Child Welfare Law Based on Illusion

Article excerpt

For too long, Democrats and their liberal allies in the policy world have held the moral high ground on the subject of children. It's time for Republicans to stop being intimidated.

The liberal child-welfare regime in America has been a terrible disa ster, and only those unblinkered by ideological commitment to the status quo can achieve the reforms that are so urgently needed.

According to a new study by Dr. Carol Statuto Bevan of the National Council for Adoption, five children die every day at the hands of their parents or caregivers. Fully half of the 2,000 children killed this way every year are already known to the child-welfare systems of their states. For every child who is killed, many more are beaten, starved and raped. How is it possible that so many children are being left in clearly dangerous homes by a social-service system that is meant to protect them? Bevan explains it. The current child-welfare regime, enshrined into federal law in the (ironically titled) Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, is based on the liberal illusion that there are no bad parents, only bad circumstances. If people are torturing or starving their tiny babies, it is because the "system" has failed to give them adequate support. The short-term infusion of services (so-called "family preservation") will help to get the family back on its feet, and the abuse will stop. Foster care and adoption, by contrast, represent "failures" of the system and are to be avoided at all costs. As Elizabeth Barholet, a family law specialist at Harvard Law School, has written, "Policy makers in this country are overwhelmingly committed to family preservation. . . . The Children's Defense Fund, the Child Welfare League of America and the Clinton administration have tended to equate child welfare with biological family preservation and have done nothing to promote adoption as a means of guaranteeing children's rights to a nurturing home." Abundant research now bolsters what common sense suggests: Family pres ervation is a failure. Having a bunch of social workers show abusive mothers how to shop for groceries and punish with "time outs" does next to nothing to prevent further abuse. Some families are simply not salvageable. …