Friday, December 22, 2006

Seizing newborns from domestic violence victims

Lexington Herald-Leader, April 20, 2006, pg. A12.

No matter how strong the demand, government should not use its power over poor families to procure babies for adoption.

And women should not have to risk losing their children if they seek shelter from domestic violence.

Such excesses are among the unintended consequences in Kentucky of the federal government's push for more adoptions. The state has even gone so far as to seize newborns from domestic-violence victims at maternity wards.

Such abuses of power by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services are not widespread. But they are reported frequently enough to set off alarms.

In Lexington, Family Court Judge Tim Philpot stopped the "quick trigger" adoption of four children taken from their mother, a recovering alcoholic. The chairman of the Foster Care Review Board told Philpot that the process was being rushed. A social worker and the children's foster parents also defended the mother. The state fired the social worker and closed the foster home.

Kudos to those who had the guts to challenge higher-ups' decisions and to Philpot for listening. More such vigilance will be required as bureaucrats look to pump up adoption numbers.

But this situation also demands examination of how our society cares for children. When the state takes custody, it's usually because of neglect, not abuse. And neglect -- lacking food, clothes and shelter -- is usually a product of poverty.

Welfare reform sent poor mothers to work, but nothing guarantees them a living wage. The federal government is cutting housing aid. Millions of dollars are pumped into spurring adoption, but few services help poor families reunite.

Children must be protected from abuse and from parents whose addictions endanger them. They shouldn't be forced to languish in foster care. That was the point of the 1997 law creating financial penalties and incentives for states to increase adoptions.

But none of that excuses the excesses that were uncovered by an independent investigation conducted by Kentucky Youth Advocates.

The practice of rushing through adoptions for favored couples seems to be confined to the Lincoln Trail area around Elizabethtown, which has a history of child-protection problems and is the subject of a state investigation.

It's particularly horrifying that workers from the same cabinet that oversees domestic-violence shelters are taking children because they say the shelters are unfit for them, as staff writer Valarie Honeycutt-Spears reported.

If the shelters are unfit for children -- and we know of no such evidence -- fix them.

But don't discourage battered women from fleeing their abusers by threatening to take their kids.

Women in Transition, a grass-roots organization run by and for poor people, will hear from Kentuckians who say their children were unjustly removed.

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 29.
Where: Wesley House Community Center, 803 Washington Street, Louisville.
Information: Call (502) 583-8317, Ext. 259.


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