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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are Children Almost Always Better Off with Their Biological Parents?

APA In her review of Gone Baby Gone, Kim Kirkland argues that even desperately poor children belong with their biological parents, and she cites the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights to support her position.

Does psychological science have anything to contribute to this debate? How do you feel about this?

Read the Review
ReviewParental Rights Are Human Rights
By Kimberly Kirkland
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2008 Vol 53(25)


Alice Sterling Honig

The situations described are not entirely clarified in this review. Suppose an adopted child or foster child has a sddeply secure attachment to loving parents and the biological parent is not just poor ( which is not a reason for a child to be removed from a family ) , but mentally and emotionally not OK.. perhaps n drugs, very narcissistic, sexually abusive, neglectful ( I have seen the diaper area red and bleeding on a baby with such a biological parent !). These cases should be decided individually. Strong support of good contraception should be a civic it is in France and many European countries. It is a sorrow and a disgrace in our wonderful nation that we often through cultural pressures force children who have become pregnant through impulsive or coerced behaviors to bear children!. We can do much better than that if we would support strong Planned Parenthood efforts and enlightened sex education in shcools. Then these problems would diminish ( although tragedies will still occur in the real world.) We need strong parenting courses in high schools that teach positive discipline methods, teach the crucial nature of how to build secure attachments between little ones and the nurturing parent. We have so much research data and most schools do not teach positive human communication techniques, or how to build a more peacegful, prosocial social fabric .

Cynthia Sambataro

I am a pediatric nurse practitioner with a speciality in psychiatry, I am 1 year away from completion of my doctorate in clinical psychology. I am also an adoptive parent.

I concur with Alice Sterling Honig's previous post. Speaking from experience the children are not always better served by preserving parental ties. In my adopted daughters case in addition to poverty due to chronic substance abuse issues there were also mental health issues. The biological mother was abusive and narcisstic with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. At 10 years of age the biological mother stabbed her brother and set him on fire, was institutionalized from the age 10 to 15 returned to a dysfunctional home taken off medication which led to a long term addiction to crack and meth. My adopted daughter has severe issues rooted in early neglect and abuse. The case exemplifies the potential harm of leaving children with biological parents without scrutiny of the damage occuring to the children mentally and physically. Early CPS documents indicated the older siblings had years of abuse and neglect on behalf perpertrated by the biologial mother.The biological father also a meth addict was in prison.

My daughter who is the youngest was rejected in the hosptial which is documented in Labor and Delivery records, she was given Narcan at birth due to maternal IV Meth use during gestation. The mother stated in aggressive and violent language she did not want to take my daughter home, yet the system turned a blind eye and allowed the biological mother to leave the hospital with her.

Preservation of the family unit led to 3 profoundly disturbed children of whom the two older children have been institutionalized for psychiatric disturbances.

While I do not ascribe to the separation of children from good and loving parents who happen to be economically challenged, the question better asked is: What is the decision making tree or protocol that leads authorities to the termination of parental rights in an effort to protect the children.

Elizabeth Jacobs

I have served on the Arizona Foster Care Review Board (FCRB) for over ten years and also serve as trainer in the area of attachment and bonding for Arizona's new FCRB members, Court Appointed Special Advocates, and Family Court Judges. There is one criterion that is used in our dependency system for each case plan decision, whether it be "return-to-parent," or "severance and adoption" (or another case plan option)... and that criterion is "Best interests of the child." If a child has been in foster care for an inordinant amount of time and bonded to foster parents and it is in his or her best interest to stay there rather than risk return to an abusive or neglectful parent who may have completed all the required case plan tasks, but about whom there still exists uncertainty about the whether they will be able to parent the child, the child should stay with the adoptive family. That doesn't mean, of course, that the child can not have a relationship with the parent if the foster/adopt parents approve.

I just completed a book entitled, "Will I Ever See You Again? Attachment challenges for foster children: A primer for the adults in their lives" in which my research has confirmed for me that our focus on the "best interest of the child" is exactly correct when addressing abuse and neglect situations.

Elizabeth Jacobs
GCC Psychology Department
Glendale, Arizona

Suzanne LeSure, Ph.D.

