In his short films Removed, Nathanael Matanick poignantly relays the tragic reality of child abuse in our country (watch Removed, parts one and two, here). While you’ll find many articles and films in regard to child abuse, few reveal the harsh realities of our broken foster care system and the poor mental stability of birth parents. These films capture these dynamics in a realistic way and offer the opportunity to discuss them.
A “token” broken foster care system
“If you were to go home, would you be safe?” -ReMoved, Part Two
In our foster care system, we have laws that require reasonable reunification with birth parents. These laws require parents to make what I consider “token” changes in their lives before reunification with their children. Here are some examples of court-ordered measures parents must fulfill to get their children back:
- secure a stable job
- reside in a suitable home for children
- take parenting classes
- attend therapy at a community mental health center
- attend court appointments on time
- check in with a caseworker each week
These measures look nice on the surface. Yet, the activities do not address the full emotional, psychological, or mental health issues of parents. Because parents don’t get to the true roots of their problems, they don’t truly heal. As a result, the foster care system creates revolving doors in and out of biological and foster homes that further harm children.
The need for true change on behalf of birth parents
“Your mom’s story doesn’t have to be your story. Your future can be different.” -ReMoved, Part Two
I have reviewed the histories of children that were abused or neglected early in their development for over three decades. Time and again, I see generations of dysfunction in children’s families. Their parents were often mistreated themselves, repeat the dysfunction, and continue their legacies. John Alston, MD, wrote an article on the four diagnoses of parents that neglect or abuse their children (read here). Dr. Alston finds that most abusive or neglectful parents have mental health disorders or addictions. It’s time to face this reality to truly heal neglected and abused children.
If we want to effectively reunify children, we need to get to the root of parental issues and remedy them. Otherwise, children continue to move from home to home. Ultimately, they have a greater chance of harming their own children and the cycle continues. When I get the opportunity to speak to human services and court staff, I recommend that they conduct psychological screenings of birth parents as soon as they remove children from their homes. Judges should order parents to complete treatment plans that address the core issues of abuse and neglect. Parents who refuse to participate in effective interventions for their mental health issues should not get their children back. Some may see this statement as insensitive, harsh, or hasty. Yet, it is not the therapists, case workers, or judges who feel the effects of these decisions to reunify. The kids are those that see, feel, and live the repercussions of these adult decisions.
I think we can all agree that the ideal goal is to reunite children with healthy parents. Yet, our “token” plans don’t facilitate that goal whatsoever. I agree that children should return to their biological parents but not at the cost of passing on legacies of broken attachments.
Make a difference. It starts with YOU and your community. Call to invite Executive Director Forrest Lien to speak at your parent/professional groups nationwide at (303) 674-1910.