April 15, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
ABC News in Australia has gone to bat for greater numbers of children to be taken from their parents and adopted out of foster care. Read about it here (ABC, 4/10/15). In her rather lengthy article, writer Candice Marcus quotes extensively from those in favor of increasing adoption rates but never gets around to asking for an opposing view. This is journalism? The upshot is an article with no balance to obstruct its frank bias in favor of taking kids from parents.
To garner support for the idea that too many kids remain with their parents, Marcus naturally begins with a child who died in parental “care.” Have children in Australia ever died at the hands of foster parents or adoptive parents? Of course they have, but those obvious facts interfere with her “take more kids” narrative, so they don’t make it into her article.
She then goes on to Dr. Jeremy Sammut who shares her take on parents having care of their kids.
Dr Sammut spoke with the ABC about how the culture in child protection departments needed to change.
"Family preservation is an ideology, it’s based on the idea that you can fix often unfixable families, families with high levels of dysfunction, high levels of personal problems, particularly drug and alcohol abuse," he said.
Family preservation is an ideology? No, actually it isn’t. Family preservation in Australia, as in the United States, is a public policy based on sound science. It’s based on the certain knowledge that biological parents tend overwhelmingly to treat their kids better than do foster parents, stepparents or adoptive parents. There’s far too much social science demonstrating the fact to allow Sammut to get away with such a claim.
It’s of course true that many non-biological caregivers give children fine, loving homes. It’s further true that many of those homes are better than those provided by biological parents. My intention is not to criticize those parents who step in and care for children who aren’t biologically theirs. But the fact remains that, on average, no form of care is better for kids than parental care. It is that fact that enlightens policies that encourage family preservation, and rightly so.
Dr Sammut said agencies resisted using adoption as an intervention.
"There is an anti-adoption culture within child protection departments. They simply refuse to take legal action to free children for adoption," he said.
That may well be, but as Sammut himself admits, if it is, there’s an understandable reason.
He believed a stigma around forced adoption policies in Australia had contributed to such reluctance.
"It’s partly due to the legacy of the Stolen Generations. It’s partly due to the legacy of forced adoption but what we’ve got to recognise is we’re talking about saving children from lives of dysfunction because the present system replicates and perpetuates intergenerational disadvantage," he said.
"It’s made people reluctant to endorse adoption because they are concerned about replicating the errors of the past.
When he refers to Australia’s “Stolen Generations,” Sammut is talking about the government’s policy of simply taking aboriginal children from their parents and placing them with adoptive parents, almost invariably non-aboriginal ones. That type of outrageously high-handed behavior by whites in power toward indigenous peoples echoes what was done in the United States, Canada and New Zealand. Between 1910 and 1970, perhaps as many as one-third of all aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their parents by the Australian government. Sammut is right to mention it, but wrong to pass it off so casually.
The lesson many people would draw from that history is that governments have a way of convincing themselves, contrary to facts and experience, that they know best, that the next policy will be far better, far more enlightened than past ones. Many people would look at the Stolen Generations and be cautioned. Apparently child welfare authorities in the Land Down Under are among those. Sammut is not.
Like those governments that are always eager to step in, Sammut is content to see a problem – child abuse and neglect by parents – and assume that, if kids are abused by parents, then non-parental care must be the solution. In this case, that solution seems to be placing more kids in foster care and adopting more kids out of same. Undoubtedly, in some cases, kids would benefit, but where the process gets sticky is in figuring out which families are dysfunctional, which parents truly cannot be taught to care properly for their kids and which can be saved. Sammut offers no suggestions on that all-important point. To him, Australian authorities need to take more kids from parents and place more of them for adoption. Period. I guess he intends to figure the rest out later.
But the obvious fact is that, just because a set of parents is less than the best, or perhaps even moderately abusive of their children, doesn’t mean that removing the kids and placing them elsewhere is an improvement. Is he aware of studies demonstrating that children in foster care fare worse on average than do kids with even moderately abusive biological parents? If he is, it’s not apparent.
And what about the initial trauma of being taken from the only home a child has ever known and from loved parents? Is Sammut aware of that?
It’s easy to look at a child who’s died due to the neglect of her parents and conclude that any alternative would have been better. But governmental policies don’t work that way. As certainly as Australia loosens strictures on adoption of kids from foster care, there will be kids taken who didn’t need to be, who suffered horribly the loss of their parents and maybe endured worse abuse at the hands of foster or adoptive parents.
Like Marcus, Sammut assiduously avoids mentioning that possibility, real though we know it is.
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