Who’s raising the child

April 17, 2013

With the current Supreme Court case about who should raise a child of an Indian father in the news, I was thinking of other cases (some legal cases, some only social worker cases) I’ve known about that seem to fit a similar pattern.  I don’t know all the facts to all the cases, including this one, but I am curious about whether people are taking into account that as an emotional matter, there is a difference for some people between having the biological mother of their child raise the child, or even their extended family, and placing the child with “strangers.” I would say that if and when a mother decides to place a child for adoption, the parental rights of the biological father are revisited and he either consents to the adoption and relinquishes his rights anew, or he takes responsibility for the child’s care in some way.

And there is a difference between asking a father about terminating his parental rights in the context of asking for financial support from him and asking him as a general matter whether he wishes to sever his ties to the child.  We can have laws that predicate parental rights on certain kinds of behavior, but this will not change emotional structures — a man may flee from financial responsibility without changing his sense of connection with his offspring.  We can disapprove of this til the cows come home, but not dealing with it realistically apparently produces fathers reappearing and inserting themselves into proceedings at inconvenient times.  Fathers know of cases in which by continuing their parental rights they end up with lots of (financial) burden and not the benefit of actual involvement in the child’s life — a new boyfriend of the mother, her mother, some other relative of hers may help her push him out of the picture, to use the system to curtail his rights, especially if she has more social resources to do this than he.  And I know of cases in which it seemed pretty clear that the biological mother had been a part of orchestrating a situation in which the father could disrupt an adoptive placement she had had second thoughts about.

I guess my thought is that to resolve these situations, we need changes in social working more than we need fine legal distinctions and interpretations by sophisticated jurists.

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