Relatives Get Paid Less To Foster Children Than Strangers Under California Policy

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Research has shown foster children do better in a home with relatives than strangers.  But relative foster parents are often given a fraction of the funding to raise those kids, than a stranger foster care parent would receive.

A group of child advocates are taking their fight to the capitol, trying to change California’s policy.

When little Isabella was born in September, Donita Sears got a call from a social worker, asking her to foster her newborn niece.

“‘Make sure that when I show up your house is clean and that you have everything prepared to take care of this baby.’  And I said, ‘Whoa, wait! I need at least a couple more hours than that because I have to go shopping!’” recalls Sears.

Already a single mom of four, Sears knew it would be a challenge.  Making things even more difficult is the state provides less funding for Isabella’s care than a non-relative foster parent would receive.

“The fact that somebody who chooses to do this is paid more than somebody who’s asked to do it, it’s hard for me to understand,” said Sears.

As a relative foster parent, Sears receives $343 a month in CalWORKs benefits to care for Isabella.  But if Isabella were with a non-relative foster family, they’d get at least $657 a month from the foster care system.

foster care

That gap gets wider as the child gets older, has a disability or medical needs or there are multiple children being fostered.

“It feels to me like there’s a little bit of a hidden agenda which says let’s go ahead and place these kids with kin because maybe we’re not going to have to pay so much,” said Sears.

“There certainly is enough money to solve this problem,” said Reed Connell, who is with an advocacy group called the Alliance for Children’s Rights.

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A version of this column originally appeared in:

New Study: Adverse Family Experiences Among Children in Nonparental Care

On May 7, 2014, the results of a new study were relased by The U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. The report explains that children who are raised by both biological Mom and Dad are more likely to have a safe, happy childhood.

According to the study, the worst outcomes for experiencing traumatic events comes from children in foster care, with no biological parental involvement. Following that category, those raised by one biological parent, and those raised by relatives other than parents come in ranking only behind children who are raised by both parents.

Seventy percent of children raised by their biological parents had no adverse family experiences, compared to only 21.7 percent of those raised by one biological parent, and 18.7 percent of those raised by neither of their biological parents. The study found that as the involvement of biological parents decreased, the likelihood of a child experiencing multiple traumatic events increased.

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While it is easy to become mired in the numbers when reviewing such reports, some crystal clear trends emerge from this one:

When examining the prevalence of children with no adverse experiences versus any adverse experiences, the difference between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent was quite small. However, as the number of cumulative experiences compared increased, the differences between children in nonparental care and children living with one biological parent grew. Children in nonparental care were about twice as likely as children living with one biological parent to have experienced four or more adverse events.

FOSTER CHILDREN

The study’s results are of particular concern given the high emphasis placed on child removal and foster care placement as the intervention of choice for many families. The report explains:

Children in foster care were particularly likely to have had multiple types of adverse experiences; almost one-half of them had had four or more. More than one-half of children in foster care had ever experienced caregiver violence or caregiver incarceration and almost two-thirds had lived with someone who had an alcohol or drug problem.

A few words of caution are in order. The study explains: “It is likely that some children in nonparental care find themselves in that situation because they had experienced certain adverse family circumstances that necessitated the removal of the child from the birth family – that is, the adverse experience preceded and perhaps even contributed to the nonparental care status rather than being merely associated with it. For example, more than one-half of children entering foster care in 2007 had experienced severe parental neglect and nearly 30% had experienced parental alcohol or drug abuse as contributing reasons for entering foster care.”

CHILD ‘NEGLECT’

A few words about “parental neglect” are in order before proceeding. Neglect is a broad-sweeping accusation that may encompass anything from taking your eyes off of a child for a few moments, to accumulating excessive absences from school, to shouting at your child from your driveway, to providing an insufficient home environment.

Douglas J. Besharov and Jacob W. Dembosky describe “definitional creep,” the phenomenon of ever-expanding definitions of abuse, neglect, and children “in danger of being harmed according to the views of community professionals or child-protective service agencies.”

