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Reflections on Judging Mothering
August 26, 2010 12:27 PM   Subscribe

(pdf) Chris Gottlieb writes in the "Baltimore Law Review" about judging parents. The article discusses instances of racism and classicism in the family court systems. An adaptation of the "Baltimore Review" article appears in the New York Times.

From the full article:

The other day, a woman approached me on the subway to tell me that looking at print six inches from one's face could cause eyestrain. I quickly learned she was not worried about me; she was concerned about my baby's eyes because I was carrying him face out, where he was about six inches from the paper I was reading. Not long before, a driver had leaned out of his ice cream truck to admonish me to be careful --- he thought the sling in which I was carrying my son was unsafe. An elderly man on the street told me my baby's legs were cold. A saleswoman was more worried about his arms, but didn't stop at commenting --- she reached out to pull down his sleeves. More than a few strangers "tsked tsked" me when they learned I had my baby out of the house before he was six weeks old.


Even when mistakes are caught and unnecessary separations ended, those children can never again have what we like to believe is the birthright of all children: a feeling of security that their parents will always be there for them, that their parents have some power to control an otherwise scary world. We take that away when we act as though parents are so great a threat to their children that it should be easy for government workers to come between them.

The judgment that falls on yuppie women in snide remarks made at cafés falls on poor women with a hammer. My friends feel inadequate, a significant burden no doubt. But my clients feel fear. The primal fear that one's child will be taken. The unspeakable fear that your child will be hurt and you won't be able to protect her. Of course, children learn fear too. My clients' children learn too young that their parents are not all-powerful, all-protecting. When these children worry that a monster may come and take them away from their parents, it is true.


More on handling unwanted advice for parents:

Parents Magazine

ParentsAsk

The Nurture Center

More on children later ruled to have been wrongly taken into custody:

Disputed Medical Evidence

Polygamist sect in Texas


Approved adoption despite wrongful taking at birth

A blind couple considered to be unfit parents reunited with their daughter

Baby taken at birth when the mother refused a c-section

Mother who didn't speak English loses her baby in Mississippi
posted by zizzle (56 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
The article discusses instances of racism and classicism in the family court systems.

All twin brothers are turned over to the custody of foster she-wolves.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:37 PM on August 26, 2010 [45 favorites]


Maybe I just look unwelcoming, but I've never had anyone say or do anything like this about my toddler.

Though, last week, for the first time I can recall a stranger touched my child without asking first.
Granted, it was only a grandmotherly type petting my child's pigtails, but it was still a bit odd.
posted by madajb at 12:38 PM on August 26, 2010


Oh, dratz.

I spent a long time on this today, and I even took a several hours break and came back and still made some mistakes. Maybe writing a Metafilter post is like parenting ...
posted by zizzle at 12:40 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't even finished reading the first link, but I have to say that it should be required reading for everyone who has ever succumbed to the urge to give unsolicited advice to parents, or to cast judgment in many other situations.
For those whose parenting is never questioned by the state, it is difficult to imagine the levels of intrusiveness, subjectivity, and pure ridiculousness that are imposed when we tell state actors that their job is to assess whether parents can meet their children's best interests.
You're damned right.

Thank you for posting this, zizzle.
posted by zarq at 12:43 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting the full article- fascinating stuff.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:45 PM on August 26, 2010


or to cast judgment in many other situations

I'm still allowed to tell youngsters to pull their dang pants up, right?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:48 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only if they're on your lawn, Faint.
posted by Etrigan at 12:50 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I judge parents by whether they can catch me after I grab their child and start running.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:52 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't remember anyone ever taking me to task when I'm out with my five-year-old; of course, I carry all the visible class markers of being a "good parent."

I'm sometimes tempted to say something to a parent who's really yelling all-out at a little kid. Like the dad I saw the other day who shouted at his crying daughter, who looked about 6, "PUT A SMILE ON YOUR FACE!"

But I never do say anything.
posted by escabeche at 12:55 PM on August 26, 2010


Maybe I just look unwelcoming, but I've never had anyone say or do anything like this about my toddler.

