On crime and custody

In most of the country, one of the primary objectives of child welfare services is to try whenever possible to keep families together and to reunite families after some life events temporarily separate children from their parents.

It’s certainly a noble practice in a philosophical sense. Few people would be comfortable living in a nation where parents’ rights can be obliterated easily by the state. It reeks of the kind of practices found in totalitarian dictatorships where children were effectively treated as property of the government.

However, what sounds good in principle is complicated in practice.

In many cases, life circumstances lead to children being placed under custodial care of a family member or in one of a community’s great foster care homes. Make no mistake, there are countless foster care parents and homes where caregivers are angels on earth – doing God’s work under what are often less-than-ideal conditions.

But not all children removed from homes are as blessed. Without exception, every year there are numerous stories from large cities about the abuse and neglect of children in foster care by their would-be caregivers.

Minot Daily News’ editorial board consists of no experts in the field, but we have members who have been on both sides of the coin – both raising children not our own and growing up in excellent foster homes.

The situation becomes more complicated when it comes to children removed – or facing removal – because of the criminal actions of parents, however adjudicated.

This is something with which MDN is also well familiar from staff access to affidavits from authorities and review of court documents.

Often, one cannot help but wonder about decisions being made when it comes to child custody. What crimes should preclude the return of children from family members’ care or foster care? How long should the process take? Is monitoring of the home situation intense enough? Are decisions being made because of principle or because of practicality? Are non-parental caregivers devoid of any rights despite the service to humanity they provide; are their voices heard as loudly as they should be?

These are questions virtually impossible to answer. This is particularly so because privacy laws and regulations make it virtually impossible for the public to monitor the successes and failures of the system. Typically only horrible stories cross over into the public domain. Meanwhile the public has access to information routinely in other situations to determine what is or what is not justifiable.

One thing that studies have proven for decades is that social ills such as alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence – among others – often, even usually, extend from being exposed to these things as a child. Someone who grows up in an environment where social ills are routine is simply more likely to engage in them in the future.

Those who spend time following the workings of the criminal justice system and the child welfare system probably ponder these questions.

Minot Daily News is.

But the question is – is there an absolute answer, a sure solution or a pathway to the righteous resolution?

MDN can’t answer that.

Perhaps what it takes is a community – any community – more engaged with the initial questions.


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