Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kicking and Screaming

In an earlier blog post we covered a story about a little boy who was kidnapped by his father with the help of police. (See Police/Judge Help Father Kidnap Boy) When people watch the video they are disturbed to see the police completely disregard the boy's pleas for help. It seems shocking to some that authorities would act so harshly and blatantly disregard a child's wishes.

Authorities certainly dropped the ball in many ways, not the least of which is that they altogether disregarded an allegation of abuse the boy made at the time. But I have yet to hear anyone point out a much more plausible reason for the seemingly callous behavior on the part of authorities: this is a normal reaction by the child anytime they assist in custody disputes or child welfare situations.

On TV, when child protective services or police officers intervene to remove a child, it's always shown with hugs and smiles towards the "hero’s" who are rescuing them from abuse. In real life, however, when children are "rescued," even from parents who are legitimately abusive, it's hardly a happy event. Children usually kick, scream, cry, bite, go mute, and otherwise plead not to be taken. It's an extremely traumatic experience. A child's home and their caretakers, no matter how abusive and imperfect those caretakers may be, are the most important thing you can take from a child. Yet take them away, kicking and screaming, we often do.

As I watch this video, I can't help but notice how much it resembles what CPS does on a daily basis. And I can't help but wonder if the public would still support such measures as a valid response to abuse if they could see the aftermath of what removal is really like. Given this knowledge, it's hardly surprising that the officers would brush off a child's pleas and cries for help. After all, this is just part of the job.

The unfortunate message in all of this is that the system IS NOT set up around the child's best interests, no matter how much people try to tell you otherwise. If it were, police would be helping the child pleading for assistance, not be asked to assist in his torment. If police weren't so often asked to (legally) kidnap crying children, all because some judge or social worker somewhere out there thinks they know what's best, this situation wouldn't have taken place.

A larger problem is that children are often taken, kicking and screaming, away from one parent and awarded to a parent they despise, because a judge, going on limited information of the family, got it wrong. Perhaps dad was more loving and attentive but he had a drug conviction, so the other parent received custody. Too often custody decisions rest on procedures that don't serve the child's welfare at all. Children are also taken, kicking and screaming, away from their abusive or neglectful family (which they happen to love nonetheless). Children are also taken, kicking and screaming, away from families who haven’t abused their children at all. Anywhere from a third to more than half of all removals come in cases where an allegation can't be substantiated. All in all, in most cases where authorities intervene, it very often means forcing a child against their will. Given the current situation, perhaps this is what we should take a look at.

In light of this recent tragedy, there will of course be self-righteous finger pointing and a call to correct the things that led to these egregious errors. The result of this action is destined to be shallow and meaningless. The only real solution will come when we have a system that truly does put the child's interests first. One that listens to them. When children truly are abused in the home, they want the abuse to stop, but rarely (if ever) do they want to be taken away from everyone and everything they know and love. A child's foremost desire in this world is for both parents to be involved in their life. When parents can't get their act together to make that happen, they want to spend their daily lives with the parent to whom their attachment is the strongest. This mayor may not be the same parent a judge deems the fittest according to the statutes-or hiss personal opinion. Of course, it would be nice if all parents merely grew up and realized that their conflict with each other will destroy their child. It would be nice if all parents were perfect and never abused or neglected their children. Yet the system frequently creates added conflict all its own, doing children serious harm because it's set up around rigid procedures and an "I know what's best" attitude, rather than people who help the child's wishes and desires come true. It would also be nice if we had a system that spent a lot more time listening to the kids and less time always pretending it knows what is best for them. While we can't change human nature, this we can change.

The only real solution will come when we have a system that does put children’s' desires first and all of that adult nonsense second, so that having to force an irate, screaming child somewhere with someone that they don't want to go with WILL strike authority figures as unusual.

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