Sunday, December 7, 2008

Child Protection--the role of faith and family

I am going to interrupt my description of the process of a child protection case to talk a little bit about the role of faith and family in these cases.

Before a case is even filed and before a child is placed into foster care, an attempt is made to place the child with safe and willing family members or friends. At least in Maine, there is not a requirement that people with a close connection to the child be licensed foster homes, only that they meet some safety criteria. A child is less traumatized by the removal if placed in a familiar setting and there is a greater chance of success for the family if there are close extended relative supports. Some of these cases never make it to court if the parents are cooperative and the support systems are all strong enough to provide help with assistance from the social worker.

Sometimes, though, the issues may be extremely significant and for safety reasons it is best for the child to come into state custody even while being placed with the relative. Those are the ones that I see. One of my favorite early posts was about a grandmother who had taken in her two grandsons.

Of course, there are times when the issues that brought the child to the attention of the state are entrenched for many generations in a family and, even though those families often want to help, it is best under those circumstances to remove the child from the environment and try to stop whatever generational disfunction exists by providing services for the parents while the child is safely out of the situation.

To be honest, fathers are not always present when a child is removed and sometimes they aren't even identified. Because the father has rights to the child, the mother is questioned about who he is or could be and he or they are found and tested for paternity. If the potential father is not found and tested, then there is a publication in the newspaper with the child's first name, date of birth and the mother's name. In my experience a man has never come forward because of the publication and claimed paternity but at least one time that I can remember, a paternal grandmother did. Ultimately, she adopted the child--I still see them from time to time in the community and the grandmother always stops and gives me a hug. No one would ever know that they weren't biologically mother and daughter--both tall and pretty with strawberry blonde hair--in that instance the publication in the paper paid dividends.

But, not to be too hard on fathers, there have also been times when the father had nothing to do with the child after conception and after being identified and getting involved in the case has proven to be a good option for the child. To me, they always have to answer the questions of where have they been and why didn't they try to help. But, in cases where the mother cannot or will not do what is necessary to reunify with her children, those formerly deadbeat dads sometimes manage to provide a good home for their children.

Faith-based organizations often provide parenting education, supervised visitation services and homes for young mothers. Over the last five or six years, those organizations seem to have diminished in my area leaving a great deficit of services. When I first started doing child protection cases, I wondered how we would manage without all of the private faith-b
ased services and now that there are fewer of them--I realize that we don't manage very well at all without them.

Also, faith provides a motivation for many individuals to help in situations that would be easy to walk away from. Many people, motivated by their faith, have taken in children or provided rides for families or supervised visits or provided other support--not for any reason other than they feel that it is the right thing to do. I have immense respect for those folks.

Sometimes, parents who become involved in the child protection system use it as a "wak
e-up call" and will begin going to church. I am usually cautiously optimistic when a parent tells me that they began going to church and are going 3 times a week. The support from the church community is great and if it gives the parent a whole new social group, that is great, too. My only concern is when they treat their conversion as a panacea and do not do the serious and difficult work necessary to address their underlying problems.

Many foster parents are church-going people and I have never met a child in foster care who does not like to go to church. They always talk about Sunday School and the church songs and the youth group activities and they like dressing up on Sundays and they like having so many adults and other kids who are nothing but kind. For some of them, that's the first time for that experience.

So, in closing, as I said in that other post last January; they've got love like an ocean in their heart.


KGMom said...

Beth--I went back and read your earlier story (about grandmother & children). Now, with tears in my eyes--I again say THANK YOU to you for your work.
I noted in that earlier post Dad's comment--how proud he is of you and your work. I am sure you treasure that remark, along with your encounters with the wonderful grandmother.

Jayne said...

I often wonder about the outcome of children when they are returned to a so-so situation, and applaud you for striving to make sure that real changes have been made. So much of abuse is generational sadly, and it's a hard cycle to break. God bless that grandmother.... and you Beth, for doing what you do.

Ruth said...

It is sad to hear of the decreased involvement of faith-based organizations. People get busier and volunteers get more scarce. Our faith in action is to be directed toward the needy, and these families and children are very needy indeed. There are no easy solutions.

The Texican said...

There will be a little package coming your way as soon as I find a freezer proof box. Great series. Pappy

Mary said...

Beth, thank you for sharing what you know and understand about children and families. The work you do affects the lives of so many people - and that's a good thing.