Hailey (not her real name, of course) was one of my CASA “kids” when I was serving as an advocate. This sassy 10-year-old apparently viewed me (and everyone else involved in her case) as a “snitch,” because whenever I asked her a question, her first response was, “Why? Are you going to tell the judge?” Even when the question was as innocuous as, “What did you have for breakfast?”!

Hailey and her sister had been removed from her mother’s care after a child was critically injured in their home. The allegations against Hailey’s mom were horrifying, and ultimately she ended up in prison for a while. You would think that in a situation like that, Hailey would be anxious to go to a safer home, away from her abusive mother.

But that’s not usually the way it plays out.

In fact, the one thing Hailey did want me to tell the judge was that she wanted to go home, to be reunited with her mother. Whenever there was a hearing, I would ask her, “Is there anything you want me to tell the judge for you?” Inevitably, the response was, “Tell her I want to go home.” This was true even when the kids learned their mom was going to prison.

I would visit Hailey’s classroom and look at her journal; it was covered with Hailey’s handwriting, with declarations like, “My mom rocks!” or, “My mom is cool!” Over, and over, front cover, back cover, inside pages—as though if she wrote it down often enough, she could make it true.

Why? The parent/child bond is a formidable thing—from both a psychological and biological perspective. While I don’t pretend to be a researcher, you can go here if you want to learn more. The research is actually quite fascinating.

It’s also interesting to note that in many cases (not all, certainly), children are better off staying with their biological parents, even when the home situation is not ideal. Even when their foster homes are very good.[1] While much of this seems counter-intuitive, it’s hard to argue with the science behind it.

That’s why it’s so important that removals aren’t just routine; we want judges to really consider whether the child needs to be removed, or whether they would be better served by keeping the children at home, and receiving services there. Our judges do a great job with this, but it’s a difficult balancing act, and one in which many probably prefer to err on the side of caution. They are much more likely to be harshly criticized for not removing a child that ends up seriously injured or dead than they are removing a child that would have been safe at home.

I’m going to leave that difficult decision up to the court. My role as a Case Navigator™ is to simply do what I can to help the families get healthy so that they can be reunited in a safe and timely fashion whenever possible (while acknowledging it’s not always possible.

Because that’s clearly what the kids want.

[1] http://www.mit.edu/~jjdoyle/doyle_jpe_aug08.pdf

Why Do Kids Want to Stay with Abusive Parents?
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