Thursday, May 27, 2010

When destroying your OWN family just isn’t enough

Lynn and Bryan Blevins of Conway, South Carolina did not torture their three children. They did not rape them. They did not break their bones. But one day, their ten-year-old and their eight-year-old got into a fight, as siblings sometimes do. One of the boys wound up with scratches on his face.

As a very good columnist, Issac Bailey of the Myrtle Beach Sun-News, reported last year (in a column that, unfortunately, is not available online), the police saw it for what it was; a normal part of childhood. But a caseworker for the South Carolina Department of Social Services concluded that the fight must be a sign of deeper problems in the home. That was enough for her to confiscate all three children and throw them into foster care.

And now, thanks to a new South Carolina law, holding children like the Blevins' in foster care for just six months will become grounds to tear them from their parents forever.

The same applies to children taken from parents just because those parents are poor – or for any other reason.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that the passage of time alone is reason enough to sever family ties permanently, even when DSS itself contributed to the delay. (In contrast, the Illinois Supreme Court wisely said the same provision in that state's law was unconstitutional.) Now, South Carolina DSS need merely "run out the clock" to have grounds to tear apart families like the Blevins after six months.

After 18 months the bill requires termination of parental rights, no matter what. So DSS can take a child, provide no help to the family, stall for 18 months and be guaranteed that the child never will go home.

The law even prohibits courts from considering whether an adoptive home really is available when deciding whether to terminate parental rights. What this law really guarantees for many children is prolonged foster care and creation of more "legal orphans," with no ties to birth parents and no hope of adoption either.

Indeed, we've already seen it across the country. For more than a decade, the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act has ordered states to seek termination of parental rights when children have been in foster care for 15 months. The result: a 70 percent increase in the number of children who "age out" of foster care at age 18 with no home at all.

That's why much of the rest of the country has begun to turn away from this termination-at-all-costs mentality. But not South Carolina, which remains mired in the failed approaches of the 1990s.

There was, of course, a signing ceremony when the bill became law Tuesday. Adopted children were brought in to serve as props for the photo op as the Governor of South Carolina offered up platitudes about the importance of family.

That would be Gov. Mark Sanford. And, after all, who would know more about family values?