“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:13,14).
As an organization, one of the ways we participate with God in his work in the world is through our work with and for children. Nine of our organization’s participants are trained and certified in advocacy for children who, in most incidents, have been removed from their primary residence. When we become involved in their cases, the children are either in foster care or living with a relative or friend. Our responsibility to the children is straightforward—investigate the situation, talk to all of the interested parties (parents, relatives, foster care providers, teachers, doctors, friends, etc.), and build a relationship with the child(ren) by creating a safe environment for them to talk and to be heard.
We are not the legal representatives for the children, but rather serve as court-appointed advocates. We have a voice in court hearings that can contribute to determining the immediate, and possibly long-term, custody of the child(ren). In a system overloaded with cases and understaffed with social workers, the child’s situation is represented by a compilation of reports, court records, and initial assessments detailing the situation that necessitated state intervention. Due to the immediacy of the need, the stories of the people involved—the children, parents, relatives, and foster care providers—are left out. Trained to ask the right questions, willing to take the time necessary to talk to all persons concerned, and motivated by our commitment to care for children, we serve to tell the court the story of families in distress.
As you might imagine, stories cannot be told by just stating the obvious or framing a situation according to our cultural understanding, especially if the family has recently immigrated to this country. The initial assessments aren’t able to take into account how immigrant families learned childrearing practices in their particular country or region of origin. Knowing that we cannot classify parents as unfit simply because they do not understand our cultural expectations, it is our responsibility to hear and tell the whole story. Official reports do not capture personal stories that include a parent’s cultural norms for childrearing, experiences, education, language difficulties, hardships, fears, or a lack of understanding regarding our systems of law. When we understand the parent, we better understand the child.
Though not all cases involve immigrant families, all involve families with a story. Sometimes those stories portray parents who were victims of poor or absent parenting, making it extremely difficult for them to model what they have never seen. Other families live in poverty and make choices that compromise or jeopardize their well-being and the well-being of their children. One of the benefits of state intervention is that programs for developing parenting skills, receiving financial subsidies, or job training are made available to parents.
Healthy families are the sign of a healthy society. Far too many families in this country are in distress. As an organization, we cannot simply bemoan the sad state of families; we must actively participate in helping to make a change for the children for whom we advocate.