When I read this article my blood reached the boiling level very quickly. If you haven't read it yet in some of our previous blogs, our children were removed from our home for 2 weeks by the state of Utah. Read this and make sure you get involved to protect your rights... Dad
Giving the State a Grasp on Your Kids
Part II of an in-depth look at Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
When Kevin and Peggy Lewis volunteered their child for special education services, they never dreamed they would need a lawyer if they wanted to change their minds.
After their son developed several learning issues, including an inability to focus in class and difficulty processing and understanding oral and written communication, the Lewis's turned to the Cohasset Middle School in Massachusetts for help.1 But after a year in the school's special education program, their son was not improving academically, and felt harassed by school officials who were closely monitoring and reporting on his behavior - everything from chewing gum in class to forgetting his pencil.2
Initially, the Lewis's requested that the school pay for private tutoring, but as their relationship with the administration continued to decline, the exasperated parents finally decided to withdraw their son from the school's program and to pay for private tutoring out of their own pockets.3
Apparently, that option wasn't good enough for the school.
In December 2007, Cohasset hauled Kevin and Peggy into court, claiming that the parents were interfering with their son's "constitutional right to a free and appropriate education."4
After a day-and-a-half of argument, the judge sided with the school in an unwritten opinion.5
"This is truly devastating to all parents who have children on an IEP," Peggy said, referring to the individual education plans for special education students. "What it means in fact when you sign an IEP for your child, you sign away your parental rights. . . . Now Cohasset has their grasp on my kid."6
"Help" for Parents
At first glance, it seems odd that a school would take parents to court to compel them to accept state services. After all, as observers of the case commented, schools usually objects when parents demand more aid for their children, not when the parents try to withdraw their child from the program.7
But according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ,once parents have asked the state for assistance in raising their children, the state has both the responsibility and the authority to see the job through - even if the parents no longer support the state's solution.
In addition to imposing legally-enforceable "responsibilities" on parents, Article 18 of the Convention also requires states to "render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities," and to establish "institutions, facilities and services for the care of children."8
At first glance, the offer of "assistance" to parents may appear harmless, and even generous, but appearances are often deceiving. While the government may claim to offer services to parents on a purely "voluntary" basis, parents soon discover that government "assistance" isn't always free.
When "voluntary" doesn't mean "voluntary"
For examples of this dangerous trend, one need look no further than the nation of Sweden, the first western nation to ratify the Convention.
In addition to mandatory sex-education, free child care for working parents, and a national ban on corporal punishment, Sweden's local municipalities are also required by law to offer parents a broad array of "voluntary" services that promote "the favourable development of children and young persons."9 Unfortunately, according to Swedish attorney and activist Ruby Harrold-Claesson, voluntary care "in no way is voluntary since the social workers threaten the parents to either give up their child voluntarily or the child will be taken into compulsory care."10
If the state determines at a later date that the "voluntary" services are not helping, the municipality has both the responsibility and the authority to physically "take a child into care and place him in a foster home, a children's home or another suitable institution."11 According to Harrold-Claesson, since the emergence of such programs, "children are being taken from their parents on a more routine basis."12
Unfortunately, these disturbing trends are not confined to Sweden. Even here in the United States, "voluntary" services for parents are often the first step toward state control of families.
Holding Children Hostage
As a young mother of three, "Katianne H." faced tremendous difficulties in making ends meet.13 Although she was never unemployed, Katianne had difficulty putting her job ahead of the needs of her young family. So when her three-month-old son Xavier developed severe allergies to milk and soy protein, her pediatrician recommended that she relieve some of the pressure placed upon her by requesting that her son be placed in "temporary out-of-home care."14 Thinking such a placement was truly "voluntary," Katianne agreed.
Within a few months, Xavier was weaned from the feeding tube to a bottle, but when Katianne sought to bring him home, the state refused.
It would take more than two-and-a-half years - and a decision from the Nebraska Supreme Court - before Katianne would win her baby boy back.15
In a unanimous ruling, the court said the child should have been returned to his mother as soon as his medical condition was resolved. Instead, state authorities drew up a detailed plan requiring the mother to maintain steady employment, attend therapy and parenting classes, pay her bills on time, keep her house clean, improve her time management, and be cooperative with social workers. When she failed to fully comply with all these obligations within fifteen months, her parental rights were terminated.16
The Court condemned the state for keeping Xavier "out of the home once the reasons for his removal had been resolved," and warned that a child should never be "held hostage to compel a parent's compliance with a case plan" when the child could safely be returned home.17
A familiar pattern
According to studies, scholars, lawyers, and advocates, voluntary placement in the United States - like "voluntary" placement in Sweden - is often the first step toward the state getting a grasp on children. Here are just a few examples from within our own borders:
· A 1994 study in New Jersey found that "parents often report signing placement agreements under the threat that court action against them will be taken if they do not sign," particularly parents who have "language or other barriers making it difficult or impossible for them to read and understand the agreement they were signing."18 There are also no "clear legal standards to protect a family once it has entered the system," even if it enters voluntarily: "existing legislation grants judges and caseworkers virtually unrestricted dispositional authority."19
· In 1998, Melville D. Miller, President and General Counsel of Legal Services of New Jersey, warned that when parents sign voluntary placement agreements, parents give the state "custody of their children without any decision by the court that they have abused or neglected them."20 In addition, voluntary placement often waives a family's opportunity for free legal representation in court, leaving families - particularly poor families - with "no assistance in advocating for what they need" when disputes with the state arise.21
· In 1999, Dr. Frank J. Dyer, author and member of the American Board of Professional Psychology, warned that parents can be "intimidated into "voluntarily" signing placement agreements out of a fear that they will lose their children," and that in his professional counseling experience, birth parents frequently complain that "if they had known from the outset that the document that they were signing for temporary placement of their children into foster care gave the state such enormous power over them, they would have refused to sign and would have sought to resist the placement legally."22
· The Child Welfare League of America, in its 2004 Family's Guide to the Child Welfare System, reassures parents that the state "do[es] not have to pursue termination of parental rights," as long as the state feels that "there is a compelling reason why terminating parental rights would not be in the best interest of the child."23 If parents and social workers disagree about the fate of a child in "voluntary placement," the CWLA simply states that "if you decide to bring your child home, and the agency believes that this would interfere with your child's safety, it has the right to ask the court to intervene. You also have the right to explain to the court why your child's safety would not be in jeopardy if he came home."24
· The National Crittenton Foundation, in a web booklet published for young, expectant mothers who are currently in the foster care system, warns in large, bold print that by signing a voluntary placement agreement, "you will most likely lose all custody of your baby, even if you want to regain custody of your baby after you turn 18."25
Never Too Late
If one can learn anything from the stories of the Lewises, Katianne, and the plight of Swedish parents, it is that the government wields incredible power over parents who have "voluntarily" accepted its aid when caring for their children. These parents are often poor, struggling, and searching for the means to keep their families together, but instead of helping them, the open hand of the state can easily become a clenched fist, either bullying parents into submission or forcibly taking their children from them.
Thankfully, it is not too late to protect children and their families by protecting the fundamental right of parents to raise their children, and to reject government programs that are unneeded or unwanted. The state should only interfere with the family for the most compelling reasons - not because loving parents were misled about the true nature of "voluntary" care.
Please consider sending this message to your friends and urging them to sign the Petition to Protect Parental Rights.
This article was written for ParentalRights.org by Peter Kamakawiwoole, Jan. 29, 2009.
The article with links is here