I've had it happen enough to find it annoying. Probably because I usually have had two babies or toddlers in tow at once. This was my favorite incident. (self-link)
posted by zarq at 12:55 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really interesting read, thanks.
posted by everichon at 12:57 PM on August 26, 2010


My 7-week old was crying her head off the other day when I was sitting in my church hallway (I had left my Sunday school class so I wouldn't disturb it and she was not yet old enough to go to the church nursery) and this old blue hair comes up to me and says "She's cold. You need to put a blanket on her. Look at how she's shivering." Now I'm sitting with the baby on my lap bouncing her slightly to help soothe her which is why she appeared to be shivering, but I say "Heat vision activate" stare at the baby intently and stop bouncing her and say "Look she stopped shivering." Then I say "Heat vision deactivate" and start bouncing her again and then look up at the old lady and say "It only works in short bursts."
posted by ND¢ at 12:58 PM on August 26, 2010 [47 favorites]


This is the sort of thing I bring up whenever folks use the "but what about the children?" argument in opposition to same-sex marriage: "Oh, so you're arguing for more governmental regulation of child-rearing? You think the government should take a more active role in deciding who is and who is not qualified to be a parent? You think it's OK for a governmental body to judge your right to be a parent, to approve or disapprove of how you are raising your kids?"
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:06 PM on August 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've had it happen enough to find it annoying. Probably because I usually have had two babies or toddlers in tow at once. This was my favorite incident. (self-link)

Well, yeah, in NY. Everyone's got an opinion in NY from what I remember.
posted by madajb at 1:08 PM on August 26, 2010


I haven't read the article yet, but you should throw "ageism" on there as well.

I started parenting young and you can't believe the judgment, contempt and sheer gall we had to endure from other people. We're an interracial couple too, so throw that on the fire. I am sure it's not any better in the court system.

As a young parent, people who have never raised a child have no problem telling you that your parenting techniques are fundamentally flawed. They would never tell that to their friend who had a baby at 37. Yet, they have no problem at all telling you because you "made a mistake." Yet, they love your child to death. It's funny. If you are a young parent, and your child is great, s/he is great *despite* what you have done. The contempt runs deep. I had teachers tell me in the same breath how wonderful my daughter was and how we were raising her wrong. You can't imagine how many people all but said they could raise her better, while at the same time praising her to high heaven. You can never win. And it's true, you have to be very careful. If you're young or poor or a so-called minority, you have little defense against some nosy busybody school administrator that thinks your child is a bit too timid and should be investigated. It never came to that, but it's only now that I am past 30 do I feel the least bit secure.

People without children act like they could do it better than you. We've had a few come subtly apologize after they had children, realizing they didn't know what the hell they were talking about. And in this culture, if you have children in the right window of time (say, 30-37) people use it as pedestal to look down on people who had children at the "wrong time." They act like they are the first people to ever have children and the manner it which they are raising children is better than all the generations before them. You feel the judgment. When you're young it hurts. You don't get to be respected as parents. You are not invited into the society. You have to fear the state coming and taking your kid for minor things. But you know what? Fuck 'em. After a while, you start to laugh about it. I'll be 36 when my daughter graduates from high school and they'll be stuck with terrible twos.
posted by milarepa at 1:09 PM on August 26, 2010 [14 favorites]


I read this article the other day, and the comments get into debating some of the issues discussed in this article. I've been reading a lot of foster/adoptive parent blogs lately, and it's all very interesting. I'm thinking of the examples where on one hand, you have that judge ordering the parent to take her child to the park every day, and the other hand, where a child made it 18 years in the system without anyone bothering to get her a birth certificate or SS number.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah nobody outside of New York has an opinion, which is why I hate people from outside of NY.
posted by spicynuts at 1:12 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


After a while, you start to laugh about it. I'll be 36 when my daughter graduates from high school and they'll be stuck with terrible twos.

Good for you. Speaking as a guy in his mid-30's with two 2yr olds, I do think it's harder to deal with toddlers than if I'd had 'em at 20.
posted by zarq at 1:14 PM on August 26, 2010


Well, yeah, in NY. Everyone's got an opinion in NY from what I remember.

Yeah, you're probably right. I'm sure that the incidents that have happened in other states (TX, NM, AZ, etc.) were simply transplanted New Yorkers being themselves. ;)
posted by zarq at 1:17 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I draw a distinction between the folks that pulled my baby's pant legs lower to make sure she was warm and the mom at my daughter's school who gave me a 20 minute lecture on my parenting and discipline, which I only realized 2 weeks later, she had never had occasion to witness! The former is an almost instinctive, protective, and I believe near-universal human desire to protect the young of the species. The latter is bullshit judgmental crap.

