with mental disabilities, inadequate parenting skills (or is that inadequate middle class parenting skills?), unstable employment, no family support and poor decisionmaking skills. She was clearly not abusive; even the social workers acknowledged that. Were her children neglected or just poor?
The chronicle of inadequate social and legal work in this case is a damning example of how state involvement in these types of cases does little to promote child “health and safety” (ASFA-speak for baseline standards): the court authorized removal without notifying the parent (what was the emergency basis for this action?); the social worker placed the boys into two different homes; no visitation occurred with Barbara for six weeks; the social workers had between 18 and 24 family cases; the children were placed in a different school district; Barbara was given improper mental health treatment. (Why the boys had to be removed at all during state involvement is unclear.)
State involvement clearly did not help Barbara overcome her problems. Pressure to change, in fact, may have made them worse. What’s also clear to me is that Barbara’s children could not realistically live with their mother in a tent in the woods and make ends meet by shoplifting. In many ways the neglect case led to a self-fulfilling result: a neglectful parent who loved her children but just couldn’t get it together in the way the state demanded.
The article wrongly attributes the following as the primary motivation for ASFA: “The theory is that the best way to break the cycle of poverty and fractured families is to move children, and swiftly, out of troubled homes.” Although it is a good thesis for the article and may be an unfortunate effect of ASFA, social engineering was not the moving force behind ASFA. The prevention of foster care drift was the biggest factor which led to ASFA.
The use of permanency mediation is also highlighted (a process which I support). Clearly, however, the outcome – adoption with limited visitation – seems inadequate and unfair. After all, Barbara is a parent of two adolescent boys who was never abusive or in any way a danger to her children. Still, children need permanency and the outcome in this case seems fair, although far from ideal.
This is also a realistic story about the difficulties adoptive parents face navigating a state adoption process which rarely returns telephone calls or even says “thank you.”
Overall this is an excellent saga – well worth the 40 minutes spent reading it. The story also reminds me of one of my favorite sayings from Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin, former presiding judge of the Family Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia: “A termination of parental rights only changes the legal relationship between parent and child, not the biological relationship.” This is especially true in this story.