It’s simply not working. The United States needs to reform child protection policies. In their attempt to protect kids who’ve been abused or neglected, they do more harm.
Our current system requires efforts to reunify children with their abusive and neglectful parents. This is where the problems begin—their requirements for parents to get their kids back aren’t sufficient. Meanwhile, kids get constantly moved as they wait to go back home. When they are finally placed back with their biological parents, they are usually removed again because the parents haven’t changed. And the cycle continues.
In the end, kids only suffer more. A child’s development of trust is further compromised after multiple placements, contributing to the harm of children suffering from reactive attachment disorder. Reactive attachment disorder is a developmental trauma disorder of the first three years of life.
How the system puts kids back in the same abusive and neglectful homes
Our legal system requires social service employees to reunite kids with their parents who’ve abused or neglected them. While parents have to meet certain requirements to get their kids back, those requirements lack the most important element—mental stability.
For parents to get their kids back, social services usually require that they have steady employment and adequate housing. They also require that they haven’t gotten in trouble with the law, have cooperated with social services, and have received outpatient therapy. But they don’t address the root of the problem. This typical treatment plan doesn’t address severe mental health issues. Unfortunately, parents who abuse and neglect their children usually have deep psychological and mental health problems.
According to Dr. John Alston (see article), parents capable of abuse or neglect typically have one of the following issues:
- antisocial (sociopath) personality disorder
- borderline personality disorder paranoid schizophrenia
- alcohol or substance abuse problems
- bipolar disorder
Social services don’t typically require abusive and neglectful parents to address any of these issues before they get their kids back. When kids go back home, the abuse and neglect usually begin again.
How the system causes further harm to children’s attachments
After social services initially remove children from abusive and neglectful homes, they place them with temporary foster parents or relatives. Once kids do go home, as stated above, they’re often removed again. This means that kids move back and forth between their biological parents, several different foster homes, or relatives.
Since children have endured abuse or neglect, they already suffer from broken attachments. They only learn to put up more barriers to protect their hearts as they bounce around to different caretakers. Thus, their reactive attachment disorder develops further.
What can be done?
I constantly advocate for a change in the system when I speak to human services and legal professionals. I suggest that judges order psychological assessments of the parents after their first abuse allegations. If parents have character disorders, judges should order parents to get appropriate treatments. Until that happens, social services staff need to supervise children’s visits with their parents. Kids should not be alone with their parents until qualified clinicians sanctions those rights.
If parents don’t follow through with getting the appropriate help, I strongly believe that the court needs to terminate visits and reunification efforts. If parents aren’t motivated to take care of their own mental health, they aren’t able to keep their kids safe.
The court needs to eliminate multiple moves for kids who’ve been abused and neglected. Kids need permanent homes in safe and nurturing environments.
But it doesn’t stop there. Adoptive parents need to know about their kids needs and how to care for them. Many adoption agencies don’t fully disclose children’s pasts. Furthermore, they don’t support parents after adoption. When adoptive parents don’t get the support they need, they often relinquish children back to the system again. And the cycle continues.
If we don’t change our broken system, we’ll continue to have high rates of adoption disruption, especially in adolescents who suffer from reactive attachment disorder.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net