The Florida Supreme Court grappled with this issue as long ago as 1977. When the state’s neglect statute was challenged, the Court ruled that “without some statutory standards or guidelines, the Legislature has effectively set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders and has left to the courts the power to say who should be detained and who should be set at large. Such a statute is dangerous and does not provide due process of law.” As the ruling in State v. Winters, 346 So.2d 991 (Fla.1977) explained:

A palacial mansion that is clean and spacious could fail to qualify as “necessary shelter,” if it had no heat. A small, overcrowded log cabin may, on the other hand, meet the test. Depending upon the standard adopted, any given shelter, whether in the suburbs or the ghetto, could be found to fall short of “necessary shelter.” Similarly, each person must ask just how much and what quality of food, clothing, shelter and medical treatment he must provide to avoid jeopardy. Nothing in the statute gives us the answer. There are no guidelines.

The state’s legislators rewrote the offending statute, in an effort to effect a constitutional cure. However, in State v. Ayers, 665 So.2d 296 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) the statutes were still found wanting for lack of clarity. Florida’s child savers went back to work, this time adding “willfully or by culpable negligence” language to the child neglect statute. Hovever, Arnold v. State, 755 So.2d 796 (2000) still found it hard to digest the broad, sweeping mandates that constituted the legislative definition of “child neglect.”

The terms “alcohol or drug abuse” are almost-always added to the mix to justify child removals. The reality is that we are not finding junkies having babies in back alleys while shooting up with dirty needles – but that is precisely the impression that the child protection industry wants to convey.

iAlexandria Hill was rescued from parents who smoked marijuana as she slept.

Far more typical is the tragic story of Alexandra Hill, who was removed from her home by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services in November 2012 on a claim of “neglectful supervision.”

Alexandria’s dad, Joshua, readily admits they were smoking pot when their daughter was asleep.

“We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care,” he said to reporters at KVUE TV.

Nevertheless, that was apparently neglectful enough of a situation for Alexandria to wind up in foster care. Presumably her removal and subsequent placement were sanctified by a judge, at some point in time.

Her outcome was the worst imaginable. Two-year-old Alexandria was rushed to Scott and White Children’s Emergency Hospital and immediately placed on life support. After an investigation, the foster mother’s charges were upgraded to capital murder. Texas MENTOR, the private agency that oversaw the foster home in which she was placed, had a long history of violations.

Bearing in mind that the majority of child removals involve neglect – and certainly do not involve anything resembling what most people would consider as “abuse” – we return once again to the study on hand. The research found that:

Nearly one-half of children in foster care (48.3%) had had four or more adverse experiences, compared with 25%–30% of children in each of the other three caregiver subgroups. Among those other nonparental care subgroups, differences were smaller and mostly nonsignificant.

This is consistent with some other studies of recent vintage regarding outcomes.

According to a California Senate Office of Research study reported on in December 2011, a state survey found that of 2,564 adult prisoners in the state, 14 percent said that they had been in foster care at some point in their lives. The study also found that: “Of the surveyed inmates who had been in foster care, 52 percent of the males and 45 percent of the females said they had resided in group homes. Thirty-one percent of the male inmates and 35 percent of the females lived with a foster family.”

Over one half of the males and nearly half of the females in this population graduated from group home settings.

A British study of children in care or custody released in December 2012 by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate explains: “the overall outcomes and future life chances for these children and young people are extremely poor. The fact that they were away from their home areas and were moved frequently militated against their chances of rehabilitation. The fact of being looked after could escalate a child into the criminal justice system.”

The British study continues on to explain: “In the overwhelming majority of the cases that we inspected, the outcomes for the children and young people were poor. Children and young people were not always protected. Some had been assaulted or sexually exploited; some had themselves assaulted or exploited other children and young people. They had often been criminalised while in care for offences that would probably not have gone to court if they had been living at home. A significant number had gone missing at some point, some a substantial number of times. Their education had suffered and few were well prepared or supported for transition to adulthood.”

The most recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics mentions parental incarceration as among the difficulties faced by foster children. But this raises the question of which is the proverbial chicken, and which is the proverbial egg? There are many disturbing outcomes resulting from child removal and foster care placement that are as yet incompletely understood.