The reviewer mixes apples and organges. The wholescale resettlement of children from impoverished circumstances to ostensibly more secure families may represent cultural genocide, but has nothing to do with the careful deliberation given to most permanent custody decisions in this country. In a quarter of century of psychological practice with children and families, I have never seen a child removed from a home unless there was documented abuse or extreme neglect. Even then, parents are given considerable time to remediate and make safe changes, before judges consider permanent custody. Many adoptions of older children are open adoptions, in which children continue to have contact with biological families while growing in a safe and loving home. Do all children mourn for biological families when they are seperated? Yes. Do children belong with abusive families? No.

Preston A. Britner, Ph.D.

Rights of children and parents should be respected. In most instances, children's best interests and parents' intentions and behaviors are nicely aligned. However, in instances in which they are not and in which parents have not responded to prevention and intervention attempts, the state must focus on children's best interests (e.g., child protection cases within child welfare agencies).

"Are Children Almost Always Better Off with Their Biological Parents?" No. But the standard for removal/termination of parental rights must be high. We should focus on what we know in psychological science and human development/ family studies and child welfare fields to help the courts and NGOs with research that informs decisions about children's best interests.

In the case of international adoptions, abject poverty (as a risk) must be balanced against child-parent attachments (as protective factors) and parent and family rights (UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child) in any such decisions.

In the end, the focus must be on building and supporting QUALITY relationships, whether biological, adoptive, or otherwise.

Preston A. Britner, Ph.D.,
Human Development & Family Studies, U. of Connecticut, USA

Noach Milgram

In general the meek do not inherit the earth. As Mordred says in a version of the King Arthur parable, they inherit the dirt. The message of the review and the film is that educated, intelligent economically successful people have no right to exercise the power their status gives them to make decisions about the lives of less powerful people. If they were to ask themselves whether they would support their actions being emulated across the board (Kant's categorical imperative), they might pause and think how they would feel and behave if their parental rights were violated by still more powerful people and agencies.

Unquestionably those in power have consistently imposed their will and their image of the good upon others. Films such as Children of a Lesser God (acknowleging the right of hearing impaired persons to use sign language and to form socially intimate relationships primarily if not exclusively with other signers); or plays such as Ibsen's Doll House (in which a woman rejects the intellectually inferior role foistered upon her by her husnad and by male society in general) are further illustrations of resistance to the universal tendency to equate Right with Might.

Karen Conner

I am so glad to see the comments posted by the previous respondents. I quite agree the reviewer of the film [emphasis]Gone, Baby, Gone[/emphasis] has compared apples with oranges.
Of course taking aboriginal children away from their families just because they are aborigines (or similar circumstances) is wrong and ultimately not in the best interests of the children (e.g, Rabbit Proof Fence).
However, this film was framing a more subtle set of issues around fit parenthood and the best interests of the child, not the dominant group taking as they please from the subordinate group. The mother in this film was portrayed as barely knowing her child, confusing the name of her favorite doll, leaving her in the back of a car to roast while she did drugs, and leaving her to be babysat by a man she barely knew (Affleck's character) while she went out on a date. All these actions are better understood as neglect rather than active abuse, and I don't doubt the mother loves her child but what she doesn't do is care for her.
And the sacrilegious truth is the mother in the film cannot be taken out of context and provided with unlimited resources (financial, educational, practical) to move her in the direction of improved parenthood. Little Amanda will be looking at a life of poverty (which is unfortunate but not an indication of poor parenting) and neglect, likely leading to depression, apathy, rage, and attachment issues, all of which also cannot be taken out of context for treatment. Amanda's best interests clearly seemed to me to lie with the police captain, a view shared by another police detective, Affleck's girlfriend, and Amanda's uncle.


If an adult is abusive of course than yes the child is better off with the adopted parents. But how many parents are abusive.

However if its just a matter of poverty, to me the best answer would be to help the poor KEEP their children than to take their children away. Unless of course they don't want them. But the whole the child will be better of with me because I'll give them the best schools.

If its only about caring about the child than why not pay for the child's schooling but let them stay with their family?


To me the helping the child go to school is the far more selfless than too do.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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