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With the world of medical and recreational cannabis rapidly evolving, undoubtedly some of these patients and users are going to be parents. And while we can all agree that we should not make marijuana available to children except in medically necessary situations, we must ask ourselves “Is Child Protective Services going to grow and change with the times?” Unfortunately so far, the answer has been a big fat NO.
Even in states where medical and recreational cannabis use has been legalized, parents are still at risk of having cases opened against them and possibly even their children taken. Live in a state where usage has not yet been legalized, admit to usage even when your children are not around and they can be taken in an instant.
It is not supposed to be this way. Most states have stipulations that drug usage must cause harm or risk of imminent harm to a child before it can be used as a reason for that child’s removal. But CPS routinely ignores this additional stipulation and states that ANY drug use is enough to warrant services and/or removal. And once your children are gone, it is an uphill battle to get them back. Even if you do everything that is asked of you, there is no guarantee that your children will be returned. If your rights are terminated, one of two things can happen: your child can be adopted, or end up in long term foster care, even though the Adoption and Safe Families Act was specifically supposed to keep the second option from happening.
Neither option is good. If a child is adopted, the state will receive a federal incentive and the child will in most cases lose the most important relationship in their lives: the one with their parents. Adopted parents are not required to maintain a relationship with the biological parents, and in many cases grandparents and other family members are not considered or are quickly ruled our before adoption occurs. I don’t have a lot of experience with adoptions, but I routinely hear horror stories from those that do. And I know plenty of kids that were returned to foster care after a “failed adoption”. However, I do have a lot of experience with the foster care system as I was placed in foster care at 12 and spent the next 6 years there until I aged out at 18.
In the case of long-term foster care, the child is at an increased risk (in most cases) of being physically or sexually abused, falling into the sex-slave trade, being placed on multiple medications, being moved around multiple times, or going to multiple schools and falling behind in their education. On average, a foster kid will stay in care 60 months and experience at least 10-12 different placements. It is estimated that 60% of those in the sex-trafficking trade have run away from a foster home or were in some other type of foster care placement. It is very seldom that a youth builds any bonds to people, which it is easy to understand why when you know they are moving every 6 months. Once a youth leaves foster care, 50% will end up homeless within their first year. Only 37% will enroll in higher education and only 2-3% will graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree. Many will find themselves jobless or incarcerated. Half of young women will become parents with one year of leaving care and many will find themselves involved with CPS having their children taken as well.
When I was 27 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The joy of my life. I also became a former foster kid with a CPS case. The original allegation of drug use was quickly ruled as a non-issue, but I learned that simply being a former foster kid was enough of a risk factor to open a case or keep a case open. I spent the next year, being asked to do any parenting classes or other services, just being monitored and going to therapy to talk about the trauma of being a former foster kid with CPS involvement as a parent. I learned that the majority of former foster youth who have their children removed never see those children again. If foster care is that bad, why do we keep placing children into it? How can CPS not acknowledge that it is treating children poorly and continuing the cycle of abuse? Maybe because once they do that, people will start to ask why, and then it will come out about the funds they receive for services and adoptions. And almost no one will stand being told that children are removed to keep our nation’s child welfare systems in business. But it’s true at least on some level.
It’s true that some children truly need to be removed from abusive situations, but if a child is more at risk being placed in foster care, why is that child being removed? If the child isn’t being physically or sexually abused, if they are not at risk of being moved around from stranger to stranger, if they are not at risk of being forced into sexual slavery, why aren’t we working with the families to become better? Many states have acknowledged that their systems are not the best, but why won’t they take real steps to reduce the problem? Why must children and families continue to suffer because of overzealous workers, and a system that quickly terminates the parent child relationship even when the parents jump through all the hoops. Why are children who really need to be in foster care getting sub-par care because the system is overrun with children who do not need to be there in the first place. If we really care about children and families, why does all of this continue to happen?
I do not have all of the answers, but I do have a lot of ideas. And I think if we have real honest conversations about the corruption and dysfunction of our Nation’s current child welfare systems, we can start to build a system that truly protects those who need protecting while also protecting the sanctity of families and keeping then together. That is why I started a White House petition to ask the President to acknowledge the corruption running rampant in our nations child welfare systems and to help reform this system so that those who need protecting can be saved and families that do not need to be separated can be preserved.
If we can reach 100,000 signatures, the White House will acknowledge the petition and issue a response. I know this will not change everything, but it is one step of many needed to make real change in America. Please take a moment to review my petition and sign it if you feel so compelled.
Together we can make a difference.