It isn’t just happening in New York. Victims of domestic abuse are losing their rights to the custody of the children they love if they suffer at the hands of their domestic partner or spouse. The worst part is that the children are not only being taken from the parent who suffers the domestic abuse, but they are being placed right into the hands of the abuser. The reason is mostly economic, and many legal scholars are fighting for those who have had to give their children up to the very people who harmed them the most.
The ironic part about the situation is that many children are being taken from the parents who suffer the abuse for two main reasons: either because leaving their abuser has left them with very few financial resources, leading to the children being considered “neglected,” or because the courts insist that the person who was domestically abused failed to protect their child from the abuser. The problem? They are returning children to the root of the problem – the person who perpetrated the domestic abuse that led to the entire situation.
A representative for the state of New York insists that they have no recourse but to remove children from parents that they deem as “unfit” as defined by the law. If the other parent holds a steady job, has no criminal background, and appears to be capable of providing a safe and financially-secure home, then the court has no choice but to choose the more “stable” home – especially in domestic violence cases in NYC where there have been no formal charges made or where the charges have run their timeline.
Even if the child in these cases is not returned to the abusive parent, they are often sent into the foster care system or are turned over to family members of the abusive parent. Tantamount to siding with the person who perpetrates violence, it is an unfair system that blames a woman in a bad situation by putting her in an even worse one – instead of supplying her with the assistance she needs to care for her children properly.
In 2004, the federal court ruled that New York’s Administration of Children’s Services were taking children from the homes of mothers who were being abused, claiming that the mothers were neglectful and that they were failing to protect their children from harm. The problem is that often when a child is removed from a home where the mother has been the victim of domestic abuse, it becomes a clear case of “blame the victim.”
Domestic violence advocates believe that taking children away from mothers who have been the victims of abuse is done for the same reason that many women who are raped become the victim – by putting their character into question. It is as if they are to blame for the incident for not being “strong enough” or “resisting enough.” It’s the same scenario in domestic violence and custody cases: the notion that a woman should be “stronger” than to be a victim – and that if they are not, they aren’t capable of taking care of their child – is rooted in prejudice and fear.
Going forward, more effort needs to be made in training child welfare services to accommodate those women who have been the victims of domestic violence by giving them the resources they need, both physically and financially, to maintain custody of their children. In many cases, it is love for their children that gives them the courage to leave an abusive relationship – but it then becomes the very catalyst to losing them.
Child welfare’s intent is to keep families intact by providing them the support they need. It should never be to take a child from a parent who is doing their best and returning them to the parent who put the family in peril to begin with, regardless of whether that parent has the financial resources to take care of the child’s needs. Clearly, if they abused the mother, they should not be allowed the opportunity to do the same with the child.