Friday, October 10, 2008

Bad Idea

Rekha Basu has an article up indicating that Iowa needs a counterpart mechanism to the Nebraska law allowing parents to abandon kids of any age without consequences, pointing to the 14-year-old that was left in Omaha.

She states:
Of course, parents are responsible for taking care of their children. But sometimes the most responsible thing they can do is place them where they'll be safe. It shouldn't require a report of child abuse to get a child out of an unstable home.

Extreme and traumatic, the safe-haven provision should be available as a last resort. Caregivers should know they'll lose control once their kids are in foster care, maybe forever. And the Iowa Department of Human Services should offer caregivers other alternatives when they are stressed but not necessarily on the verge of harming them. Respite care or "crisis families" could step in while parents get help with child care, jobs, housing or emotional support. The DHS says it funds some community services, but they are not uniform or comprehensive.

Finally, this again points to the need for more aggressive pregnancy-prevention measures, so people are prepared to care for kids when they have them. While the Statons may not have anticipated their change in circumstances, one wonders about their judgment in having 10 children.

But the bottom line is this: People are being stretched to the breaking point, sometimes by situations outside their control. While we're bailing out Wall Street, surely we can also lend a hand to desperate families with children.

So we need a drop-off point for abandoning kids, current CINA laws aren't enough? I beg to differ:

Iowa Code Section 232.2

6. "Child in need of assistance" means an unmarried child:

a. Whose parent, guardian or other custodian has abandoned or deserted the child.

. . .

j. Who is without a parent, guardian or other custodian.

k. Whose parent, guardian, or other custodian for good cause desires to be relieved of the child's care and custody.

l. Who for good cause desires to have the child's parents relieved of the child's care and custody.

I've had cases where we're using K and L - parent and kid simply can't get along and the family has turned to DHS rather than imploding. No charges are being filed or anything, the kid is simply put into fostercare and services put into place for therapy and such. It could also mean assistance in finding stable housing, employment, etc. Bottom line: we've already got that. Yep, it does mean contacting DHS and getting removal orders and such. But do we really want or need the immediate drop off? Our way, they don't make a snap decision they might regret later. They can work with DHS to come up with a voluntary plan, or simply have the kid taken. The family will have to follow a case plan imposed by the court in order to get the kid back, and if they don't follow it, they can lose rights to the kid. So it's serious, and not to be done on a whim. But it's my understanding that the Nebraska law is simply an abandonment which can be done on the spur of the moment and you don't get the kid back ever.

I don't think we need that.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm wrong on the "don't get the kid back" part - the statute in question merely says you won't face criminal charges for leaving the kid, it doesn't state whether abandonment terminates parental rights. I presume the details on that part's in their version of the CINA law.

Okay, so I can concede that this isn't a totally bad idea - why criminalize this behavior? Is the fine or jail time going to be productive in solving the problem? But I still think our mechanism's better. It just needs to be publicized.

I guess people aren't aware they can call DHS and "for good cause" have their kids hauled off and put into foster care. Well, now you know. So if you're one of the people who find no home complete without it's own meth lab, or your children ideal subjects for child porn, or that the word "toddler" is somehow synonymous with "punching bag," please take advantage of this. Likewise, if things really do head the way of the great Depression and you can't feed, clothe, shelter, or care for your kids, there is an alternative besides dropping them off at the side of the road or something.

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