What feels like a lifetime ago — but was just two years — I was a practicing family law attorney.
Working as a guardian ad litem, I was appointed to many cases in juvenile court. It is the privilege of most family law attorneys to come alongside children in broken and harmful families and try to repair the situation. I have been an advocate for children, parents, and grandparents in these situations. Each of them sticks in my memory to this day.
I have worked with Alabama’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) many times in my career. I have seen areas where they have been the best hope for children and areas where they needlessly destroy families. Thus, I think I speak for all family law attorneys in saying that the system is broken.
Now, not all of this is DHR’s fault. There are a lot of children under their supervision, and the social workers are overburdened. They have a tough job. They see the worst situations often, and it’s enough to drive anyone out of their profession.
You can blame culture for the large number of cases under DHR per view. Fatherless homes, the rise of the single mom, and the prevalence of drugs are often to blame. Of course, they also get a lot of ridiculous complaints called in by people who just want to carry out a petty grudge or do not understand what actual abuse is – I’m looking at you, Karen, calling about a mom spanking her kid.
But there are issues lying at the feet of DHR. There are policies and procedures in place that harm families. 1819 News has done an excellent job over the last week or so of reporting the complaints of workers themselves of how the system is broken, resulting in irreparable harm to people, so I won’t rehash that here.
One of the worst, in my opinion, is when a child is taken away from their family and put in foster care, and DHR must move to terminate the parent’s parental rights after a certain amount of time. No matter what.
For those less familiar, termination of parental rights is the death penalty of family law. Once your rights are terminated, you are not getting them back. It’s an extreme remedy.
The court does its best to rehabilitate families. I have seen countless judges give as many chances as they can to parents trying to fix themselves. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, a parent’s rights get taken away for no more reason than that they behaved disrespectfully in court and acted hostile to the workers trying to take their kid away. Not the best move by the parent, but understandable given the circumstance they are in. After all, what mama bear doesn’t get mad when someone comes for their child?
The policy is way too severe. It is in place because, after a while of the child being out of their parent’s care, they begin to get comfortable and attached to another family. All of that makes sense. However, it ignores the importance of the original nuclear family on the child’s development. Further, it is like moving for the death penalty of an inmate who has been in jail for two years because society has moved on without them. They can do this without even trying to meet the strict scrutiny standard required.
Parents often feel hopeless against the system. One cannot blame them for the feeling. DHR’s policies are made to protect children. But in doing so, they often push them away from their parents without needing to, thus irreparably harming the child.
It’s time to take a hard look at DHR and its policies. Alabama has a wonderful history of protecting families. This is just one necessary step to keep our families strong.
Laura Clark is a wife, mother, and community activist. She currently serves as the interim president of Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, a conservative nonprofit law firm that fights for limited government, free markets, and strong families in the courts.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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