Beall: No way to raise a child

BY MIKE BEALL | OCTOBER 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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On Oct. 24, police in Des Moines arrested a couple for child endangerment. They had been raising their child in an unheated garage in which, at the time of their arrest, the temperature was 42 degrees.

The police report states that there was “random junk and trash strewn about,” that the 9-month-old baby was sleeping next to a large fixed-blade hunting knife, and that there were several pipes used for smoking narcotics and K2 (a synthetic drug) lying around.        

The mother and her boyfriend were released from jail on bail, but the Iowa Department of Human Services has taken custody of the child. The mother has since gone to the Des Moines Register and anyone else who will listen, pleading that what the state has done is “putting my baby through hell right now.”

She knows this from personal experience. The mother herself was taken from her parents when she was 5 years old and spent her entire childhood going from foster home to foster home without a permanent set of guardians. 

In a sense, she is right to be concerned about the state’s decision to take custody of her child — the system can be flawed. No child should be forced to live without family, and I am sure that there are at least a few individuals who were never adopted and would have been better off even with bad parents. 

So this case raises a tricky question: How far should the state go in determining if parents are unable to take care of their children? 

Well, this is the modern age, and in this age, it is the job of the state to protect its most vulnerable citizens. This includes children when parents are unable to provide for them or put them in danger.

And danger is exactly what this mother put her child in. Admittedly smoking drugs in the vicinity of a baby and living without heat? In the last week, it has gotten down into the 30s; it will soon be much colder, and I don’t think I need to explain why drugs and babies are not a good combination.

In cases like this, the need for government intervention is clear, but in murkier cases of allegedly unfit parents, the benefits of removing children from their parents and placing them in foster care are virtually nonexistent.

According to a 2007 study from a researcher at MIT, in cases in which investigators are torn on whether to remove children from their parents, the children tend to perform better later in life when they remain at home rather than enter foster care. This is especially true for older kids.

It’s true that the current system can be deeply flawed, particularly around the margins.

The mother in Des Moines has a point about how the system can make mistakes sometimes, yes, but she shouldn’t be worried about the system. In this case, criticism of the state isn’t valid — the danger was clear.

If she is sincere in her desire to keep her child out of foster care, she shouldn’t make up excuses and blame the police for taking her child. She should try to realize why her living situation was dangerous and how she could modify her lifestyle and potentially get her child back.

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