Some of this stuff seems to me the inevitable result of living in a multicultural society. In a more homogeneous culture, we would still get lectures from our mothers in law about how to raise our kids but that would be in the context where the whole community shared the same basic values and beliefs about parenting. In our context there's a free-for-all of clashing values and beliefs.

One thing I've noticed: speaking in averages, the more experienced someone is directly caring for children, the less judgmental they seem to be of others. I now seek parenting advice only from parents of grown children, and who had more than one child. I myself am much, much less critical of other parents now than before I was one.

I haven't finished it yet, but this article seems very important and well articulated. It's beginning is a little misleading since it starts out to be about this generally "judginess" factor, but the meat and value of the article is in its specific discussion of the legal system's harm toward poor families and families of color.
posted by serazin at 1:22 PM on August 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


People do this for dogs, too, btw
posted by grobstein at 1:24 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you don't want people to look at you and think something, and maybe say something about what they think, stay in your damn house.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:28 PM on August 26, 2010


Yeah, you're probably right. I'm sure that the incidents that have happened in other states (TX, NM, AZ, etc.) were simply transplanted New Yorkers being themselves. ;)

Hey, don't knock it. I haven't lived there for coming up on 20 years, and I still get told "Honey, your New York is showing" occasionally.
posted by madajb at 1:28 PM on August 26, 2010


I have no idea how to take care of a baby. I hope if I ever have one that people judge me constantly and tell me what the fuck to do.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:32 PM on August 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


How to Take Care of a Baby
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2010


Good for you. Speaking as a guy in his mid-30's with two 2yr olds, I do think it's harder to deal with toddlers than if I'd had 'em at 20.

It's got its pros and cons. The generation gap being so small helps the most. I joke that when we're old I want us to all live in the same retirement community.
posted by milarepa at 1:39 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


a child made it 18 years in the system without anyone bothering to get her a birth certificate or SS number.

I'm not sure how this specific case reflects on bad child-rearing practices. I mean, it obviously would have made this girl's life easier if her aunt had dealt with this earlier, but I think given her getting accepted into a four year college and having had a consistent home with a family member for her whole life, this kid is probably doing pretty well!

I think this situation is a reflection of how poorly funded and coordinated the foster care system is - not this kid's primary caregiver.
posted by serazin at 1:40 PM on August 26, 2010


I'm not sure how this specific case reflects on bad child-rearing practices.

It doesn't, obviously. I was thinking more of the ways in which the system is set up for failure (or I guess in this case, not set up) while at the same time holding the caregivers they're "helping" to an impossible standard.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2010


I have no numbers to back this up, and I know it does sometimes happen to men, but it really seems like people seem to feel safer pulling this kind of thing on women alone with child(ren). Nobody ever says mum when we're out together with the kid or if I have him by myself.*

*Though I get the obliviously-sexist "Mom's day off, huh?" thing all the time.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:53 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another human Goldilocks problem.

A couple of weekends ago I was sitting with a group of people who rather casually discussed hitting their children. Not a butt-swat, but full-on "pop in the mouth" hitting, including, "I'm surprised he didn't lose a tooth." Everyone else nods sagely after someone says, "If that child isn't deathly afraid of you by the time they're five, it's over." I, without children, say nothing. After all, I can only expect to hear "... you don't have kids." I do not have children, so I do not say anything. Is that where I speak up?

I am not entirely certain where the line is drawn. Many seem to have some pretty definite ideas about where that line is most properly located and those lines, viewed collectively, are at least as wide as a highway.
posted by adipocere at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Also, I judge parents all the time--it's like some weird switch that turned on that I can't turn off--but I at least have the good sense to shut the heck up about it. Especially since I'm usually the guy dangling his toddler by the ankles as he giggles madly, to the disapproving looks of some nearby parents)
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2010



My son's mother was abusive and violent. As a guy, I put up with it - because, really, what did I have to fear from a woman half my size plus all the usual reasons people stay in shitty relationships. Besides, who would help me? The one time I did call the cops they arrived, to find me bleeding from my nose and my mouth, shirt torn, hiding in a closet. After some discussion the Cops told me that if I wanted to press charges against her, I would be arrested and charged. I would probably go to jail and face some large fines. However, they were willing to look the other way if I was. If I didn't want to file a complaint, I could go to my parents house for the night and nothing would happen.

