Children and Families
The nation was appalled by televised scenes on America’s southern border of ICE forcibly separating children from their parents after a Justice Department ruling that to do so was legal and would deter further migration. Americans reacted quickly and the separations ended after a few days, although some several hundred families still have yet to be reunited.
Meanwhile, a new report called Bending the Curve by the Vermont Parent Representation Center (VPRC), ranks Vermont second in the nation for termination of parental rights for very young children. The hundred-plus page report backs up its disturbing allegations with hard data, both from the State and from work with some 450 families.
It asserts that “the State appears largely incapable of distinguishing between families where the children are abused or neglected and the much larger pool of families who simply need assistance and support.”
The current system operates with little accountability or oversight, proceedings occur under strict confidentiality, and no one is held accountable for the success or failure of the overall system. The report documents an apparent system-wide breakdown, with Department of Children and Families (DCF) documentation frequently being deficient and neither prosecutors nor public defenders having the time or resources to validate this information.
Adjudication discovery is often ill-informed, leaving the courts equally ill-informed to make determinations that both protect the child and respect the rights of parents. Court proceedings can be a rotating door of attorneys, judges, and DCF workers, few of whom actually know the families involved. The report goes on to say that “children too often remain in custody needlessly and for extended periods while enduring multiple foster care placements.”
But the report also details some eighty low or no-cost recommendations to better balance child protection and parental rights.
Children must be protected from abuse and neglect, but we should take care not to needlessly disrupt or destroy families in the process. And simply redirecting scarce resources from the adjudication phase of child protection to the front-end family support phase would be a far more effective and efficient way to protect Vermont’s children and strengthen their families.