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What’s fair, do you think? One chance? Two? Three strikes and you’re out? Say you’re a mom who left your five-year old and six-month old baby alone so you could score some heroin on the corner. Should you get another chance? You’re addicted, after all, so that has to cloud your judgment. Other than being a heroin addict and occasionally leaving your kids alone for a little while, you’re not a bad mother. Should the kids be removed by the child welfare officials? Should your babies go live with a foster family?
What if you’re the mom of a 9-year old girl. And say the principal of her school just called to tell you that your little girl said your boyfriend has been touching her and she’s afraid to go home. You were ready to kick him out anyway. Should you get another chance? Two? Are you a bad mother? What should happen? Should she go to a foster family?
What if just one night, just one night when you were completely exhausted, when there was nothing to feed the kids, and the lights went out because the utility bill wasn’t paid, and the neighbor across the hall yelled at your kids to shut up and your three-year old peed on the kitchen floor and you picked up the broom and swatted him across the behind, should you get another chance? You’re incredibly stressed, you know. It’s so hard being a single parent, being poor, dealing with the kids. Don’t you deserve a second chance? A third chance?
Or should your kids be ‘removed’ in the parlance of child welfare officials? Should they be ‘detained’ as they say? Maybe. Probably. Child welfare laws were put in place to protect the defenseless. So until things can be sorted out, it often makes sense for the children who were left or neglected or smacked with a broom to be taken away from the offending parent and moved to a safe location. It’s hard to argue with that.
It’s what happens next that’s the problem. Where do kids belong? When do we give up on their parents and find them new parents? How many chances are too many? How big is the sin that separates you permanently from your children?
I don’t know the answer. I only know that there is a lot of heartache involved and it’s mostly the kids. Some parents struggle like people possessed to get their kids back. They will go anywhere, do anything, take any class to convince the child welfare system that they are competent and caring. Others recover from the loss, they blame the system, blame their addiction, and are relieved that someone else is raising their children.
The big huge unfixable heartache? It’s the kids. They never ever get it – why they had to leave their parents and why their parents didn’t come get them. It is as inexplicable to them as gravity or the solar system. It never makes any sense because, to them, whatever their parents did doesn’t justify the punishment they are getting. It isn’t fair, they think. My parents should have gotten more chances – 4, 5, 6, however many.
That’s not how we think. The grownups. But it’s how kids think.
There should be more chances.