A few months later, we had broken up, and she was refusing to let me see my son. So, I sued for placement. I couldn't afford a lawyer, and besides, all of the ones I had spoken with told me to cut my losses, forget about the kid, pay my support and move on. Legal aid wouldn't, and well, we all know how good men's rights groups are about doing anything.

She showed up with a response team from one of the DV shelters in the area. Now, I never laid a hand on her that wasn't the minimum necessary for self defense. She never went to the hospital. There were no police reports. No bruises, no injuries, no evidence. But that didn't matter. They all got to testify that was a violent drunken abuser who abuses and is abusive. They didn't know me at all, but, facts aren't so important sometimes.

The net result was that I got one hour of supervised visitation per week - at her discretion - at a DV shelter near the courthouse. I was not allowed to feed my son, or change his diaper. I could not bring toys, and was searched before and after the visit. I had to pay her cab fare to and from, and pay the fees for the supervision. For all of that, I got to pretend to be a father.

I gave up after that and moved out of town. I didn't see him very much for a few years.

Ultimately, the drug use and bad behavior caught up with her. Long story (Really!) short, I went to a child support hearing and walked out with full custody and placement.

And then the assault truly began. She went back to the DV group that had been so successful for her before. They dug that well deeper. She called CPS to complain that I was abusing my son. That I was molesting my son. That I was neglecting my son. CPS, or the cops, or one of a million different social workers would come by and visit my workplace, the day care, the neighbors, my house. Poke around, write things down, file reports. Sometimes they spend an evening or a Saturday - watching, noting, scribbling.

Exchanges were a nightmare - I can only imagine what interrogation she put him through trying to find something, anything, to prove her case.

It was horribly invasive, and you develop strong sense of paranoia. No drinking after work with co-workers. Don't rent questionable movies. Be careful what websites you visit, what you say on the phone, what you say to co-workers, friends, bosses - most of all your son. Worry about what they might say that could be misconstrued. Once, I took him to a water park; he was so excited to shower with me in the locker room because usually got baths.

Grown men do not shower with their children in locker rooms. It's not illegal, but CPS will be all over that shit once mom hears about it and make some phone calls.

They will take any small reason at all and use that, so you have to be squeaky clean. In the end, nothing ever came from it - in a legal sense - I was never convicted, no finding was ever made, I never lost custody or placement after I had gotten it.

That's for the authorities. But what of regular people ? Authorities can be wrong, and people prefer to rather be safe than sorry.

My son's friends weren't allowed to come over. I was laid off from one job, fired from another, and made to take monthly drug tests at a third because of the accusations. I lost friends, and girlfriends, and.... so much sleep.

It's a funny feeling to take your kid to a neighborhood park and see the other moms pack up their kids in a hurry and leave. The whispers in the coatroom at daycare. The doctor's search for bruises when you bring the boy in for an ear infection.

Eventually, I gave up on that town, and moved to another one.

The things you linked to - that was the stuff my nightmares were made of. I'm a good parent. I like being a father. Three more years, and he will be an adult, and I'll be largely done. I'm very proud of him.

But I will never have children again.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2010 [86 favorites]


Hey Pogo, that sounds horrible.

TPS: I was thinking more of the ways in which the system is set up for failure (or I guess in this case, not set up) while at the same time holding the caregivers they're "helping" to an impossible standard.
Gotcha. I totally agree here.
posted by serazin at 2:06 PM on August 26, 2010


I seem to recall an NPR story a couple years ago about somewhere (Florida?) where there was a complete overhaul of the foster care system and money was being re-directed to providing social services, therapy, and support to keep families together. Does this ring a bell for anyone else?
posted by serazin at 2:11 PM on August 26, 2010




Exactly. I knew alllllll the right things to do for a kid till I had two. Now I _know_ I'm clueless.

