I once attended a workshop about domestic violence. At that time, there was a popular “defense” for women who had killed their abusive spouses, called battered woman syndrome. The speaker, however, was not a fan of this. She noted that when viewed through the lens of the victim’s perspective, her behaviors were perfectly logical—not a mental health “syndrome.” Her preference was to simply change the definition of “imminent danger.”
The argument, of course, was that a woman who shot and killed her husband while he was asleep wasn’t in “imminent” danger. The speaker gave a scenario where the abuser told his wife that he would “kill her in the morning.” If she waited until morning to “defend” herself, she would be dead. He was bigger, stronger, and would not allow her access to a weapon. Her only option to what she perceived as “imminent” danger was to kill him while he slept. I have no idea whether she has had any success with this theory.
In juvenile CINA court, we also look at whether kids are in “imminent danger” as a standard for removal. As I work through a particular case, I wonder if we perhaps need to reevaluate that standard—or simply redefine “imminent” in juvenile court as well. Is it imminent danger if we know, based on research, that certain events in a child’s life (called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs) will cause significant difficulties later in life; mentally, physically, and an increased likelihood that they will go down the same path as their parents? Or is “imminent” limited to whether they will survive this night?
Perhaps paradoxically, research also seems to suggest that children are generally better off with their biological parents (rather than foster parents or shelter care), even if that home is not ideal. That, of course, begs the question—how “not ideal” does a home have to be before it tips the scales to removal?
Part of this analysis must consider the trauma that is involved in removal. Of course, some of that trauma has to do with the fact that complete strangers are pulling kids from their home with little or no notice. Which makes me wonder if the trauma would be less if the removal were done later, after an attorney, GAL, and/or DHS worker had an opportunity to build rapport with the kids. If the definition of “imminent” were broadened, services could be offered on a fast track. If, after, say, a month, the same behaviors that might not meet the current definition of “imminent” but that would meet a broadened definition, were still in existence (or others had shown up), the kids could then be removed—but differently. The attorney or GAL could talk to them about what was going to happen; they could help the child know what to expect and why this was happening. They could potentially accompany the child to the new placement and help him or her get settled in. They could make sure that those “special things” and clothing could be retrieved and taken with them.
From my experience, kids can handle about anything if people they trust tell them the truth (in an age-appropriate way) and help them make that transition. What I don’t know is what the research says about later removals done this way. Is it truly less traumatic?