A 2004 study published by the Vera Institute for Justice examined the chronology of arrest, incarceration, and child placement. Researchers noted that: “Many observers worry that the war on drugs and harsher punishments for minor crimes has resulted in more children entering foster care. The data suggest that the opposite is true.”

Contrary to their expectations, the researchers found that: “The vast majority (90 percent) of maternal incarcerations that overlapped child placement started after child placement, as did 85 percent of the arrests that led to those incarcerations. Child removal appears to accelerate criminal activity among the study group’s mothers.”

From Fiscal Year 1997 (the year of removal) to FY 1999, the study group mothers averaged 2.6 convictions each, “a rate far higher than in the pre-removal years.” The researchers came to a startling conclusion — one that is certainly not mentioned with favor among those in the child protection industry. That is that: “family preservation efforts may function as a crime reduction tool. Successful efforts to avert placement not only keep families together and children out of foster care, but can also prevent the increase in maternal criminal activity that can take place following a child’s removal.”

Marilyn C. Moses, a Social Science Analyst at the National Institute of Justice, reported the results of a follow-up study that arrived at much the same conclusion. Researchers from the University of California and the University of Chicago focused on mothers who were incarcerated in Illinois State prisons and the Cook County area, finding that more than one-fourth (27 percent) of the mothers who had been incarcerated also had a child who had been placed in foster care at some point during the child’s life.

“But surprisingly, researchers found, the mother’s incarceration was not the reason the child was placed in foster care,” Moses explained. While the results appeared to be counter-intuitive, they were nevertheless consistent with those of the earlier Vera Institute study:

In fact, in almost three-quarters of the cases, children were placed in foster care prior to the mother’s first period of incarceration. And in more than 40 percent of those cases, the children entered foster care as many as 3 years before their mothers went to jail.

This finding contradicts a widely held assumption that children are placed in foster care as a direct result of their parents’ incarceration. The early findings indicate that a child’s foster care status is rarely a direct result of a mother’s arrest and imprisonment.

Researchers often appear to be perplexed by such results, perhaps in part because they cling to the perspective that state “intervention” into family life is ipso facto beneficial. Indeed, identifying the “risks” associated with foster care, incarceration, probation, and other interventions frequently becomes an end in and of itself, with researchers paving the way for further inquiry into the devising of appropriate additional interventions to undo the damage done by the original ones.

A version of this column originally appeared in:

Family Reunification

CIR-Family_ReunificationFamily Reunification in Law, Policy, and Practice

Family reunification can be viewed from multiple perspectives, such as the body of law that delineates parental rights and the implications of the law on public policy, the practices and decision-making processes child welfare agencies engage in when deciding whether to return children to their birth parents, and child and family factors that may affect the possibility of successful reunification. The following sections discuss family reunification in all of these contexts.

Law

The bedrock assumption underlying child welfare policy is that children are better off if raised by their natural parents.1 This preference for the role of natural parents is codified in law and provides the rationale for retaining reunification as a core outcome for children placed in foster care.2 Parents have the fundamental right to direct the care, custody, and control of their children, and it is presumed that, until or unless proven otherwise, they will act in a child's best interest.3

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the autonomy of the natural family and grants wide latitude to parents, the court does acknowledge the interest of the state to protect and promote children's welfare and to assure that children have permanent homes.4 The exercising of this authority emphasizes that a child is not the absolute property of a parent, although state action is limited to situations in which parents are proven unfit or unwilling to perform parental duties and obligations.5 Because the presumption favoring parents has to be set aside before any other caregiving arrangements are pursued (assuming the parents do not consent), reunification has to remain the primary goal of child welfare services until a permanent decision regarding parents' abilities to carry out their responsibilities can be made.

Parental rights regarding children are frequently construed as a bundle of rights and responsibilities pertaining to custody, medical treatment, educational and religious decision making, physical and emotional care, and financial support. Generally, the parent's rights are comprehensive and predominate over those of the child and third parties, including the state and relatives of the child. However, the bundle is divisible, and some rights can be conveyed to others for a limited duration, even as natural parents retain other rights. For example, parents can convey guardianship of a child to a third party during a planned absence. The guardian assumes day-to-day responsibility for the child (food, clothing, and shelter), but parents retain the right to make certain decisions on behalf of the child. Only in the extreme circumstance of termination of parental rights do the natural parents totally relinquish the bundle.

