Bad Parents, Broken Kids: What should society do for these children?

I’ve heard it said that it is better to build a child than to repair an adult.

Yet like many truths, this is easier said than done. What should society do when a parent is obviously tearing a child down?

My quick answer would be that children deserve loving parents who care for them, so I would put them in loving homes. But there are several problems with that. The first is that by allowing Children’s Aid to take children away easily, we could inadvertently remove kids from good homes. After all, deciding what is safe and what is not is not as straightforward as it may seem. Today we become incensed if parents smoke in the same room as a baby, but let’s face it: the majority of my generation grew up in smoky cars and smoky homes. Today it’s illegal to allow your children to ride their bikes without helmets, but all of us did as children. You can’t take a 7-year-old in a car without a car seat, but that’s a new rule. My 16-year-old left her booster seat behind at five. It’s difficult to define bad parenting solely in terms of specific actions, then, because so much of it is culturally relative.

Yet when it comes to protecting children, we all know that some parents are selfish, narcissistic, and abusive.

I figure judging abuse and neglect is sort of like the standard for judging obscenity: I’ll know it when I see it. It’s not any one thing; it’s the total picture. And we leave it to judges to make that final call.

My problem is that I don’t believe judges necessarily make the right calls. For instance, did you know that judges can order the government, through Children’s Aid, to provide things like rides to doctor’s appointments, paid summer camp, paid extra curricular activities, and even paid maid service if the house is unsanitary, all so kids can stay with their biological families? Many kids in foster care are sent back home to parents who won’t actually be caring for their kids—you and I still will through our tax dollars.

If a parent can’t figure out how to get their child to a doctor’s appointment, that child shouldn’t be going home.

And if a parent won’t scrub the kitchen floor, then the parent shouldn’t have their kids. Why should parents who have already had children removed benefit from free rides, free camp, and free maids, while parents struggling to make ends meet have to play by the rules? It’s ridiculous.

Were I a judge, my first instinct would be to put most kids who are apprehended up for adoption right away. But that’s not good for society, either, because there simply aren’t enough good adoptive homes to take all the children who would fall into care.

All of this would be so much easier if parents started doing their job.

So speaking as a parent who truly loves her children, I wish other adults would stop neglecting theirs. If you think getting drunk on the weekend or doing drugs while your kids are around is fine, give your kids up. If you never play with them, never talk to them, and never take them to the doctor, then give your children to someone who loves them. The family is too important a social unit for you to undermine with your actions. And your children are too precious to endure your callousness.

I hope there’s someone superior to me who can sort all these competing interests out, because I sure can’t. And I wish them luck for this heart-wrenching job.

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