1. Government Versus Grandparents
By Daniel E. Witte
Kinship placement refers to the practice of placing a child who requires temporary or permanent removal from abusive parents with extended relatives of that child. Put another way, sometimes natural parents abuse, endanger, or neglect a child to the point where the state has a compelling state interest in removing the minor to a safer environment; kinship placement occurs when the state puts a child in the care of extended relatives.
One common kinship placement scenario involves grandparents who take temporary or permanent custody of their grandchildren. Assuming removal of a child from parental custody is actually justified – and all too often, it is not – kinship placement is the appropriate next step for any state intervention in the vast majority of circumstances.
This is so because kinship placement is (a) narrowly tailored to satisfy the state’s compelling parens patriae interest ; (b) usually preferred by natural parents who are worried about the safety of the removed minor; (c) usually in the best interest of the child, who is safer and less traumatized when living with relatives instead of in government care; (d) usually preferred by the minor’s extended relatives and grandparents, who often have pre-existing ties to the minor and familiarity with the child’s needs; and (e) usually beneficial to taxpayers, since kin are typically willing to care for children without the subsidies or compensation received by foster care parents or institutional government employees.
Grandma on her worst day is usually better for a grandchild than any government bureaucracy on its best day. Families are the basic unit of society; extended relatives are nature’s life preserver for children unfortunate enough to have dysfunctional natural parents. The government should step in to take custody of a child only if no immediate or extended relative is willing to do so.
As sound and unremarkable as the concept of kinship placement may be, there are some in the Utah Department of Family and Social Services (DFCS) – and in Utah’s political and legal establishment – who strain not to grasp it. Kinship placement offends Platonic paternalists. It is in the best interest of children, but government revenue streams incentivize bureaucrats’ efforts to tear grandchildren away from grandparents in favor of institutionalization.
DCFS invokes a variety of specious excuses for not maximizing use of grandparents to help grandchildren. Sometimes DCFS claims an inability to locate or contact a grandparent (or other extended relative), even when it is obvious that both the dispossessed parents and the traumatized child are willing and able to supply the necessary information. In situations when pesky grandparents or other kin do try to assist, DCFS often invokes excuses that rely upon disgraceful stereotypes and discrimination concerning senior citizens.
DCFS officials sometimes claim that grandparents are too old to take care of grandchildren; grandparents should be denied custody merely because they have minor disabilities or take prescription medication; grandparents are unable to adequately monitor children every moment of every day1; and it is better for children to be placed with non-relatives with more progressive demographic and income circumstances.
According to Charri Brummer, deputy director of DCFS, DCFS currently requires relatives to be licensed in order to provide kinship care.2 Among other things, this requires annual reapplication and a letter from a health provider regarding the caretaker’s health.3 This licensing procedure for grandparents is unnecessary and dangerous in a free society. Licensing is based upon the Platonic idea that the status of grandparent is a privilege granted by government bureaucrats rather than a role automatically bestowed by the natural order of one’s own family.
In truth, the government has no business interfering with the grandparent-grandchild relationship (or indeed, any other familial relationship), except in comparatively rare instances where the (a) there is an intra-family dispute over child custody requiring court resolution (divorce disputes between parents about grandparent contact, disputes between grandparents over kinship placement, etc.), or (b) the government can prove that a grandchild is in clear and present danger as a result of care rendered by a grandparent. The normal legal presumption should be that grandparents are fit and have a right to see and care for their grandchildren without any government interference or licensing.
This same principle extends to natural parents, including natural fathers. It is the burden of the government – and of anyone else who wishes to legally sever any tie based upon the natural bonds of a grandparent or parent to a child – to demonstrate that the blood relatives have been afforded notice and a reasonable opportunity to care for a minor but are manifestly unable or unwilling to do so. It is not within the legitimate power of the government to coercively license or register any natural grandparent or parent. Nor is it appropriate for the government to legally presume that a grandparent or parent is unfit, unlicensed or unregistered, as a means for improperly placing the burden of proof upon that individual to demonstrate otherwise.
Platonic paternalism is not justified to “save” a child from allegedly backward or immoral natural parents (even if a strict Old Testament world view is applied4); or from less advantageous economic circumstances; or from relatives who have health problems; or from aged grandparents; or from some racial, religious, or ethnic minority group imagined to be inferior in some way. The presence of an imperfect caretaker is insufficient on its own; there must also be a clear, present and specific danger to the child for removal to properly occur. Once the objective standard of natural families is abandoned, the powerful inevitably employ the levers of government to abduct children from the vulnerable. Utahns should be mindful that they are a population primarily consisting of demographic minorities. As soon as a Platonic order can be fully enacted, an elite political class stands ready to “free” Utah children from “backward” Utah cultural influences.
Democratic Representative Christine Watkins deserves a great deal of credit for sponsoring a series of bills – including but not limited to HB 241 – that are designed to protect natural familial bonds and promote kinship placement. Her efforts are smoking out politicians on both sides of the aisle who claim to honor natural family bonds and senior citizens but vote to abduct grandchildren from the loving arms of grandparents.
The author, Daniel E. Witte, J.D./M.O.B., is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress. Mr. Witte has an extensive background in issues related to parental liberty, educational choice, and organizational reform. He has worked with the Utah Supreme Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Utah, the 10th and 7th Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, the U.S. Senate, law firms in Korea, Puerto Rico and California, and as associate general counsel for an insurance company.
1. See Daniel E. Witte, Tyranny of the Fearful,http://www.sutherlandinstitute.org/newsletters_stories.php?id=213.
2. Marjorie Cortez, “Committee endorses kinship care law changes but puts two other child welfare measures on hold,” Deseret News, Jan. 25, 2012, athttp://www.deseretnews.com/article/700219057/Committee-endorses-kinship-care-law-changes-but-puts-two-other-child-welfare-measures-on-hold.html.
4. I Kings 3:16, 27-28 (King James Version).
2. Capitol Daily Memo: HB 115 Is Duct Tape on a Shanty
By Dave Buer
So the Utah House passed HB 115 recently. It’s a bill that attempts to improve on Utah public schools’ mentoring programs. Having completed a similar program when I went through the USOE’s Alternative Routes to Licensure program several years ago, I can say mentoring is a valuable tool for new teachers.
However, it mostly depends on how good your mentor is and how dedicated to the program your principal is. This new legislation may or may not improve mentoring, and, by extension, teaching in the state of Utah.
To read more of this post on the Sutherland Daily blog, click here.
3. Capitol Daily Video: Update on Education Savings Accounts
By Alexis Young
On Wednesday morning, Representative John Dougall (R-American Fork) presented a bill that would give Utah students education savings accounts, providing them more options for their schooling. Watch our video report to learn more about HB 123 and why Sutherland thinks it’s a good idea for Utah.
To see the video, click here.
4. Capitol Daily Memo: When It Comes to Sex Ed, Why Promote an Inferior Standard?
By Matthew Piccolo
Here are a few thoughts in light of the House Education Committee’s favorable 8-7 vote on HB 363, a bill that would require abstinence education in public schools:
The current debate in Utah regarding how much and what type of sex education should be taught in public schools is yet another example of a key difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals’ solution to this issue, like so many others, is to have government take care of it: teach students about puberty, sex, STDs, contraception, consequences of teen pregnancy and so on.
To read more of this post on the Sutherland Daily blog, click here.
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