For a court to challenge a parent's fundamental right to the custody of his or her child, there must be a showing of parental unfitness. Even when parental unfitness is demonstrated, with few exceptions there is a residual presumption that it is in the child's best interests to be in the custody of the parent. Thus, subsequent to the determination of parental unfitness, the court conducts a separate best interests analysis, determining whether it would be in the best interest of the child to remain with the parent or to be placed out of the home. The legal standards for unfitness and best interests of the child are neither clearly defined nor exact. A court must balance competing interests (parents, children, and third parties) and examine various factors as it weighs the facts of an individual case in making its determination.

Policy

Generally speaking, the legal framework for thinking about child rearing creates a strong presumption in policy that favors parents' rights to raise their children.6 This attitude is reflected in three major pieces of social legislation governing the nation's child welfare system: the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.7

Of the three acts, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) contains the strongest language in favor of family preservation. ICWA requires proof by clear and convincing evidence for any temporary foster care placement and proof beyond a reasonable doubt for termination of parental rights.

The major goals of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (AACWA) were to prevent the removal of children from their own homes by requiring states to make reasonable efforts to maintain them there or, if children had to be removed for their safety, to reunite them expeditiously with their parents.8 AACWA required a judicial determination that reasonable efforts had been made or offered to prevent placement or to enable the return of children to their homes. It also contained fiscal incentives for states to avert and shorten foster care placements and to encourage permanency planning for children.

Although the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) specifically authorizes funding for time-limited reunification services, the focus on family preservation and reunification shifts somewhat to efforts to achieve permanency and stability for children through adoption. 9 The act's major features are a change in the time frame for the dispositional review (also called the permanency planning hearing) from 18 months to 12 months and allowing states to plan reunification and adoption concurrently by seeking adoptive homes for children. Significantly, ASFA requires the state to petition the court to terminate parental rights or to support the petition filed by a third party for children in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months. Exceptions to this mandate include children in the care of relatives, children whose best interests are not served by adoption (justified by the state in writing), and children for whom the state has not made reasonable reunification efforts. Lastly, ASFA clarifies reasonable efforts requirements: States are not required to provide reunification services when a parent has killed another child, when the child is the victim of serious physical abuse, or when parents' rights vis-a-vis other siblings have already been terminated. (See the article by Allen and Bissell in this journal issue for a full discussion on ASFA.)

Although some critics claim that ASFA makes it easier to set aside parental rights, signs of a substantially weakened set of parental rights are hard to see. For the most part, ASFA provides some additional guidance to states by clarifying the reasonable efforts standard and creating a new presumption for the termination of parental rights. Of course, whether poor parents can adequately represent themselves is an important question in its own right.10 Overall, federal policy regarding permanency demonstrates a strong preference for returning children to live with their birth parents or for adoption by surrogate parents.11

Practice

Due in large part to the legal and policy framework protecting parental rights, family reunification remains the primary permanency goal for most children who come into the child welfare system. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), reunification was the stated permanency planning goal for 44% of children in care.12 At the same time, in an effort to expedite children's placement into permanent families, many agencies concurrently plan for family reunification and an alternative permanency option, such as adoption or kinship care, should reunification not be achieved within the set timelines defined under ASFA. As of 2002, 37 states had statutes detailing their concurrent planning policies.13

The concurrent planning process typically involves assessing which children are least likely to reunify and thus would most benefit from an alternative permanency plan. Under an alternative plan, a child is more likely be placed with a foster or kin family that is willing to adopt should reunification not be possible, and birth parents are made to understand that should reunification not be achieved, the child will be placed permanently with the foster or kin family.

