Child protection, by its very nature, will enter a family and feel like a divisive force to many. This may be true whether the child remains in the home or not. Parents being told that things must change - and being so told by powerful outsiders - can naturally garner some resistance.
For parents who are faced with very large struggles (addiction, serious domestic violence, extremes in poverty, mental illness to name the big ones), child protection often means that their children will be taken from them. An incapacity to make some fairly significant improvements will mean that several will lose their children through permanent guardianship orders or termination of parental rights. Those children will grow up in foster or adoptive homes with varying degrees of success or failure.
Cat McShane, writing in last Sunday's Guardian newspaper in the UK, spoke about Project Prevention. This is a very controversial effort by an organization to essentially stop drug addicts from procreating. As it says on its web site, "Project Prevention offers cash incentives to women and men addicted to drugs and/or alcohol to use long term or permanent birth control." Those who believe that there is a morality to ending the inter generational cycle of dysfunctional families will find some solace in this approach. Critics argue that the project simply pays addicts money to buy drugs in exchange for their fertility - an exchange that some might see as a pretty cheap exchange but not unlike the desperate exchanges that addicts will make many times in their lives.
Those who work in child protection will see some merit in the exchange as they go about their daily work with children affected in utero by alcohol and drugs as well as those who have come to live in the utter chaos of their parent's attempts to survive from one fix to the next.
McShane's column shows that addicts can turn their lives around and go on to become successful parents. He perhaps dismisses too easily the costs being paid by the children born into addiction. His stories of hope are welcome but so must also be the reality for the children who live with the legacy of their parent's addictions.
This is a tough moral debate - pay for avoiding the huge costs to society arising from caring for these children or prevent the births in the first place. While Project Prevention is voluntary, one is reminded of prior efforts by society to prevent unfit parents from giving birth. It reminds me of the eugenics movement where society sterilized thousands of mentally retarded people in order to ensure that they did not have children. While these were forced sterilizations, the moral judgment of who is fit to have a child and who not is a driving force in both.
The other side of the coin is seen in families who adopt children from the system. As someone who has worked with adoptive families, I am struck by the degree to which they are unprepared to deal with the challenges of children born into abuse, neglect and addiction. Thus, another Guardian article last weekend by Tracy McVeigh was not surprising as the challenges faced by these families was outlined - greater challenges than expected; not being told the full truth about the child and not having the full range of supports needed for the challenges being faced. This article is worth a read
McShane's article is also worth a read as it is thought provoking. You can find it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/nov/07/families-divided-by-the-state?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+socialservicesnews+%28Social+Services+News+from+IRISS%29
You can find Project Prevention at http://www.projectprevention.org/