posted by jfwlucy at 2:14 PM on August 26, 2010


The last time a big child welfare scandal broke in Philly I did a series of commentary pieces (1, 2, 3) that talked about how the ultimate irony of the broken child welfare system is that all these moms around the city are having their children yanked and put in foster care on thinly supported neglect charges while these utterly horrendous and completely obvious abuse cases go ignored until the child turns up dead. I haven't read the Baltimore Law piece but printed it at work and will definitely look at it, but what I gather her about her central premise, that the vast majority of placement cases are essentially single moms being punished for being poor, totally jibes with my experience as a social worker and in Philly's family court. After Philly's internationally infamous Danieal Kelly case (previously) DHS in Philly went crazy placing kids left and right for no good reason and pissed off moms started to form advocacy groups fighting foster care placements. I'm sure the system is fucked up in NYC, but seriously, nowhere is the child welfare and family court system more fucked up than Philly.
posted by The Straightener at 2:17 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine had her children removed from her home at the end of June. All the reasons for it were things that I could also be accused of if someone were to come through my home and put the worst possible interpretation on everything (for instance, they were cited for having no screen in the windows--the screens had been removed because the windows were being weather-proofed and re-painted, and the report also mentioned that there were "still" dirty dishes on the table at 7 p.m.; this although two of her children were actually sitting at the table eating when the caseworkers arrived). My theory is that my friend sacrificed her middle-class privilege by choosing to live in a poor/working class city neighborhood, and by having seven children, which invites a level of scrutiny from strangers you just would not believe if you hadn't seen it with your own eyes. Thanks for that first article; it was strangely comforting to hear someone who is on the inside of the system affirming the fucked-up-ness of it.

(Trial Monday; God willing, the children will be returned then.)
posted by not that girl at 2:53 PM on August 26, 2010


I'll be 36 when my daughter graduates from high school and they'll be stuck with terrible twos.

milarepa, I've heard other young parents describe the same experience you've had.

My third child was born just before my 42nd birthday. I was pretty screwed up as a young person, so on balance it's probably best I didn't have children when I was young, but as an almost-45-year-old chasing a super-high-energy 3-year-old around, I can see that there would have been benefits as well.

(You are welcome to laugh maniacally at me when, at my age, you're entering a rich new era of self-discovery and fulfillment. Also when your grandchildren come along while you're still young and healthy enough to enjoy them--I live in fear of my kids also waiting until they're 35 to start having kids, which will make me 70 when I have my first grandchild.)
posted by not that girl at 2:59 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wanted to come back and say one final thought I couldn't quite articulate before. No matter how good your child is, if you are a young parent, you are a viewed as a bad parent by definition. You are judged this way by school administrators, the courts and society in general. You live in fear of Children's Services because your age (or, as in the case of the article, your poverty) can always be used against you, no matter how much else you do perfectly. It's terrifying and you are always a bit reluctant to stand up for yourself because you are always at a disadvantage.
posted by milarepa at 3:14 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


My theory is that my friend sacrificed her middle-class privilege by choosing to live in a poor/working class city neighborhood, and by having seven children

I have a different guess, not that girl.

I think seven kids, if they are on some kind of support, could have put her and her kids near the top of some list of who is getting the most money, and a political decision has been made to go after such people on any kind of excuse, no matter how flimsy, under the assumption they are abusing the system, or simply because they are trying to reduce the total amount they are paying.

In other words, I think she is caught up in some kind of purge of the welfare rolls of her jurisdiction, because the first thing almost any parent would do who had that happen would be to get the hell away from there.

Disgusting and disgraceful, if that's what it is.
posted by jamjam at 3:37 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Adipocere, the absence of any kind of emphasised speech impediment in your comment, surely would indicate those people were using dark humour. Surely.

Otherwise, I think you have a responsibility to report them.

Maybe that's an example of just how non-parents misread the casual weird comments of actual parents. I often talk jokingly of 'killing' my kids using the most violent means for their various transgressions (which usually occur at ~6am). I guess I have to be careful of what I say around whom.
posted by a non e mouse at 3:38 PM on August 26, 2010


It's got its pros and cons. The generation gap being so small helps the most. I joke that when we're old I want us to all live in the same retirement community.

Heh. :)

In hindsight, I can say truthfully that I seriously doubt I would have been a good parent in my early 20's. I lacked the patience. I had little ability to stay calm during crises. I had difficulty keeping things in perspective. Having kids has changed me a lot -- far more than expected. But I doubt I would have been able to handle it well back then.

But damn, it would be nice to have better sleep deprivation coping skills!
posted by zarq at 3:40 PM on August 26, 2010


I draw a distinction between the folks that pulled my baby's pant legs lower to make sure she was warm and the mom at my daughter's school who gave me a 20 minute lecture on my parenting and discipline, which I only realized 2 weeks later, she had never had occasion to witness! The former is an almost instinctive, protective, and I believe near-universal human desire to protect the young of the species. The latter is bullshit judgmental crap.

