The Texas polygamy and potential sexual abuse of children a case has widely publicized my major media outlets for days. While many topics regarding the case of alleged abuse, including the cell phone alert which prompted the action of law enforcement being a hoax-receiving multitude of coverage? One very important aspect of the removal of 416 children from the Texas “ranch” community, and the potential national impact of the case, has yet been determined.
As a journalist, I have see, and written about the impact of child abuse. As a former educator, we received training to detect abuse, as well as reporting guidelines. Many educators forever find themselves jumping though hoops when attempting to assist a child in a potentially dangerous environment. Children’s Services staff members grow frustrated by the strict laws, which govern the proof required to remove a single child from a household. April is Child Abuse and Prevention Awareness month, which is a perfect time to highlight a growing problem across our nation. The local Family and Children First Council in my area placed a touching display of pinwheels on the courthouse lawn to mark the number of reported child abuse cases during the past year, in just our small county. Four hundred and thirteen pinwheels are currently spinning in the wind, representing the shattered childhoods of so many of our rural youth.
While I don’t believe in polygamy, a lifestyle which in no way would I ever even consider participating in, I found it astounding the search warrant and removal of children which occurred after an anonymous phone call. Whether or not adults have radical religious views by the mainstream, and multiple women want to live in a household with one man, should be a freedom, which is allowable in America. If even one child suffers as a result, then by all means, take any measures allowable to remove the young person from the abusive household environment. However, I wish the same low threshold searching and removal of children would exist in typical abuse scenarios across the nation.
Particular laws vary by state, but in Ohio, the child removal rules, more often than not, deter law enforcement and Children Services agencies from stopping continued abuse from occurring. While on a smaller scale, the basic mindset found in many homes, is similar to that found among many women on the compound in Texas. A mother, who is a routine victim of domestic violence, and either cannot or refuses to protect her children from a hostile household, is not a legal cause for removal. A father, who has committed a violent felony, does not automatically qualify as an unfit parent. A convicted rapist does not necessarily qualify as an unfit parent. Women, who have low self-esteem, may be uneducated, and raise children in an environment controlled by a man, who may emotional, verbally, or physically abuse her, does not necessarily qualify as an unfit parent. The number of children who abuse alcohol, take drugs, and become parents themselves as teenagers more often than not come from homes which are not anywhere near an acceptable home environment. Where is the protection for these children? Why cannot law enforcement swoop in, and take them at will, while determining if any abuse has actually occurred?
The level of proof, which is required to remove a child from a home, can take weeks or months to process, parents served with legal papers, and guardian assigned, and for the case to appear in front of a judge to issue a removal order. Removal of the abused child is the only minor, which can be relieved from an abusive environment. Relocation of the children occurred not because of the prompting phone call, but due to what law enforcement officers saw upon entering the ranch. If all that is required to remove a child from a home were a pregnant belly on a young teen girl, than nearly a dozen girls would be out of their far less than perfect homes in southern Ohio. A defining difference in the Texas case is the fact that the men whom impregnated the teens are allegedly in their 50’s. Huge difference than two teens being sexually active to be sure, but the allowed removal to investigate why the young women is pregnant remains. Allowing law enforcement agencies to take at will, all of the teens who are pregnant, and in court for other problems into their custody and interview, them for several days, abuse or a dangerous home environment would be unveiled in many more cases.
The same Texas official also stated the mothers should not expect to see the return of their children, due to the environment, which they choose to live, and the inability to protect them from future abuse. The many law enforcement officers, teachers, child protective workers, and foster care parents I know would literally do cartwheels if they became entitled to act in the same manner. The mandatory guidelines, which in many cases dictate the protective professionals to work with parents, and allow parenting education, and counseling in an effort to return the children to an improved home is a disservice to children in many cases. If such assistance can improve a situation, and reunite a family, than what a wonderful world it would be. In reality, some parents have had multiple reports of child abuse, and taken the training more than once, but still, it is always the first course of action when children are removed in many cases.
For several months, a thirteen-year-old boy lived across the street with a foster care parent. Not only did his grades improve, he was happy. “I have enough food to eat, no one hits me, and I even got presents for Christmas,” the young man told me one day. Within three months, his father, who had lost custody of the boy several times, had completed the required training, and regained the custody of his child. He once again arrived at school hungry, no warm winter coat, and full of bruises. The boy is drinking, taking drugs, having sex with both girls and boys, and of course, not doing well in school. It would be wonderful, were it not already too late to save this young man from himself, to see some Texas style justice.
While working in the field of education, there were a pair of brothers, who teachers knew were in danger of falling through the cracks, and living in a controlling and abusive home. Arresting the father, who was the sole guardian, on more than one occasion for selling drugs, was not enough to cause removal of the innocent minors. Finding drugs in the home, and allowing the middle school, and elementary school boys to drink alcohol still was not enough evidence to cause removal. He was kind enough to make them leave the house while he completed his drug dealing transactions. Leaving the house consisted of making them sit on the porch, usually at night, no matter what type of weather for hours. The father never lost custody of the boys, one of which landed in juvenile detention, and the other, flunking several grades in school, and charged with breaking and entering crimes before even hitting puberty. Texas, where are you?
The desire to receive government benefits for having children in the home makes so many parents fight for children, which they do not love, or care for properly. Creating an unsafe environment and uncertain future is not given the same level of consideration, as which is given to “restoring the family unit”. The amount of freedom, and ease, which Texas law enforcement officials possessed when removing the 416 children, could definitely be a slippery slope in alleged abuse cases. Nevertheless, I would be willing to grab a hold of something sturdy, and travel just a bit on such a slope, if it meant saving children from equally abusive environments in off compound, non-ranch households across the nation. The 413 children of one of the smallest counties in Ohio, and elsewhere, deserve the same chance of growing up in a safe home, as do the children of those who live in religious compound in Texas.