The other night I happened upon an old movie starring Cheryl Ladd and the late Robert Ulrich. In the movie, Cheryl Ladd’s character played an abusive mother. The movie did a good job of highlighting the issues of abuse and neglect within families. It also showed the challenges families with little money face in trying to participate in counseling in order to work through these serious family issues. Throughout the years, I have either had a client become involved in a child welfare case, or I had a client referred to me who was involved in a child welfare case. As a mental health practitioner, most of my experience with child welfare cases involved a parent struggling with a mental illness and charged with neglect.
As I began to study child welfare cases further, I learned that approximately one in five of them involve a parent with a mental illness (Richards, 2011). Through the years, my clients with children often had difficulty managing their own lives, and many of them found parenting overwhelming. I see my basic role as helping clients work through their symptoms and achieve as much functionality and personal fulfillment as possible, but if a client is also a parent, I believe the family has a purpose and that is being together. Making a recommendation for reunification means figuring out what is good enough.
The charge of abuse or neglect tends to breed mistrust of the legal system by parents. While one can easily understand the resentment toward the courts for parents accused of being unfit, it may not accurately express the views of the legal system. In 1996, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote about the significance of family preservation by expressing how terminating parental rights destroys family bonds and is a “devastatingly adverse action” (M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 1996 as cited in Wattenberg, Kelley and Kim, 2001, p. 406). She wrote this decision based on a woman who was accused of both abuse and neglect, but who did not have the ability to pay court fees.
The complicated area of family reunification can be viewed from various angles, and my interest in this site looks at mediation in all areas of family life. I am in the process of including mediation into my private practice as I believe it complements my interests and also provides me with an avenue for helping families make the best decisions that work for them.
Richards, J. (2011). The challenges mentally ill people face in family court. Family Law
Wattenberg, E., Kelley, M. & Hyungo, K. (2001). When the rehabilitation ideal fails: A study of parental rights termination. Child Welfare 80(4) 405-31.