Friday, September 26, 2008

Whom is this law supposed to benefit?

The Associated Press reported on September 26, 2008, that on September 24th in Nebraska, 11 children (9 of them siblings) were abandoned at two different hospitals under the state's so-called "Safe Haven" law. (See the full Boston Globe story here.)

According to the article,
Todd Landry, director of Health and Human Services' division of Children and Family Services, said that in nearly every case, the parents who left their children felt overwhelmed and had decided they didn't want to be parents anymore.

In my opinion it is disastrous to let children be dumped like so much not-worthy-of-my-time-to-repair-but-too-good-for-the-trash "Free-cycle" material, especially when states can achieve the same goal by just making it clear that they do not intend to prosecute troubled parents who seek help when they are overwhelmed with child-rearing.

Massachusetts has a "Baby Safe Haven Law" but it only applies to babies 7 days old or less. It is still problematic, though, because it permits the voluntarily-abandoning-parent to do so without providing any information about him/herself or the child. There is then no ability to notify the other parent nor any other family member who might be interested. The babies so abandoned are turned into complete foundlings without any birth-family history, medical history or sense of place in the world that can be difficult to overcome even in the most caring of adoptive homes.

As a society we should be able to help struggling parents and their children without the need to say "Children Wanted - No Question Asked."

Saturday, May 24, 2008


A young mother's apparently disturbed young friend steals her baby Thursday night so on Friday
the Department of Social Services took custody of the baby and his 16-month-old sister, and Sterrett's third child, a 2-year-old boy, was placed with relatives, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.

DSS previously investigated Sterrett for alleged neglect involving one of her other children. That case was closed last year, according to Alison Goodwin, a spokeswoman for DSS, who gave no details.
Does DSS not realize, like the Texas authorities in the FLDS case didn't realize, that they need specific, articulable "reasonable cause to believe that the removal of the child is necessary to protect him from further abuse or neglect"? See Mass. General Laws chapter 119, section 51B (emphasis added). Doesn't "further" imply that there had to have been some abuse or neglect in the first place?

Nothing in the Globe article about poor Ms. Sterrett's troubles indicates that there was any evidence of
reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of eighteen years is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse inflicted upon him which causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare including sexual abuse, or from neglect, including malnutrition, or who is determined to be physically dependent upon an addictive drug at birth
which is the applicable statutory definition from the infamous section 51A.

It's hard to tell for sure from the Globe article, but it seems as if this is another case of DSS breaking up a family in the name of protecting children from a parent they don't need protection from. Will the Globe report on Tuesday, after Ms. Sterrett's 72-hour hearing , if she gets her children back from the juvenile court judge? Will DSS apologize or even have its spokesperson report that they were wrong if Ms. Sterrett does get her children back?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives even young mothers the right not to have their children seized by the state without probable cause.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Now they're suspending students for writing a list of names!

According to the Boston Globe:

High schoolers investigated
By Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / May 23, 2008

Two students at Silver Lake Regional High School are being kept out of school while police investigate whether lists the two students made of fellow students constitute a threat to the school community, the school district's superintendent said yesterday.

A teacher became concerned when she saw a male student throw away a piece of paper last Friday. She retrieved it and saw a list of four names. On Monday, a female student was found to be writing a list containing two names.

"At this point in time, we're taking it very seriously. . . . Frankly, we take any threat as a serious threat until it's sort of proved otherwise," said Superintendent John Tuffy, who would not describe what raised school officials' suspicions about the lists.

Tuffy said it was not clear if the two students were linked.

"That's being looked into right now. There are a number of questions that we all would like answers to," he said.

Kingston Police Chief Joseph Rebello did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

Read it online here.


After attending "School Discipline, Juvenile Justice and the Realities of Race" sponsored by The Boston Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, the Juvenile Justice Center at Suffolk University Law School and the Criminal Law Section of the Boston Bar Association at The Boston Public Library Tuesday night and being reminded of the School to Prison Pipeline, I couldn't help but be astounded at the evidence of overuse of zero tolerance policies that seems to be exhibited by the above article.

It amazes me what we criminalize these days and what our "authorities" want to "take seriously".

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Termination of Parental Rights Does not End Child Support Obligation (Illinois Supreme Court rules)

Termination of Parental Rights Does not End Child Support Obligation
by Barbara Glesner Fines, Ruby M. Hulen Professor of Law, University of Missouri-Kansas City

In an unpublished opinion, the Illinois Supreme Court has held that the termination of parental rights does not extinguish a child support obligation unless the child is being adopted. Thus, a father whose parental rights are terminated must continue to pay support for a child in foster care. Relying on statutory language that refers to "a child sought to be adopted" the court held that merely being available for adoption is not sufficient to sever the responsibilities to the child. Three judges dissented. Illinois DHFS v. Warner, Ill., Illinois Supreme Court, January 25, 2008.

To view the opinion and for more information, go to the Family Law Prof Blog at

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

CHINS cases: Parents have the right to counsel.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged today that parents are entitled to intervene and to have counsel (appointed if indigent) in Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases when the court is considering granting custody of their children to DSS. Describing the statutory scheme as one capable of "substantial" intrusion on the parent-child relationship and children as "'those most dear' to parents", Justice Ireland (a former Juvenile Court judge) ruled that "pursuant to G.L. c. 119, § 29, after a child is adjudicated a child in need of services, a parent is entitled to counsel at the dispositional phase of the proceeding if custody of the child could be granted to the department." In the Matter of HILARY (and a consolidated case), SJC-10036 (argued October 2, 2007, decided February 5, 2008).