Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Kids and Kids And Kids Are Alright

Playing on the iPod: Steve Roach, something from "World's Edge"
Meters swum today: 1600

Okay, gang, we have the largest child custody case in the history of Texas about to start down San Angelo way. In case you've been hiding under a rock again, here's a quick recap: Child Protective Services raided what's being called a "polygamous compound" in west Texas and bused out 416 kids, along with some undetermined number of mothers. Most of the mothers have since returned, some have gone to a domestic violence shelter, and the state of Texas goes to court today to argue that the kids are in imminent danger of harm if they go home. The state is asking the court to grant temporary custody of the kids to Texas, and unless something seriously weird goes on, the state will probably prevail. If so, kids and parents alike enter a murky twilight zone of family law for something like six months to a year, where much hand-wringing will go on as to where, exactly, the kids will be growing up.

I used to work at a general-practice law firm and did a couple of family-law cases, some in which CPS was involved, some not. Here's how CPS works. They can't just show up at your house and grab your kids because, say, you didn't buy Suzie an iPod for Christmas. They have to have some kind of complaint, which usually comes from a teacher, doctor, neighbor, or someone else who sees the kid often enough to know something's not right. Sometimes one parent rats out the other one, or a stepparent does. On rare occasions the kids themselves ask for help. CPS investigates, and if warranted, it goes to court and says, "Here's the evidence we have that this kid is at risk of serious harm. What do you think?" Nine times out of ten the court agrees, the kid is picked up, usually placed in a foster home (though there's some talk that most of the younger kids in this case will be kept together, possibly at a local summer camp, which may be the best thing for them), and the court sets out another hearing for six months to a year away.

Then what happens? Well, for the kid, hopefully nothing. Hopefully they keep going to school, see their brothers and sisters often, maybe meet with social workers or therapists, but to the greatest extent possible, the idea's to let them live a normal life for a while. For the parents, on the other hand, this is where it gets hard. Unless the abuse is sexual or otherwise so egregious that both parents are likely going to jail, the judge or caseworker will set up what's called a "reunification plan" by which the parents, after meeting certain conditions, can get the kids back. Usually that means anger management or parenting classes, sometimes counseling, psychotherapy, whatever. If the household itself is dangerous, say, a house in a poor state of repair, they'll have to fix it up and provide evidence it's been fixed. If there's a dangerous person, like a mentally ill older sibling or something living there, he or she will probably have to move out. If the abuser is showing reluctance to change, the other parent may have to divorce him or her, or at least he/she will have to move out. The common denominator here is that something major has to change. The court won't return kids to their parents if everything's exactly the way it was. If you're a parent, your kids were taken away by CPS, and you want them back, probably the very worst thing you can possibly do is stand on your front porch in front of rolling TV cameras and sob that everything was just fine fine fine.

So guess what a bunch of the mothers did on the news the day before yesterday.

Yeah. And here's where we're at. These moms, and probably also dads, are going to be told they have to get counseling, attend classes, sit down with a social worker and draft a reunification plan, and subject themselves to periodic CPS inspections pretty much until their youngest kid turns 18. This in a community that deliberately shuts itself off from the rest of the world, thinks outsiders are evil, is apparently in the habit of marrying off its female children as young as twelve or thirteen, and claims everything it's doing is the Lord's work. Hands up who thinks this is likely. Uh, right, that's what I thought.

So what does this all mean? Well, um, it probably means Texas has 416 more foster kids from now to who knows when, not counting the ones on their way (several of the older girls are thought to be pregnant) and the ones who turn 18 (the term is "aging out") in the meantime. That's okay, taxpayers have been raising these kids anyway (most of their moms were on welfare, and there's some evidence that the community was even getting multimillion-dollar government contracts.) But besides that, it means this community is screwed. History. Finished, at least in the state of Texas. And once again I'm not so sure that is a good thing.

Look, it's a big country. (Hm, familiar guitar strains, how odd.) We're all reasonable people. Isn't there some way we could compromise on this thing? Couldn't we make some agreement whereby nobody under the age of 18 is getting married in that community? (Come on, people, it's four more years, not a lifetime.) Where the parents agree not to beat kids with sticks, starve them or lock them in closets for minor offenses? Where social workers got to go in and check on things every so often, and let the young people know if they don't want to stay in the community, there are options? I mean, the Amish are clannish and insular, they don't trust outsiders either, you could sort of call them religious fanatics (they'd probably object), they don't even send most of their kids to school past the eighth grade, yet they've somehow managed to avoid child abuse since the 1600s, approximately. Oh, and they don't marry their daughters off en masse to older men before they're old enough to like Britney Spears. Not that they've heard of Britney, of course.

Jen defends polygamy. Good God, lightning is striking the building.

Well, anyway, only one thing is certain about this whole mess. The kids will be all right. Kids usually are. Get them away from a scary environment, let them be kids, and they usually recover from just about anything. Sometimes they need a little help, but that's what CPS is there for. It may be a flawed system (may be? Almost certainly is) but there's so much scrutiny this time. Nobody wants to screw this up.

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