VI. Conclusion

By Wallace, Janet L.; Pruitt, Lisa R. | Missouri Law Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

VI. Conclusion


Wallace, Janet L., Pruitt, Lisa R., Missouri Law Review


As I have indicated in my dissents to other termination cases, the State seems to be running amok, spouting pop psychology and terminating parental rights in cases where it is clearly not necessary to do, particularly in cases of poor and otherwise handicapped parents. (285)

Justice Springer, dissenting

Deck v. Department of Human Resources, Division of Child & Family Services (Nev. 1997)

Let us return for a moment to Winter's Bone and the plight of the Dolly children. (286) As mortified as the typical filmgoer may be about the circumstances in which Ree and her siblings find themselves, no guarantee exists that a temporary placement in a group or foster home would allow them to stay together or serve them better than they are serving themselves, without government assistance. (287) Policymakers should bear in mind that the dual threats of removal from the family home and separation of siblings may deter families like Ree's from availing themselves of the limited resources the state has to offer. Surely, destruction of the family unit is not the outcome intended from acceptance of public benefits and social services. Yet such destruction is sometimes a consequence of the links between poverty and place, links that state actors may misunderstand.

America's child protection system requires a new vision--a family-affirming approach that focuses on maintaining the bond between parent and child. To honor rural families in particular, the state must implement place-specific programs that are sensitive to rural parents' needs and which would help them adequately care for their children. This policy shift would preempt the state's need to initiate child removal proceedings in many cases.

This change also requires a frank acknowledgement that rurality can be disabling; (288) rural spatiality, economics, and culture can operate as handicaps like the ones Justice Springer referenced in the Deck case. (289) When assessing parental fitness, then, the state should recognize both poverty and rurality as critical aspects of context over which the parent may have very little control.

Finally, judges and child services agencies must begin to recognize the distinction between rural manifestations of poverty on the one hand, and willful child neglect on the other. Doing so would minimize child removals based on inaccurate or unfounded presumptions of parental fault. For shattering the bond between parent and child based solely on judgments about poverty, place, or a combination of the two not only undermines particular family units, it devalues rural families and their communities.

(1.) See Helen Nearing & Scott Nearing, Living the Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living 4-6 (1990); Thomas D. Hansen, On Myth and Reality: The Stress of Life in Rural America, 4 Res. Rural Ed. 147, 147 (1987). It is ironic, in light of our findings, that prior to the 1909 White House Conference on Children, children living in urban poverty were moved to rural areas so as to expose them to "traditional American family values, promote assimilation, and remove them from parental influence." Tonya L. Brito, The Welfarization of Family Law, 48 Kan. L. Rev. 229, 269-71 (2000).

(2.) Hansen, supra note 1, at 148; see Sonya Salamon, From Hometown to Nontown: Rural Community Effects of Suburbanization, 68 Rural Soc. 1, 3 (2003) (citing David. M. Hummon, Commonplaces: Community Ideology and Identity in American Culture 57 (1990)) (observing "national ideology" that small towns are good places to raise children); Ann R. Tickamyer & Debra A. Henderson, Rural Women: New Roles for the New Century?, in Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century 109, 112 (David L. Brown & Louis E. Swanson eds., 2004) (describing rural communities as "wholesome, family-friendly environments that promote overall well-being"); see also W.K. Kellogg Found., Perceptions of Rural America: Congressional Perspectives 3-4 (2004), available at http://www.

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