A new Michigan law will make it harder for child welfare investigators and family courts to remove children from fit and loving parents.
Last week I enjoyed getting to share with you the good news of Utah’s new law clarifying the legal definition of “neglect.” With as many as 80% of child welfare investigations across the country citing this nebulous charge, we find that providing some limits and definition to just what the term means can be a huge help in reducing inappropriate, unnecessary intrusion into innocent families.
That’s why this week I’m excited to tell you about Michigan’s new law.
SB 420, introduced by Sen. Phillip Pavlov in May of 2017, passed the legislature on February 21 of this year and was signed by Governor Rick Snyder on March 15. Two provisions in the new law will help parents who come into contact with “the system.”
One of the provisions is, like Utah’s law, a clarification of the term, “neglect.”
Until this bill was passed, Michigan law defined “child neglect” like this:
“harm or threatened harm to a child’s welfare by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare that occurs through…[n]egligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care….”
Now, this last section has been edited to read:
“Negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care, though financially able to do so, or by the failure to seek financial or other reasonable means to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.”
What’s the big difference? Until this bill was passed, parents were at risk of losing their children due to “neglect” simply for the “crime” of being poor. The addition of “though financially able to do so” provides a carve-out for those parents who fail to provide for their child simply because they lack the means to do so.
Don’t get me wrong. It is the sacred duty of a parent to meet the real physical and emotional needs of their child. But when they are financially unable to provide enough, this new law directs the state to help the family, not to break the family apart.
Preventing Automatic Termination of Other Children
A second key provision of the law would end the long-held practice of automatically terminating the rights of a parent who has already lost parental rights to a previous child.
If, for instance, a mom a few years ago lost her rights to her now-ten-year-old son due to abuse or neglect, then when it is discovered she is pregnant again, the state would move into position to take this new baby from her care as soon as she is born. There would be no need for an investigation or a trial. She abused or neglected the 10-year-old; it was safe to assume she would harm this new baby in the same way.
The new law has changed all of that. The section of law that orders the department of child services to file for termination of parental rights if “the parent’s rights to another child were terminated” previously now has an added proviso: “…and the parent has failed to rectify the conditions that led to the prior termination of parental rights.”
This means the state must now show not only a prior termination of parental rights order, but also that the parent has not taken effective steps to fix the problem(s) in their parenting. This requires a hearing and a positive showing by the state. That is a long way from the automatic removal to which so many parents have until now had to resign themselves.
After all, that mother may have learned and grown a lot since she lost her son all those years ago. This “second chance” provides her the incentive to make the sacrifices that are necessary to be a good parent to her new baby girl.
Help Us Keep Moving Forward!
We can’t take the credit for these latest bills, but neither do we think it a coincidence that 10 years into our mission of promoting parental rights, laws like these are suddenly being passed. Nor do we think it an accident that, after we invested so much of the last few years in Detroit, Michigan is one of the states showing the greatest gains.
Obviously we are not alone in this fight; other parental rights and family rights groups, like the ones we’re partnering with to amend the Adoption and Safe Families Act, deserve a lot of credit, too. But we are proud to be shaping the culture of America to respect the rights of parents just a little bit more each day.
While other forces are working so hard to rob you of your rights, we are working to open the discussion—to make your friends, neighbors, and lawmakers aware of what is going on. And we are working to pass laws like these to make real changes in Congress and the states.
We have come so far together, but we need your help to continue this slow climb. Would you consider making your best donation today to see more victories like the recent wins in Utah and Michigan?
Thank you as always for standing for parental rights. Together we are making a difference!