The Child’s Best Interest
“I did everything they asked me” (Bergner, 2006). Abiding by the rules did not by any means help Marie get her children back from state custody. Children are one of the most vulnerable populations so when they are put in situations that can harm them, the state will get involved. The child welfare system bases decisions on what’s in favor of the child’s best interest. In Marie’s case, her mother wasn’t capable of helping to care for the children while she recovered so the state had to take control. She was too unfit to be their “mother”. The child welfare system is a structured way of dealing with this vulnerable population through the idea of parens patriae and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 that relates to termination of parental rights (TPR). When the well-being of children is overlooked, the policies that encompass the child welfare system will be enforced.
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“Parens patriae is the doctrine that empowers government institutions to venture into the intimate realm of child-rearing and effectively deputizes social workers to knock on the doors of family homes and gain entry” (Bergner, 2006). Under this doctrine, any state worker had the right to enter Marie’s home at any time if they had probable cause to investigate a situation involving children. This government policy came into effect because it literally translates to “parent of the country” (Bergner, 2006). Parens patriae didn’t start off as what it means in today’s society. Back in the days, children were seen in a different light. They were seen as laborers and not as innocent, helpless individuals who need a voice when faced with unwanted obstacles (Hatcher, 2012, p. 163). The idea that the state is the guardian of these helpless children where state officials, more specifically social workers could assume the roles that a guardian possesses was the real motivation. The societal value behind this policy was that the states were finally recognizing that children had rights that needed to be protected and served (Hatcher, 2012, p.165). In Marie’s case, parens patriae responded to her needs. The social workers did everything in their power to help her get her children back, but it just wasn’t enough. The parens patriae doctrine acknowledging children with rights that need to be tended to paved way for the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 became a policy that plays an important role in the child welfare system because it allows for children to get out of the foster care system and achieve “permanent placement, whether through reunification or adoption” (Halloran, 2014, p. 53). The act “links federal money to states’ efforts to move children toward adoption after they have been in temporary care for 15 of any 22 months” (Bergner, 2006). The societal value that led to this policy was catering to the children’s well-being. Children are seen as a worthy category that needs the help they can get when put in situations that are at no fault of their own. This act was created to prevent children from lingering in foster care (Halloran, 2014, p.57) until they were the legal age of 18 where they would technically be able to fend for themselves as adults. Termination of parental is a component to the child welfare system that basically ends legal rights of biological parents to children they have lost to the system. “Termination criteria lie along a continuous scale where a court’s determination of the conditions that justify the termination of parental rights is in degrees of objectivity and subjectivity” (Halloran, 2014, p. 61). In other words, parents go through an evaluation to determine if they are fit or unfit before termination of parental rights occurs. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 led way to the termination of parental rights.
The policies of parens patriae, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 and termination of parental are all valid policies that respond to the needs of the recipients if the outcomes are in favor of the parents. When things are good and parents prove that they can take care of their children, the policies have no faults to them. The minute the outcomes are not in favor of the parents, the policies do not tend to the needs of the recipients. Overall, there are many pros and cons to these policies. To say that these policies are followed thoroughly and fairly is an understatement. Decisions regarding whether these policies are followed are examined case by case. Each case has their own unique circumstances which in turn will have different results.
Policies are put into place so that the results yield the best outcomes. In the child welfare system the main goal is to tend to what is in favor of the child’s interest. It’s the reoccurring theme behind the child welfare system. When you have a case like Marie, where she is doing everything in her power to become this fit mother the policies are not in the best interest for the recipient. Separating mother and child is not a goal in the policies but that is what happened in her case. To fully understand where judgments and decisions are made, one must take into perspective the social control that is behind the social welfare system. It’s all about constructing policies based on what is right and what is wrong. What’s right to one person may not be right to another and what’s wrong to one person can be perceived as not wrong to another. No matter what, government intervention in the child welfare system is something that will always be a part of the system.
Bergner,D. (2006, July 23). The Case of Marie and Her Sons – New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/23/magazine/23welfare.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Halloran,J.T. (2014). Families First: Reframing Parental Rights as Familial Rights in Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings. U.C. Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy, 18(1), 51-93. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org.ezproxy.lib.uwm.edu/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/ucdajujlp18&div=6&collection=journals&set_as_cursor=0&men_tab=srchresults&terms=18|U.C.|Davis|J.|Juv.|L.|Pol
Hatcher,D.L. (2012). Purpose vs. Power: Parens Patriae and Agency Self-Interest. New Mexico Law Review, 42(1), 159-202. Retrieved from http://heinonline.org.ezproxy.lib.uwm.edu/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/nmlr42&div=9&collection=journals&set_as_cursor=0&men_tab=srchresults&terms=parens|patriae|importance&type=matchall
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