Please click the two links to read a Nov. 30 New York Times Editorial and the letters in response.
Most of us think in simplistic terms when we discuss the prison population. The tidiest opinions are emotion-driven and free of that messy substance called “life experience.” It isn’t unusual for someone to say, “Just obey the law. It’s that easy.”
The person who thinks that way might have a very clean house, perfect attendance at church and a copy of Reader’s Digest on the nightstand. Life makes sense as long as you can keep your frame of reference narrow enough.
There may be no answers to the human condition stuff which gets emotionally needy young people in trouble with the law, and many adult inmates started out as needy young people whose home environments were a source of anxiety and depression. Now some of them have their own kids.
Lawmakers, social workers and judges are uncomfortable curbing parental entitlement when children need protection, so any laws which theoretically help those kids are likely to have loopholes favoring parents.
Foster homes can be crazy. It’s considered preferable to place a child with another family member when foster care is necessary (and allowed). That may sound ideal, but in some instances it can be as dangerous as Mommy letting her drug dealer babysit.
Not all unfit parents come from fine families themselves. On the surface, the grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult cousins, et al, can appear ideal — or at least passable — to a social worker, so the kid is sent to live with relatives.
Families keep secrets, and a social worker who does a routine screening isn’t likely to see the worst that happens in a home. There’s also pressure to find a place for every kid in limbo, and a temptation to look the other way when something doesn’t seem right. It looks good on paper to say a loving relative will nurture the child.
There are two nightmarish examples which I’d rather not document too carefully because it’s likely they’re still under investigation, and too much was shared with the media early on.
In one Northern California county, the last two foster children to be reported missing — and whose disappearances received extensive media attention — were living with relatives (Note: These were two separate families and two separate police cases, although they occurred in the same city). While there was too little evidence to prosecute, in each case the foster parents were considered “persons of interest” and criticized for inconsistencies in their stories. The children have not been found, and last I heard they were still on record as “missing.” One of those relatives committed suicide, probably taking the truth to his grave.
I could offer other examples, but my stomach is churning so it’s time to stop.