Very well put. Along with the people who offered me unsolicited criticisms have been a few kind souls who jumped in when they thought they were needed and helped non-judgmentally. I was and still am grateful for their assistance.
posted by zarq at 3:43 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


"for instance, they were cited for having no screen in the windows--the screens had been removed because the windows were being weather-proofed and re-painted"

Ugh, wait, seriously? I just like the view better with the screens out, at least on the windows I don't ever open!

and the report also mentioned that there were "still" dirty dishes on the table at 7 p.m.

A friend of mine got back from a funeral for another friend's child and collapsed from appendicitis. The EMTs reported her to DCF because her laundry was in the middle of the living room (had dumped the laundry in the living room when they arrived home from the 10-hour drive back from the funeral; they were there five days) and her dishwasher was open because she had been loading up the dinner dishes when she collapsed. Full investigation for child neglect based on laundry in the living room and an open dishwasher.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:34 PM on August 26, 2010


but as an almost-45-year-old chasing a super-high-energy 3-year-old around, I can see that there would have been benefits as well.

I'm a little younger than you with a toddler, but I will say, I don't remember the floor being quite as far way when I was 22.

I'm also pretty sure my knees didn't make those sounds when I sat down on the floor for the 50th time that day.
posted by madajb at 6:42 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yesterday I represented Kalia in court. When Kalia was ten, the parental rights of her parents were terminated. Kalia and her three siblings all went into the custody of the department of social services, which means that they all went into foster homes. Kalia's three younger siblings were adopted. Kalia was not. Kalia bounced around in foster homes for years.

When she was seventeen, Kalia had a baby. As the department of social services already had custody of Kalia, they immediately took custody of her baby. They placed her baby with Kalia in the foster home that Kalia was living in. For the past year, Kalia has been living with her baby together in foster care.

Next week, Kalia will turn 18. At that time, Kalia will no longer be in the custody of the department of social services. The department of social services filed a motion to keep her baby in the custody of the department. The department's attorney argued that Kalia was not mature enough to care for her baby alone without the government's help. Kalia did not go to school or take parenting classes or see a therapist or do any of the things that the department had been asking her to do over the past year.

We had court yesterday, and Kalia got upset at something that her social worker said to her outside the courtroom. Kalia left the courthouse and did not return. I arrived to court shortly after this occurred. Kalia's case was called about an hour later.

After the department's attorney and the guardian's attorney were heard from, I told the court that the department may have valid concerns about Kalia's ability to care for her child, but that there was no legal basis to keep her baby in the department's custody. The baby only went into the department's custody because her mother was already in the department's custody. That made sense. I told the judge that the court should exercise an abundance of caution when taking a child from her mother, particularly when there had been no testimony or evidence that my client had ever done anything wrong in her raising of her baby.

After addressing the court, I sat back down. The judge then announced we would continue the case to today and that my client needed to be there. We returned to court today, and the judge ordered that department had failed to make their case and that Kalia could have her baby next week on her birthday.

I was shocked. The department pretty much always gets what they want. I particularly didn't think I would have much of a chance at success with my client having not even been there that first day.

I tell this story to show just how crazy it is out there. The department essentially tried to get custody of a child because they thought the child's mother might not do a good job in the future. And they were shocked and upset when the judge did not rule in their favor. I, too, learned a valuable lesson. I considered not even addressing the court when it was my turn. I considered saying, "Judge, I haven't heard from my client, so I am not in a position to argue what her interests are." Instead, I said, "Judge, I have no heard from my client, but I have read the reports and talked to all of the interested parties. I think I have a good sense as to what is going on here, and I would like to be heard." So the valuable lesson I learned is that I need to fight for these people even when they are not there to fight for themselves.

Going up against the department of social services is generally a losing battle. I have expressed to my wife before that I don't feel like I accomplish anything in court for them, and I wonder if I should continue. Well, today I accomplished something for someone, and I feel like I should continue. I am sure this doesn't sound like the greatest achievement in the history of legal representation, and it wasn't. But if you could have seen the smile that lit up across my client's face and experienced the hugs from her various relatives, you might have thought that something special had indeed occurred.
posted by flarbuse at 8:11 PM on August 26, 2010 [39 favorites]


Some of the individual anecdotes about child services departments are pretty horrifying, but abuse and neglect are terrible too. I wonder if, on balance, (from a systemic point of view) they actually do more harm than good? Would children and families be better off if the government was restricted to intervening in actual physical abuse cases, and that's it?
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:41 PM on August 26, 2010


I saw the cutest baby girl with the biggest brown eyes today.

