My Day in Family Court: Our Lawmakers Are Focused on the Wrong Things
Published in Bonnie Jean Feldkamp
I spent a day in family court earlier this month to observe and learn about what families and children in crisis face in my community. I watched as an eldest sister accepted custody of her six younger siblings, a foster family moved forward with adoption proceedings and one father got custody of his infant following the tragic death of the baby's mother. I also witnessed an arrest and listened to a request for a protective order. One prosecutor I spoke with told me, "People like to say, 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps,' but these kids don't have any boots." What they have is a guardian ad litem and a team of state workers doing their best to do right by each of them.
Our lawmakers would be well served by spending some time observing family court proceedings. These so-called culture wars have us focused on the wrong things in our communities and nowhere does this ring truer than in our state legislatures. To read the laws getting most media attention, you would not think that more than nine million children in the United States consistently go hungry. Or that one in seven children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year or that 2.5 million children are homeless in America.
You would not know that these fundamental concerns exist if you only follow the legislation moving through states. Our lawmakers are more concerned about which books are available in the library than they are about the fact that one in four children in the U.S. grows up without learning how to read at all. Legislators care more about gender identity and policing bathroom use than they do about whether a child has enough food or a roof over their heads.
State social workers, public defenders and prosecutors are criminally overworked, underpaid and undervalued, and yet our elected officials fail to provide state social and safety workers with the support and infrastructure to do their jobs and care for the innocent children of our communities.
As a country and as a community we consistently speak of crime prevention. We want to clean up our streets. We want to hold people accountable. However, we want to do so only at the point when a crime is committed. We fail to think of what leads to that life of crime. Community accountability begins with investing in our children. The data is indisputable. The fact is that two out of three students in the U.S. who cannot read properly by fourth grade end up on state supported services or in jail. If you are concerned about handing out money to adults via state provided social services, then you must start with interventions that support children born into poverty.
We focus on, fight for and display what we value, and our state legislators are showing up and ringing through loud and clear to fight for what they value. Anti-critical race theory bills show they value white history. Anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills show they value cisgender heterosexuality. Failure to support social work, police reform and summer lunches for children show that they value and will fight for privilege.
What will you show up and fight for at the voting booth? I hope it is for the fundamental needs of our children and families.
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