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Bad Parents, Broken Kids
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Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

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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At 2:15 PM , Blogger Mary said…

Wow, I never heard of anything like the state giving money for summer camp and maids, etc. Maybe it is cheaper than foster care?

I know that unless children are being severely abused (beaten, starved, etc.), most children would rather be with their biological parents, because children love their parents unconditionally.

I grew up in a home where my mother abandoned us, my grandmother stayed behind to help my father, who got custody of us (yes, there were single dads back in the 50's), but she would go into the city on weekends leaving us with him, and then he would spend the whole weekend down at the bar, with us sitting at the little tables playing the juke box and eating pistachio nuts and drinking cokes, and making a trip to the local candy store to get our teeth rotted out, and after dark we'd have to go sit outside in the car until the place closed, Friday's homework undone. (That was when I was junior high age and my brother a few years younger.)

Miserable? Yes. Would I rather have been in foster care? NEVER.

We still loved our parents and wanted to be with them, not with strangers. At least we knew who we were and to whom we belonged.

Nobody gave us money for free summer camp, though. My father worked and we did not need to be on any kind of welfare.

So, perhaps these judges ask the kids where they'd rather be, I don't know.

I don't have answers for any of these problems.

God has been good to me. I have been married 41 years to the same person, have two nice grown sons, am college educated, and am a pastor's wife. My brother, although unfortunately unsaved, is successful and wealthy today.


At 2:15 PM , Blogger Mr Lonely said…

walking here with a smile.. have a nice day ~ =D

Regards, (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..


At 2:17 PM , Blogger Pickle said…

I grew up in a rough home. If parents today did what mu parents did to me, they would lose their kids. Would I call myself a broken adult? No. Have I made mistakes that maybe I would not have made if I had been raised different. YES.

HOWEVER, because I live in America I have EVERY opportunity that every "normal" unbroken person has. I am an adult and it was my job to figure our right from wrong so that I can move one and be successful regardless of my upbringing.

So even if government doesn't always step in for what seems to us bad parenting, it doesn't mean the child is totally doomed.

Major abuse, drugs and neglect CLEARLY need to be addressed right away.


At 2:19 PM , Blogger Mary said…

Also, how do you know if foster care would be any better, or if adoptive parents would be any better? My friend Sandy had parents who took in foster kids. Her dad would take them out in the woods and beat them bloody and they'd come in crying. She finally turned him into the authorities and they were not allowed to have any more foster kids.

I realize most foster families are not like this, but you don't exactly know what is going on, do you?


At 2:22 PM , Blogger Mary said…

Oh, amen, Pickle!!


At 7:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

My Dad was a minister and abusive with his supposed "discipline" -- banging our heads into walls and light switches. So where do you draw the line at removing children from bad homes? They would not have been labelled "bad parents" but in some respects, they were. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with assisting people with someone to help with housecleaning if they are overwhelmed and need a little help now and then. I wish there was someone to come and help me sometimes, but I have to keep plodding along forcing myself to find the energy to do what needs to be done, dealing with health issues etc. It isn't as black and white as it may seem on the surface...
Denise in Saskatchewan


At 8:03 PM , Blogger Rachel said…

I work in a family law office. We handle CAS matters every day. Not once have I ever heard of a file where a judge has ordered the CAS to do any such things. In fact, that wouldn't happen because that would mean that the CAS would have to keep their file open for the remainder of a child's life. Sometimes, while a file is still open, the CAS may provide some of the services you stated(but not all, and certainly not typically) just until the family can get their act together if it seems like the family isn't too bad. Like I said, though, that isn't typical. I think you have heard of some exceptions and taken them to be the norm.


At 9:38 PM , Blogger Thoughts for the day said…

That picture is very haunting, her eyes seem very sad and full of 'secrets'.


At 5:25 PM , Anonymous uk Fred said…

I wonder why we have the situation that when the legal system gets involved common sense flies out of the window post haste.


At 5:31 PM , Anonymous Jill Farris said…


Keep in mind that the foster care system (which began with the signing of CAPTA by Mondale) is not ultimately based on what is best for the child. Each state receives money from the federal government for children BROUGHT INTO states are rewarded for getting more children and defining an "abused" child can become very sticky indeed.

Christian ministries who push to "empty foster care" are being naive...they don't understand that if foster care were emptied of children states would lose millions because they have lost their source of revenue. Yes, states receive a one time adoption stipend from the Feds when children are adopted BUT ONLY IF ADOPTIONS IN THIS YEAR EXCEED THE NUMBER IN THE YEAR BEFORE.

States also receive more money for children who are part of a sibling group,are a minority and who have experienced "trauma" (and, guess what? The state gets to define what "trauma' means!).

A bi-racial 7 year old boy (considered "older") who is part of a sibling group and who is in a "therapeutic" foster home (and I've seen these homes...there's not much to them) brings in a minimum of 10,000 dollars A MONTH for our state!! Do you think a poor county would really want such a child adopted??

Remember that a lot of people get a piece of the pie; the pschologists (who define what "trauma" is), the social workers, the county and then a tiny piece of the pie goes to foster parents. If Christian agencies get involved in the system they get a piece of the pie as well (Bethany Christian services receives 10,000 per each foster care license our state per year, 20,000 in Michigan)!

It is a godless evil system. And I disagree, there are plenty of parents willing to adopt...many are turned away...some are accused of horrendous things by the in the process.

Yes, there are horrible abusive parents out there but the solution is not our current system.

Here is one mother who is asking God to end the foster care/Child Protective Services system in our lifetime.

Jill Farris


At 11:03 AM , Blogger ~Niki~ said…

oh this is so true. my sister is doing this to my newphew. she is completely checked out. does not discipline. does not parent. drinks every chance she gets. he sees it all and is only 9 now. very smart but a real handful to be around, because this is all he knows, dysfunction. sad. i keep telling my mom to raise the kid so he can have a chance. my mom won't do it. sad. i have 4 kids and cannot.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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