Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review-presentation offered by Judicial Council of California

In the second presentation for dependency lawyers, the Hon. Pat Bresee hosts What Juvenile Dependency Attorneys Need to Know about Basic Child Development. This program was presented in a game show format, where four hypothetical situations taken from actual case files are described, two contestants play, and a panel of four experts discuss the hypothetical situation. 

This format facilitated the presentation of multiple viewpoints and analyses which might explain each situation. While much more balanced than the prior presentation, there was still a slight leaning toward the prevailing child saver mentality, which is predisposed against an accused parent.

There were some sterling examples of best practices presented by the panel that should apply to the administration of these cases, but the presentation was deficient in recognizing the full range of effects associated with removing a child from his parents.

The analyses tended to overlook legitimate causes for the problems a child was exhibiting that could have been attributed to certain detrimental exposures outside the family home. For example: During play therapy, a four year-old child infers inappropriate sexual situations five months after being placed in foster care. The discussion never even considers the idea that this development may be the result of sexual abuse while in the foster home rather than in the family home. This failure to objectively examine all potential origins of this development places the child at serious risk of chronic abuse in foster care.

In another situation about an older child who has been in foster care and group homes for a while, the scenario describes the child who begins acting out. The analysis ignores the effects of what the caregivers and administrators have told the child, including his parents are deficient, or don't want him or love him. It ignores the effects of the delayed reunification and minimal contact permitted under existing visitation schemes.This is a common occurrence reported by many foster children. Being children, they lack the confidence to trust their own instincts about their parents, and are severely traumatized by this kind of revelation. This posture often is a result of concurrent planning, which is intended to prepare a child for termination of parental rights.

Administrators, service providers and care givers blithely expect the child to respond to this perceived abandonment or rejection by his parents as if it isn't the most horrifying sense of loss a child could ever face. There is no discussion of preserving the protecting the parent-child bonds by forbidding anyone to disparage the parents to the child or undermine the child's relationship with the parent, nor any recognition that the the lack of meaningful and sufficient contact with his parents is a factor in a child's tendency to act out in foster or institutional care.

Despite the systemic blindness to certain realities of child welfare out-of-home placements, there are some redeeming elements in this presentation. I would hope that the credible discussions of what should be done are more than theory, and that attorneys utilizing this tool would actually dare to apply them in their representation of parents and children in child welfare cases.

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