The available research on the effectiveness of concurrent planning, while limited, suggests that the practice has been helpful in finding permanent homes for children in a timely manner.14 However, some critics have raised concerns that concurrent planning practices may undermine family reunification efforts. Some argue that concurrent planning leads case workers to work less vigorously toward family reunification.15 Another concern is that birth parents may have difficulty working with case workers when they know alternative permanency options are being actively pursued. To date, there are no rigorous evaluations of the relationship between concurrent planning practices and the likelihood of family reunification. However, proponents of concurrent planning argue that appropriate training, careful implementation, and quality communication between social workers, birth parents, and foster caregivers can address and alleviate many of these concerns.16

The Decision to Reunify
Although family reunification is the most common exit type for children in care, relatively little is known about reunification decision making and the process of reintegrating children into their families. However, the available research suggests that greater sensitivity to parent and child characteristics is needed in choosing appropriate permanency options and keeping reunified families intact. Only a few studies have attempted to explore the factors that lead caseworkers to recommend reunification. What can be gleaned from these studies is summarized below.

One study designed to understand why reunifications fail identified the following case activities as essential parts of the reunification process: quality assessments including whether and when reunification should occur, quality case plans, family engagement, service coordination, family compliance with case plans, family readiness, and post-reunification services and monitoring. The study also noted that a history of prior reunifications, ambivalence on the part of parents, and length of placement all played a part in the decision to reunify. Finally, the study linked the provision of postreunification services to successful reunifications.17

Another small, qualitative study involved interviews with nine caseworkers and several child welfare administrators working in three different public child welfare agencies in the Washington D.C. region.18 Although the small number of participants and the regional focus of this research limit our ability to generalize about these findings, they do offer some insights into the reunification decision-making process.

In the D.C. study, social workers cited four essential issues they considered when deciding to reunify a child. First, most workers were particularly concerned with how well parents had complied with the conditions set out in their case plans. Specifically, workers assessed whether birth parents had actively participated in any service referrals they were given, whether their behavior had changed, and their level of involvement in the daily lives and schooling of their children. Second, assessing the safety of the home was critical in the reunification decision. In addition to assessing necessary changes in the home, workers looked for evidence that birth parents had ceased problematic behavior that might endanger a child and had demonstrated improved parenting skills. Frequency of visitation was another critical factor in the decision-making process. Parents who were unwilling or unable to visit or were inconsistent in their visitation patterns were less likely to be recommended for reunification than were parents who adhered to the visitation schedule. Finally, children's wishes were also a factor in the reunification decision, particularly for older children. It must be emphasized, however, that the lack of research in this area is troubling. Larger studies on factors that affect caseworker decision making are critical to improving the reunification decision-making process.

Child and Family Factors
The characteristics and circumstances of children and families also affect the likelihood of reunification. Reunifying a child with his or her birth parents is not a one-time event. Rather, it is a process involving the reintegration of the child into a family environment that may have changed significantly from the environment the child left. During the time apart, both the parent and the child may have encountered new experiences, developed new relationships, and created new expectations about the nature of their relationship. All these factors must be considered and accounted for when facilitating both physical and psychological reunification. Some studies have found that certain child and family characteristics can hinder or help the reunification process.

Some researchers have found that parental ambivalence about the return of children can be a significant barrier to successful reunification.19 Other studies have found that parents who have multiple problems are less likely to successfully reunify with their children.20 For example, parents with a combination of substance abuse problems, mental illness, or housing problems, and/or single parents, were less likely to be reunited than parents who did not face a multitude of concerns. Additionally, one study found that the duration and amount of contact families had with child welfare workers were positively related to reunification.21 Although other factors may be at work in this dynamic, it appears that continued and consistent interaction between reunified families and social workers may facilitate the reunification process. Maintaining contact between parents and child welfare workers may be particularly challenging, as some families may be resistant to maintaining ongoing relationships with the child welfare system—a system they may perceive as coercive, invasive, or threatening—after a child's return. This situation stands in contrast to many foster and adoptive families, who often request more interaction and assistance from the child welfare system.22

Children can also experience psychological distress during the reunification process. They may experience feelings of grief, loss, or fear at the prospect of leaving a foster home. A child's psychological health can also affect reunification. One longitudinal study of more than 600 children found that children with behavioral or emotional problems were less likely to be reunified than were children who did not face these difficulties.23 Another study found that children experiencing health difficulties and/or disabilities had lower reunification rates than children who were not.24

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The Unbelievable State of Parental Rights in America

On Tuesday President Obama gave his “State of the Union” address, in which he gave his view of where our nation is right now and where we are headed.

