Now here's some judicial action that's ACTUALLY anti-family

This mother was convicted of a felony for sending her kids to school in the district where their dad lives, rather than the district where she lives. The mother, who is studying to be a teacher, won't be able to teach because of the felony conviction. The father is charged with a felony of grand theft for defrauding the school system for two years of educational services for the girls.

In case it isn't obvious by the treatment they received, this is a low-income Black family. The mother lives in a housing project served by poor schools.

Aside from the ugly race and class discrimination here, this ruling is also bad news for families of any constellation other than legally married straight couples with biological children who all live in the home together. This wasn't a case of the family using the address of a random friend (in which case the district would have the right to tell them it didn't satisfy the residency requirements of the district, but which shouldn't warrant criminal charges). This family registered the children using the address of their own father. Unless the parents have opted to go to court for custody or child support reasons, the court has no business defining this family against their will. It isn't any of their business to get into where the children spend more time or who is supporting them more. Both homes are the children's homes. Like most families, they probably have good reasons they've made whatever arrangements they've made, like around finances or work schedules or health reasons, but again, none of that is anyone's business. If these children spent most of their time with a grandparent or a family friend, but without any legal arrangement, would the court say they couldn't use their mother's address either? This is why we need more legal protections for varying family structures, not laws or interpretation of laws that define families however it's convenient for the authorities.

So now this mother can't finish her degree and become a teacher, and both parents are facing stress and legal issues that will mess up their whole lives. All of this happened basically because they weren't married and living in the same home, or weren't the sort of people who draw up fancy legal documents stating that the children primarily live with their father.


4 comments:

Jodie said...

The children weren't going to school in *their* father's district, it was their mother's father, and they clearly did not live with him. I don't think that should necessitate the legal issues that came about, but it's not quite the same as if it were the children's father.

eeka said...

Oh, you're right. Thanks. I think I mixed it up with that other story where the school district was spending money on spies to see which house the kids spent more time at.

It gets a little murkier when it's a grandparent, but still, what? I work with a number of Asian and various Caribbean families where in their respective cultures the grandparents have more say than the parents in many aspects, and this country just lacks a construct for that. Also common among certain urban subgroups where you ask your parents before you make any decisions about your kids.

Many of these families the parents have their own home, but the kids go there after school, everyone is over at the grandparents' every day and the kids have personal space both places. The school technically considers this fraudulent since the parents have another residence, unless they get a court order saying the grandparents are guardians, which how could they when the parents are fit parents?

Same with designating more than two parents at the doctor's office; some of the clinics are quite used to this, but others want legal paperwork beyond just the parent signing off that the grandparents can also bring them or call the doctor.

Jodie said...

I think the fact that she was charged with a felony is unconscionable, but I'm not finding much in any report that they spent any time over at the grandfather's beyond the occasional visit, so I don't think it's fair to make that argument here. If it were a family where the grandparents were in the parenting role, or other role like you mention, I think it would be a much better case.

Now that I prescribe- I get why some clinics want more than just a paper saying it's okay. I'm not talking about simply bringing a child to an appointment, but any time where the caregiver would have to make a decision about continuing/changing/starting a medication, I need a legal guardian there. We unfortunately live in a litigious society. I can do the best job in the world prescribing, and something bad can still happen.

On the other hand, if the non-guardian caregiver is the one who is with the child most of the time, I want to hear from them.

At the clinic where I mot recently worked as a therapist, there were family friends/cousins/siblings/other relatives bringing kids in for appointments all the time, and I have no problem with that, as long as I see the parent/guardian/primary caregiver every now and then and someone is available by phone, but it's a whole other story when you're prescribing a medication that you know has a big potential for bad side effects, which most of the psych drugs do. I don't know any way around that. Maybe if it's a family I know really well, and I can also talk to the legal guardian, but when outpatient providers are carrying caseloads of 300+ patients, that gets pretty tough.

(My case load is relatively small, ~75, and most of my consents are done by phone and witnessed by a nurse or social worker, but it's a totally differnet setting. It still has to be the legal guardian who gives permission though, even if they don't see the child).

eeka said...

Yeah, I definitely get the legal consent part. It would seem though that there should be a construct for designating as many legal guardians as one wants without having to a) spend money on legal proceedings and/or b) go through channels that make it seem that there are unfit parents or other dysfunction involved, when all that's really at hand is that the family is, say, Vietnamese, and it's totally normal that the grandparents have the same authority to make decisions as the parents do.

It's also interesting/frustrating that we tend to default to parents as having legal decision-making power, yet require documentation from others. In our program, we don't require a birth certificate or adoption papers or ID or really anything. Any person could come in and say that they're the parent (bio or adoptive) of a child and they want services for the child, and we don't question it. They could make up the kid's birth date or name or anything, really. I doubt many people if any have done this, but just saying. Yet if they're honest and claim to be anyone but the parent, we ask for something showing that the kid is in their care. If they say they're a bio parent or adoptive parent or even foster parent, we don't ask for ID or anything. The local public school here does require ID and birth certificates and stuff.

(In the job where I work entirely with young children, we don't require that the person signing stuff has legal custody, whether it's an aunt who's stepped in with the parent out of the picture or minimally in it, or a stepparent who isn't legally married to the legal parent, because our kids are little enough that we aren't doing stuff with a lot of potential for harm -- we don't do 1:1 alone with the kid, and we mostly give the families strategies for doing therapies with their kids. We do require though that if the parent isn't parenting, the person who is at least has some paperwork indicating that the child is in their care. They can then consent to things, unlike with meds or with older kids where we'd need the consent of the legal parent or DCF or whoever the legal guardian is.)