I was invited back to visit Judge Marguerite Downing in her chambers. Judge Downing is a confident, down to earth woman, with years of experience as a lawyer for juveniles and a judge. She seems quite astute at sizing up the people who come before her. She told me that she thought that many of the families she sees have problems that come and go. Most have other family members who could step in to care for the children when they are taken from their homes, and that this would be the best situation for these kids. The problem is that very often the regulations for fostering a child are too tough to be met by the family... for example, a house that doesn't have the required amount of space. So the kids end up in foster homes with unfamiliar people, separated from their siblings and away from relatives who know them. Often parents are mandated to take classes they can't afford and have no way of getting to.We often hear about biological families that don't "follow the plan" set out for them by courts and Children's Services to regain custody of their children, as if that failure is just another in a long list of personal failures that mean these parents shouldn't be allowed to parent. Not often do we hear about some of the practical difficulties in following the plan.
Even visitation can be tough... for example, in a hearing I watched, the Dept of Children's Services recommended that the father and the mother be allowed to have unsupervised visits with their children at separate times, in a neutral setting, for three hours a week each. This particular mother didn't drive. Her husband was her ride. Their 4 children were not living together. They were placed with different families in neighborhoods far from where the parents lived. The judge questioned how it would be possible to continue trying to parent the children with these restrictions. She ruled that the parents could visit together in a neutral setting for 6 hours a week, for now. Another hearing was scheduled in 6 months time.
Since Perlman actively promotes adoption, I think most people will see the title of her article, A Child Can't Be Raised by a System... or a Court, as a plea for more and faster adoption from foster care. It might well be that, but it also suggests that the system, including courts, is no more able to allow children to be raised by their parents, either.