Carole Jenny, professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Protection Program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, recommends the following common-sense principles be adopted to protect children from abuse and neglect:
1. Anyone who seriously injures a child, should take responsibility for his or her actions. Family courts should insist that parents be held responsible for their behaviors. If the person who hurts the child expresses regret or a desire to change, he or she should get all possible help to become a safe and effective parent.
2. Children shouldn’t be required by the courts to visit with people who molest them. Children deserve to feel safe. While judges often value parents’ rights to have access to their children, the child should be given greater consideration when these two principles conflict.
3. Family courts are different than other courts and should utilize different resources. In addition to enforcing the laws of the state, family court judges must ensure the health and welfare of helpless children.
Since most judges have little or no formal training in psychology, child abuse, child development, family dysfunction or substance abuse, or in the dynamics of victimization, judges should have access to experts in these fields. Rather than depend on “dueling experts” presented by the opposing sides, courts should have access to a panel of neutral experts.
4. Open up family courts to the light of day. While the identity and privacy of abused and neglected children and their families should be protected, the mistakes and inadequacies of the child protection system is hidden because family courts are closed. When judges make bad decisions and children get hurt, there is no accountability. When families fail because there are not enough resources to help them, no one knows about it. Incompetence is completely shielded from public scrutiny in family court.
“A Contrarian’s Suggestion for the Child Protection System,” The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Volume 18, Number 4, April 2002, p.8.
Published in ERN May/June 2002 Volume 15 Number 5