Christmas is just two days away so it’s time to write a fun and uplifting column about how wonderful the season is and how grateful we all are. I really, really wanted to actually write that column. But then I saw two headlines last week that made me wonder if any of us can have a happy holiday knowing that not far from any of us is a child living with domestic violence and abuse.
The first headline detailed the horrors of child abuse in our state and how often a child has to be damaged before he or she is removed from the abusive situation for good. The second was how our esteemed legislators announced the plan to make even more cuts in education and health.
So I thought in the spirit of a holiday based on a baby’s birth, I’d make some suggestions that would cost little money and actually save some in the long run. The suggestion involves some tweaking of laws that govern child welfare cases in order to bring them in step with reality.
Here’s the reality. The fact that two adults can reproduce and bring that offspring home does not make them a family, not does it automatically make them parents. All that reproducing does is prove that they can, in fact, no matter how drunk or drugged they might be, still figure out how to have unprotected sex with unintended consequences. So our laws, which currently are heavily weighted in favor of preserving the nuclear family, need to be rewritten to differentiate between an actual family and the horror that is two people raising a third in chaos and violence.
The 12/16/2015 ADN article on child abuse in Alaska states that, “42 percent of the roughly 2,500 children with substantiated maltreatment between 2005 and 2013 were under 1 year old.” Here’s another fun statistic to absorb with your eggnog. “Out of about 36,000 investigations into maltreatment involving more than 19.300 children in that 8 year period (2005 – 2013), 68 percent were multiple investigations of the same children.” And finally, in another area where Alaska has sadly always exceeded the national average, there is this statement of fact, “4 of 10 children born in or after 2005 and investigated as potential victims of maltreatment in Alaska were repeatedly maltreated in the period between 2005 and 2013… As of 2013 nearly 13 percent of children investigated by OCS were reported as suffering repeat abuse or neglect… The national rate was less than 5.5 percent”.
So when I hear our legislators say they are going to Juneau to look for further cuts in health and education, I have to wonder how they can sleep well at night. Because you know who isn’t sleeping well? It’s the child who is afraid to fall asleep because of the violent home they inhabit and the very real possibility that they won’t be awakened by the gentle touch of their mother’s hand on their shoulder but by the forceful fist of their parent in their face; or even worse, awakened by a drunk climbing into their bed for sex knowing their parents won’t protect them.
Here’s my suggestion for tweaking laws governing children in abusive homes. The child is removed the first time any substantiated incident happens. Mom and dad have six months to make substantial improvements in their lives. At the end of those six months, if the parents haven’t done what they need to do, then the kid is automatically available for adoption. If they have complied and the child is returned and then has to be removed again, there is no six-month period. The child is immediately put up for adoption. No muss, no fuss, no outlandishly long court battles. We may not be able to change the behavior of the adults, but we can sure as hell get the kid out from the middle of the violence before he or she is so damaged that they grow up to repeat the cycle.
So my Christmas wish this year is that our legislators pass a sensible child protection act that actually protects the child from growing up thinking violence, chaos and pain is what constitutes a family. It will cost nothing and may actually end up saving us money since it gives kids a fighting chance at becoming productive adults.