FIJ Quarterly - Fall 2022 Edition

neglectful parent. I am here to tell you that those do not go hand in hand. Good people make mistakes. We all do. I am a survivor of childhood trauma and abuse. I thought I healed those wounds, but they were always there. As an adult, the trauma resurfaced, and I found myself in the grips of alcoholism, something that runs rampant in my family and something that I hoped would never affect me. All I ever dreamt of was breaking the cycle of my family, but even though I had a loving and supportive spouse and two beautiful children at home, it wasn’t enough. After landing a prestigious job at a five-star restaurant, and having to work with a wine sommelier, my alcoholism was triggered, and I started to abuse alcohol. It happened fast and I found myself arrested and incarcerated. When I was going through this trauma, I didn’t have anyone to talk to who could understand what I was going through. I could have really used someone like myself, a parent ally. I was labeled and deemed a child abuser and an unfit parent, something that will stay on my record and name forever! I was forced out of our family home and into homelessness. All the while, my unfailing husband was complying with every task, jumping through every hoop, and trying to hold the family together; his only fault was being married to me. The system forced my husband to choose between our children and me. After 12 years together, we even came to the sad idea of the resolution being divorce, if that’s what it took. We had so many questions and no one to answer them; we were lost. I wish I had known about LSNJ sooner than I did. In the meantime, because our children were removed, we lost our welfare benefits causing us to lose our home and all the precious memories in it; we even lost our beloved pets. With no help, support or resources provided, and eventually seeing myself as the problem, I fled the state. My husband was seen as incapable of parenting his children by himself because we lost our housing. Our children were adopted out to total strangers, and we were just left on our knees in the dust of what was our lives. We needed support, not punishment.

Tell me, if you knew our story, would you still advocate so fiercely for adoption and termination? Would you permanently separate us as a family and prevent five siblings from having a life and future together? Would you allow these traumatic actions that caused a seven-year-old to consider suicide and a young boy to pluck out his own eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair? That’s what separation does. Was that in the best interest of my children? Was I so invaluable as a human being I wasn’t worth the time, empathy, or support? What do you see when you look at me now? The hurt and trauma we are causing by removing children and terminating rights are incomprehensible and monumental. The impact of these actions can span generations! I know our children would have wanted us during our time of struggle! Even now, after all these years, they still want us, but we will forever be terminated from each other. Is that in their best interest? Now What? After removal, children and parents continue to be physically separated for most of the duration of the case. Parents and children have different case plans and are on distinct and separate service tracks. For example, in most places, stranger foster parents neither meet the child’s parents nor assist with visitation or family time. After removal, and while a child is in foster care, parents are not typically included in their children's medical matters nor involved in their children's education, despite retaining the legal right to do both. Parents are not included in their child's daily activities nor involved in any decision-making. Parental input is neither considered nor deemed relevant. The current system is engineered to separate families and not to unify and support families. This is not in a child’s best interest. In making a shift, we must transition from a surveillance agency narrative to a secure and restorative narrative for both parents and children. Children should not be removed from their homes, families, and communities because they are poor. Children should not be

separated from their parents while the parent is expected to resolve the traumatic impact and shrapnel of multigenerational poverty on their own. Yet, the current agency surveillance system often lacks the tools to address the root causes of poverty and instead treats those causes as neglect. The current system needs to help treat conditions of poverty with individualized services and benefits and

eliminate the risk of separation that poor children and families currently face simply because they are poor. Agencies have an affirmative duty to secure concrete services for families, such as services to address housing instability, mental health concerns, and substance use issues.

© Jey Rajaraman

8 | FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022

FIJ Quarterly | Fall 2022 | 9

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