But what about parental rights? Where are we and where are we headed? It turns out we are not as free and secure as we would like to be, and we’re heading in the wrong direction. Here is an overview of parental rights in America as we begin 2014.

Medical Freedom - Hospitals:

Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts Department of Youth and Families take another child hostage because hospital staff disagree with the parents on the child’s medical diagnosis.
In California, “Baby Sammy” was taken from his parents because they left one hospital to seek a second opinion at another before subjecting the child to open-heart surgery.
In Ohio, an Amish family was forced to flee the country to spare their daughter unwanted and dangerous chemo-therapy, including a cocktail of drugs not approved for children by the FDA. Reports indicate the girl is in remission through natural means, but the Ohio hospital and child services department are livid.

The law is not on your side. In every one of these cases the judge ruled against legally fit parents. As a result, more and more parents are afraid to even take their child to the emergency room, lest one wrong answer lead to the removal of their child and the loss of their parental rights.
Medical Freedom at Home:

But keeping your child at home doesn’t provide any protection, either.

In May, 2013, charges were reinstated against Detroit resident Maryann Godboldo, who in 2011 was arrested after a 10-hour standoff with police and CPS who claimed she was not giving her daughter proper medication. The state later discontinued the medication as well, returned the daughter, and dropped the charges – until the appeals court this year sided with prosecutors looking to go after her again.

The law is not on your side. In the last decade alone, legislatures in 26 states have made 36 attempts to increase mandatory vaccination requirements, the large majority successfully requiring the HPV vaccine for pre-teen girls.

Mental Health and Counseling:

New laws in California and New Jersey make it illegal for teenagers struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction to seek reparative therapy, even if the teen, the professional counselor, and both parents agree on the desired treatment. This viewpoint discrimination takes decision-making rights away from parents and tramples the doctor-patient professional relationship.

The law is not on your side.

Public School Access:

In Tennessee, a dad was arrested trying to pick up his special-needs daughter at the end of the school day. No fighting, no yelling. Just asking for his children and not backing down.

A Georgia Army vet was banned from her child’s school grounds for posting her newly earned concealed carry gun permit online. No threats; no plans to violate the “gun-free zone.” She simply has a permit, and was banned from the school.

The law is not on your side. Laws in a majority of states limit or entirely deny to parents any “right” to be present on school grounds where their child is in attendance. What’s more, some school districts have banned parents from sending a lunch with their child, requiring that they buy school-provided lunch instead. And a bill in New York would require that all parents attend state-provided parenting classes before their child can graduate the sixth grade.

But why do parents need to make decisions in the schools anyway? Surely they can trust the institutions where they leave their children every day, right?

Public School Content:

Tell that to the Kansas father who was livid last week over a poster in his daughter’s eighth grade classroom that lists “How …people express their sexual feelings.” Some of the examples are light enough, but others are very explicit – and in a middle school setting! The principal and school district defend the poster, saying it is part of the school’s abstinence-based sex education program, and in line with other schools across the country.

Tell it to the growing number of parents and organizations opposing Common Core, a new set of “national curriculum standards” set up by the National Governors’ Association and required for schools to qualify for federal Race to the Top education funding. The “standards” were adopted over the summer of 2010 without any review by parents or state legislatures. Last week, even the New York State Teachers’ Union voted to reject the standards, saying “We will be the first to admit it doesn’t work.”

But the law is not on your side. The Ninth Circuit in Fields v. Palmdale (2005) held that, “Parents…have no constitutional right…to prevent a public school from providing its students with whatever information it wishes to provide, sexual or otherwise, when and as the school determines that it is appropriate to do so.”

Educational Choice:

Still, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in its Parker v. Hurley (2007) decision states, “Parents do have a fundamental right to raise their children. They are not required to abandon that responsibility to the state. [They] may send their children to a private school that does not … conflict with their religious beliefs. They may also educate their children at home.” (emphasis added) But this may not be the case much longer.