That's all. Such a cutie pie even as she scowled at me.
posted by anniecat at 9:03 PM on August 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


r_nebblesworth, it does seem like in neglect cases, perhaps the first line of attack should be education for the parents, and even some (tax-funded) support -- which would keep families intact and be cheaper in the long run anyway, since foster care costs a lot. Around here, where there are neglect accusations and, let's say, a struggling, younger single-mother without a lot of resources who maybe feeds her kids too much mac & cheese and doesn't keep a very clean house between work and kids, either they come in and say, "Nope, no neglect" and leave them in the same rough shape the found them, or they come in and say, "Yep, neglect, we're taking your kids" and leave the poor woman to fight for her children and run up legal bills.

Wouldn't it be better if they could provide some sort of supportive options for families in those situations before moving to the "take away the kids" elephant guns?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:06 PM on August 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some of the individual anecdotes about child services departments are pretty horrifying, but abuse and neglect are terrible too. I wonder if, on balance, (from a systemic point of view) they actually do more harm than good? Would children and families be better off if the government was restricted to intervening in actual physical abuse cases, and that's it?

I've wondered that, too. But some people are going to succeed at manipulating the system to their advantage. As a result, I think there is a tendency in those organizations to err in favor of intervention. The net result being that you get judges and other investigators who cannot in good conscience give a parent the benefit of the doubt.

An additional problem is that once that seed has been planted, it becomes the basis upon which all further determinations are built. It basically boils down to credibility - and agency people have greater credibility than parents do.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:23 PM on August 26, 2010


I've wondered that, too. But some people are going to succeed at manipulating the system to their advantage. As a result, I think there is a tendency in those organizations to err in favor of intervention.

The first linked article addresses this. The author says that high-profile cases in which children fall through the cracks and are badly hurt or killed are the justification for practices that victimize many other children. She writes:

Busting down more doors means hurting other children, children who will never make the papers, but who will suffer the needless trauma of being torn from their parents. How many children are we willing to take from their parents in order to save the child who otherwise would be killed? A tough question. Not, thankfully, the question we face. It turns out that when the government takes more children from their parents, that does not prevent the worst cases of child abuse. It turns out we cannot save every child as much as we might want to. Yet while trying to, we can and do hurt other children. I'd like to suggest that we owe as much care and concern to those other children, whom our policies will hit hard, though we won't read about them. We need to think about those children, too, and understand the dynamic we allow to decide their fates.
posted by not that girl at 9:46 PM on August 26, 2010


People do this for dogs, too, btw

So true. My dog is quite small and during the winter, I'll frequently have people yell at me for taking her out in the cold for her walk. The most memorable incident, though, was when the dog was so excited to be on a walk that she started running and I jogged along too so she could get it out of her system. An elderly woman across the street yelled, "that dog's too little to run!" at us.

posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:50 PM on August 31, 2010


Full investigation for child neglect based on laundry in the living room and an open dishwasher.

Well, I'm doomed -- sometimes I fold laundry in the living room, and I leave the dishwasher door open if I'm interrupted while loading the dishwasher.

Sometimes I wonder if the laws are written by people who don't actually have children.
posted by davejay at 10:34 AM on September 3, 2010


Maybe I just look unwelcoming, but I've never had anyone say or do anything like this about my toddler.

I've only had this happen once. An old woman at a local fair was making pleasant comments about my children, seemed nice enough, then reached out to offer my daughter a peanut without asking me first. To her credit, my daughter did not reach out for it, and I said "I'm sorry, but my daughter has a peanut allergy, and that will make her sick."

The old woman's response? She scowled at me, said something in a nasty tone I didn't understand, and then scowled at my daughter.

That experience makes me 100% certain that if someone tries to do a parent drive-by on me, I'll have no trouble whatsoever rejecting it if their unsolicited advice is foolish.

An elderly woman across the street yelled, "that dog's too little to run!"

This made me giggle. A lot.
posted by davejay at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2010


People do this for dogs, too, btw

Comparing dog care to raising children is annoying as hell, btw
posted by RajahKing at 7:56 PM on September 8, 2010


Very true, dogs will never think you're stupid.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:08 PM on September 8, 2010


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