Not too long ago, I was hired as a Florida dependency attorney for man recently sent to Federal prison for drug trafficking.
(Note: I didn’t represent him on that charge 😉)
The mother of his child tested positive for meth when the child was born, which resulted in a child removal. The mother was estranged from her own family, so the newborn went immediately into foster care. My client has quite a bit of time yet to serve, so he was hardly an option for child placement - but his old-school Eastern European immigrant family,
(who live in CALIFORNIA!) immediately went to work.
Unbelievably, as a family, they pooled their modest resources and sent Grandpa and Grandma across the continent to offer themselves up as a custody option. They learned that DCF does not readily hand over child custody to anyone, grandparent’s rights be damned. But they were undaunted. Finding a place to live in Pinellas County, signing a month to month lease, buying some diapers, and setting up a nursery was the first step.
On my advice the passed a home study course and appeared at all court hearings.
A month after their arrival, the dependency judge awarded grandpa and grandma temporary custody.
The mother will be allowed a chance to complete her case plan, with their support, but in the meantime, this couple (both over 70 years old) are caring for their healthy newborn grandbaby, with the support of an extended family back in California. I was present when the Child Protection Investigator asked the grandfather why he would go to such lengths and he just shrugged and answered, “because that is my grandson”. He seemed to think it was a strange question.
Hillary Clinton famously copped the line to title her book so many years ago, the term “It takes a Village” has become a politically loaded phrase. If you leave your politics at the door, however, you can plainly see what she was getting at. “It takes a village to raise a child” is actually an African proverb, and it simply a recognition that giving your child the things he really needs goes well beyond a solid income, a gassed-up SUV and pre-arranged play dates. Ideally, parenting can be a communal activity, with help from almost everyone – a task that is not left exclusively to a loving single parent, or even better, an intact nuclear family, or better still, a committed extended family. The hard truth is that today, many children are being raised with none of these things.
The family unit is important today as always.
I’m not an idealist, and I don’t expect child-raising villages to start popping up anytime soon. I do refuse to believe, however, that we can’t do better offering some basic support to neighbors, close friends and family. It is not lost on me that the family in this situation are immigrants who were apparently imbued with values we are so obviously losing. Let’s face it, we would have fewer child protection investigations, fewer child removals, less need for dependency or child welfare lawyers, less crime and less need for criminal lawyers, if we take just a tiny paragraph of a page from my client’s family,
and reclaim our own families as part of our shared responsibility.
It sometimes takes a village and a good attorney to have great outcomes in child custody cases.