reflections on a termination case

Purple vetch and white yarrow bloom all over the back of our property: our field is now a meadow. It’s amazing how life goes on. . .but then, wildflowers have a resilience that is beyond certain sabotaging human machinations, particularly the ordinary and necessary human machinations known as human government.

There is no question that God ordained human government; and, even as He did so, He issued appropriate warnings about the human rights human government would abridge. But the people of Israel demanded a king.

“6 Give us a king to judge us. . . .” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (1Samuel 8:6, 10-18, ESV)

Not having trusted in God’s own governance, we the people have a long- established, largely unquestioned, history of human government to order the spheres of their lives, and to protect and discipline them.

My husband closed an excruciating case this week. He represented a mother of two children and one on the way, whose parental rights the State sought to terminate. Her third child would be born into the waiting arms of someone else whom the State approved.

Whether my husband is out on the tractor or before the court, I enjoy watching him work. I’ve worked in the field of public health and I’m a retired attorney. I took an interest in this case because of this mother’s pluck: she’s no “mope.” So I sat in on most of the trial. I’ll call the mom Rikki.

Rikki is diagnosed as developmentally impaired, with a bi-polar disorder of one type or other, and near-average intelligence. It seems that fairly obvious safety concerns don’t particularly occur to her, but once instructed that, for instance, it isn’t safe for the baby to pick up and eat puppy poo (the term all the professionals on the witness stand used), she immediately implements the correction.

A fleet of psycho-social therapists, social workers, a guardian ad litem, and a smug foster mother whose chief delight in life appeared to be brandishing the deficiencies of natural parents whose place she has taken, all testified as to the deficiencies in Rikki’s housekeeping, awareness of safety concerns, and mental instability. The bleak humanistic theme of doom permeated the testimony: She can’t do better. She’ll never improve. And she’s a snotty little rebel who doesn’t even appreciate what we’re doing for her!

She does appreciate their efforts, but not entirely. She doesn’t find it quite fair that she can’t qualify for certain programs she feels would help her improve her parenting skills. She fails to qualify because her IQ is too high. The State’s logic seems to be that Rikki isn’t stupid enough to learn.

Her friends upheld her well and drew a far sunnier portrait of a young, once-married mom, whose life was catapulted into the State Child Protective Services dragnet. One evening, Rikki, her baby in her arms, tripped over something that was out of place, and fell on the baby. The baby’s skull was fractured. The ER visit saved the baby and resulted in a CPS investigation. The rest, like Rikki’s family, is history.

I have to say that the judge ruled correctly. He applied the law to the facts and his sheer horror over puppy poo in the house was no doubt appropriate. He served justice as protector of the helpless. His duty lay with the best interest of the child, not with the mother and any future virtues she might or might not acquire. He served the will of the king we demanded around 1120 BC. But with the best of kings or the worst of kings, some things are just hard. Some things are just sad.

My fervent hope for Rikki is that her life, now a cropped, scorched field, might be at last a meadow.


1 Comment

Filed under People, Places, & Things

One response to “reflections on a termination case

  1. Anonymous

    Oh, I will pray for her.


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