Someone Finally Understands That Bad Parents Aren’t The Enemy

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shutterstock_113022904Whenever I hear a story about a child left at home alone, my heart breaks a lot. In the news we hear of the young child found wandering the street, or the neighbor who spotted a drunk parent leaving the house and uses the opportunity to call the authorities. The reporter, and probably many viewers, shake their heads and wonder, “what kind of parent would do that?”

When I see these heartbreaking stories, I never judge the parents because I assume they only did it out of some sort of necessity — they felt they had no other choice. I’d put money on the fact that most of these parents are not Don Draper pulling a trippy, ego-fueled weekend in his Madison Avenue office or self-absorbed young actress types like Megan Draper. These are probably poor people struggling to make ends meet and keep it together on a daily basis. They are not “bad” parents.

What I know from personal experience, David Tobis validates in his Time Ideas piece. These are parents that need support, not to be labeled as unfit or bad and have their children taken away from them.

But in many cities across the country, the main response by public agencies when parents have these types of problems is to place the child in long-term foster care, even though as Steve Cohen, a child-welfare expert working with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says, “[M]ost of the families involved with the child-welfare system are committed to their kids and are torn up by not being able to raise their kids safely.” The parents become the enemy, as opposed to an essential partner in bettering the life of the child.

I’m not condoning neglect or excusing behavior that endangers a child’s health and well-being. However I am saying that parents – even ones who behave badly – are very rarely the enemy. Like you and I they might very well want the world for their children, but they don’t have the resources or support to even know how to get there. They may be struggling with their own demons — or they may just lack access to housing, education, or childcare.

Imagine what our parenting would be like without resources to fall back on — like money, family, friends and connections — and what might be revealed if our lives were constantly scrutinized in public housing, in public hospitals, in public child care and at our child’s public school.

This is the situation for many low-income parents, often single mothers of color, whose children come to the attention of the child-welfare system. A great majority of cases involve neglect, not abuse — for example by leaving a child home alone, not making sure a child attends school or not having adequate housing.

I don’t need to try too hard to imagine the scenario Tobis sets up — it was part of my childhood.

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