A judge in Texas took the Tutts’ children away at the urging of a guardian ad litem who confesses there are no signs of abuse or neglect. Yet she implicated statutory language likely to cause the children to be removed (which it did), apparently because she opposes the family’s choice to teach their children at home.

In fact, several journals over the last few years have published articles by academic elites claiming “that public education should be mandatory and universal.” Says Emory University Law professor Martha Albertson Fineman, “Parental expressive interest could supplement but never supplant the public institutions where the basic fundamental lesson would be taught and experienced by all American children: we must struggle together to define ourselves both as a collective and as individuals.”

In the last decade there have been at least 22 attempts to expand public pre-school education, at least 31 attempts to make kindergarten mandatory, and nearly 150 efforts in 43 states to otherwise expand the compulsory attendance age range for public schools. None of these measures has been shown to improve education outcomes; they only serve to give more control to the state and less control to parents as children develop and grow.

The law here may be on your side, but it is quickly retreating. And so is the government.

The United States Department of Justice seeks to overrule the asylum status of the Romeikes, who fled Germany to keep their family together. Germany has rejected the parents’ right to choose the form of education their children receive, and the U.S. Administration actually supports Germany’s position! The case is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bureaucrats Run Amok:

In Loudermilk v. Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, a federal district court ruled that Arizona social workers were protected by immunity when they forced their way into a family’s home without a warrant using threats of taking the couple’s children away. Such threats, according to the court, do not constitute coercion, so the parents’ Fourth Amendment rights – says the court – were surrendered voluntarily.

Meanwhile, social workers in Kentucky have been found to be corrupt, then vindictive when a mother stands up to them. Social Services took her children, children of her relatives (at 3:00 in video), and even removed the children of her lawyer (at 4:15) from the lawyer’s home!

But the law is not on your side. Every state authorizes certain personnel – doctors, police, social workers (the list varies by state) – to remove your children from your care without a warrant, a court order, or any proof of abuse or neglect. Though many abuses are overturned for those who can afford to appeal, such an atmosphere in the lower courts sees abuses getting worse every year.

What Can Be Done?

There is hope! A proposed Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is already making its way through the Congress. Once adopted, the PRA will guard the fundamental right of parents to make decisions – medical, educational, in fact all kinds of decisions – for their children.

P.S. -- The above is a sampling, not an exhaustive list. This is an epidemic. Now let's get to work on the cure!

Grandparents fighting for rights

0607_tt_custody_lrg-18r38d6It's estimated that there are around 16,000 Australian families where grandparents are the sole carers or guardians of children aged under 17.

After winning court custody battles with their own children these grandparents are becoming parents for the second time around, forced to step in because of circumstances beyond their control, such as relationship break-ups, substance abuse or mental illness.

Diane Bryant is a grandmother fighting for custody of her nine-year-old grandson.

She has been playing an important role in her grandson's life ever since the boy was a toddler. His father had a long battle with drug addiction and mental illness before he passed away last year.

"My son couldn't be the dad he wanted to be because of medical reasons. He was schizophrenic so I filled the gap," she said.

Ms Bryant says the relationship between her and her son's former partner took an unexpected turn in January this year.

The boy's mother called the police when she couldn't contact Ms Bryant during the school holidays.

The nine-year-old went back to his mother and has not seen his grandmother since.

"I was told by the police that I'd stolen him (the grandson)," Ms Bryant said.

"It's really heart wrenching and extremely difficult to deal with."

The boy's mother claims she can't trust Ms Bryant with her son and is worried she'll never see him again if his grandmother is given access to the child.

Maree Lubach from Kinkare, a community organisation assisting carers in family disputes like Ms Bryant's, says it does life-long damage to children when they're pulled away from their grandparents.

"After nine years, the attachment is formed between the children and the grandparents," she said.

"More grandparents are coming forward now and asking for help with situations like this."

Lawyer Paul Byrne from Slater and Gordon says he sees the terrible toll taken on grandparents when they lose their rights to see their grandchildren.

He says legal safeguards should be taken early to prevent it from happening.

"Their life has changed and it's almost like a death in the family," he said.

"It would be in the interests of the grandparents to enshrine their rights and that takes away any scope for argument later down the track."

A version of this column originally appeared in au.news.yahoo.com.