How Many Chances Do You Get?

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What’s fair, do you think? One chance? Two? Three strikes and you’re out? Say you’re a mom who left your five-year old and six-month old baby alone so you could score some heroin on the corner. Should you get another chance? You’re addicted, after all, so that has to cloud your judgment. Other than being a heroin addict and occasionally leaving your kids alone for a little while, you’re not a bad mother. Should the kids be removed by the child welfare officials? Should your babies go live with a foster family?

ceramic kids

What if you’re the mom of a 9-year old girl. And say the principal of her school just called to tell you that your little girl said your boyfriend has been touching her and she’s afraid to go home. You were ready to kick him out anyway. Should you get another chance? Two? Are you a bad mother? What should happen? Should she go to a foster family?

What if just one night, just one night when you were completely exhausted, when there was nothing to feed the kids, and the lights went out because the utility bill wasn’t paid, and the neighbor across the hall yelled at your kids to shut up and your three-year old peed on the kitchen floor and you picked up the broom and swatted him across the behind, should you get another chance? You’re incredibly stressed, you know. It’s so hard being a single parent, being poor, dealing with the kids. Don’t you deserve a second chance? A third chance?

Or should your kids be ‘removed’ in the parlance of child welfare officials? Should they be ‘detained’ as they say? Maybe. Probably. Child welfare laws were put in place to protect the defenseless. So until things can be sorted out, it often makes sense for the children who were left or neglected or smacked with a broom to be taken away from the offending parent and moved to a safe location. It’s hard to argue with that.

It’s what happens next that’s the problem. Where do kids belong? When do we give up on their parents and find them new parents? How many chances are too many? How big is the sin that separates you permanently from your children?

I don’t know the answer. I only know that there is a lot of heartache involved and it’s mostly the kids. Some parents struggle like people possessed to get their kids back. They will go anywhere, do anything, take any class to convince the child welfare system that they are competent and caring. Others recover from the loss, they blame the system, blame their addiction, and are relieved that someone else is raising their children.

The big huge unfixable heartache? It’s the kids. They never ever get it – why they had to leave their parents and why their parents didn’t come get them. It is as inexplicable to them as gravity or the solar system. It never makes any sense because, to them, whatever their parents did doesn’t justify the punishment they are getting. It isn’t fair, they think. My parents should have gotten more chances – 4, 5, 6, however many.

That’s not how we think. The grownups. But it’s how kids think.

There should be more chances.

3 Comments on “How Many Chances Do You Get?

  1. I completely understand that children want their parents to be given more and more chances. And sometimes they are and that is best. I can’t imagine a parent would have their child removed from their care for one swat with a broom anyway. I can’t even imagine that scenario would result in services at all actually. But if a safety plan and resources for job training or getting help with the electric bill were put in place, that is a nice second chance and reasonable in my opinion.

    But when a child is shuffled between foster homes and relative placements multiple times, each time just to be sent back to their parents who continue to live in utter filth despite the state paying to teach them housekeeping and for Terminix, who continue to beat toddlers with belts, who continue to drink to the point of drunkenness more days than not, who continue to neglect to feed them and get appropriate medical care, etc….at some point the CHILD is the one who needs a “second chance.” Do they love their parents? ABSOLUTELY! But when a child has had nine homes, it isn’t time for him to go back to his parents just so he can go to two or four or ten more while waiting for his parents to complete or not complete services again. At some point, the child deserves PERMANENCY, one that doesn’t include significant neglect and abuse.

    I have been very happy to send children home to their parent(s). I also am raising kids who should have not been sent back, who had way too many family placements and foster homes before they finally got permanency. These are children who struggle in ways people should not have to because not only were they neglected and abused, but they had to be the ones who paid the price for their parents being given chances.

    • Yes, yes, yes to the permanency. My gripe with child welfare has always been the lack of permanency, the not knowing what’s next, kids in out of home care never being able to relax and just be kids. How many chances are enough does really depend on the situation, for sure.

  2. Compelling reflections and questions. Me, I’m a “one more chance” person. I know that people are people, and people make mistakes. I believe that we, as humans, are here on earth to learn and grow. One of the best ways to do so is to screw up and then right the ship. Plus, there’s the stark fact of grace….which I believe is a live force in the universe. BUT.

    I have seen the chances go on SO long in the child welfare system…. that the scenario starts to be more destructive than constructive. Could that be the decider? Ratio of destructive to constructive effects? The more the scales start to tip further and further into destructive….. the closer we are to the time when the chances should end? (I will end with this question, because answers are so hard to come by on topics like these.)

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