Parents who are so derelict in their responsibilities to their children that they endanger their lives, abuse them, or neglect them have committed a crime and should be subject to arrest on appropriate charges. As much as children are best raised by their parents, if the parents present a real danger to the welfare of the kids, they have forfeited their rights, and it is the proper role of the state to defend those kids.
But what about well-meaning parents who truly love their kids and want the best for them, but who suffer significant mental impairment to the point where their ability to raise those kids is called into question, their fine motives notwithstanding. Put bluntly, how high should you have to score on an IQ test?
This becomes an issue given the growing tendency for the state to intrude on the rights of parents. It is not hard to imagine a government sitting in judgment over who can and cannot raise their kids, a despicable idea if there ever was one.
This very question is playing out in Oregon.
The nursery in Amy Fabbrini and Eric Ziegler's home is filled with unread children's books and unworn baby clothes. A Winnie the Pooh blanket lies untouched inside a crib where a child has never slept.
For nearly four years, the Redmond couple has been fighting to prove to the state of Oregon that they are intellectually capable of raising their children. The Department of Human Services has removed both of their boys, saying the parents are too mentally limited to be good parents.
Fabbrini, 31, and Ziegler, 38, lost custody of their older son, Christopher, shortly after he was born. Five months ago, the state took their second child, newborn Hunter, directly from the hospital. Both are now in foster care.
“I love kids, I was raised around kids, my mom was a preschool teacher for 20-plus years, and so I've always been around kids,” Fabbrini said. “That's my passion. I love to do things with kids, and that's what I want to do in the future, something that has to do with kids.”
No abuse or neglect has been found, but each parent has a degree of limited cognitive abilities. Rather than build a network of support around them, the state child welfare agency has moved to terminate the couple's parental rights and make the boys available for adoption.
Note that these parents somehow manage to have a home and live lives independent of care. In other words, they can function without being institutionalized. Even though they, themselves are mentally impaired, there is no indication that they would deprive their children of a public education, so it's not like the kids would not have the same educational opportunities as other kids.
The case lays bare fundamental questions about what makes a good parent and who, ultimately, gets to decide when someone's not good enough. And it strikes at the heart of the stark choices child welfare workers face daily: should a child be removed or is there some middle ground?
There's the question. Is there a way to assist these parents without taking their children away? It certainly seems like there ought to be.
“They are saying they are intellectually incapable without any guidelines to go by,” said Sherrene Hagenbach, a former volunteer with the state agency who oversaw visits with the couple and Christopher from last June through August.
Hagenbach is a professional mediator and a board member of Healthy Families of the High Desert. After she told state caseworkers she thought the couple was capable of raising Christopher, she recalls, she was told her volunteer services were no longer needed.
She's spent the past year advocating for Fabbrini and Ziegler.
“They're saying that this foster care provider is better for the child because she can provide more financially, provide better education, things like that,” Hagenbach said. “If we're going to get on that train, Bill Gates should take my children. There's always somebody better than us, so it's a very dangerous position to be in.”
This tests the limits of the state's power to interrupt the normal and natural approach to the raising of children. If the state is truly interested in what is best for these particular children, deference should be given to the parents even if that means providing assistance.
We certainly can list plenty of situations where financial assistance is given out by the state to far less deserving cases than this one.
Source: Oregon Live