Parents Losing Children for Being Too Poor?

Lately we’ve been sharing a lot about what we’re doing in Washington and what we’re urging you to do in your state or district to promote the Parental Rights Amendment. Apart from the tragedy of Charlie Gard, though, there hasn’t been much time to talk about the “why” of it all.

You have heard the news. You’ve seen the horror stories. They are reasons you signed up with us in the first place.

But this week an opinion piece in a national publication once again put a finger on the pulse of a big part of what is wrong in America today. And it’s a problem we can help fix.

Poverty a Crime?
In her New York Times article “Live in a Poor Neighborhood? Better Be a Perfect Parent,” Emma S. Ketteringham painted a poignant and tragic picture of what it is to be in poverty and constantly at risk of losing your children as a result. It’s not that they are not imperfect parents, but that most of them are no more imperfect than the rest of us.

“A parent in Park Slope, where I live, can deal with depression or anxiety privately. A parent in the South Bronx cannot,” Ketteringham writes. “A parent in Park Slope can smoke marijuana or lose her temper and still be considered a good parent. A parent in the South Bronx would lose her kids for months, if not years, and have to go to drug-treatment and parenting classes to get custody back.”

This is not to say white parents or affluent parents of any hue don’t also see their parental rights threatened every day. Ketteringham is pointing out just one piece of the broader “parental rights” issue. In her words, “parents of color in the Bronx are held to a standard that few white parents in more privileged neighborhoods are expected to meet.”

Our own research shows that this experience, while closely linked to a certain demographic, is not unique to the South Bronx. In Michigan, for instance, more than 90% of all child welfare cases cite “neglect” as one of the factors leading to child removal. And a greatly disproportional number of those cases are in low-income minority homes. As in the Bronx, the state has effectively made it a crime to be poor, and the punishment is the loss of your family.

We Need the Parental Rights Amendment
You don’t need a Ph.D. to know there is something inherently wrong with a system that routinely destroys the families of the poor while finding “grace” for the wealthy. But what is to be done about it?

For starters, the Parental Rights Amendment would establish and protect as fundamental the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. And that means all parents—rich parents, poor parents, white parents, black parents, Hispanic, Asian, or any other kind of parents. It means parents from Silicone Valley to the South Bronx. (To be clear, we do not mean abusive or truly negligent parents; no one has a right to abuse a child.)

The Amendment would also prohibit government at any level from harming these rights without showing a compelling governmental interest as applied to the person. This would effectively preserve (or, in some places, restore) the rebuttable presumption that fit parents act in the best interest of their children. (This “rebuttable presumption” is the family court equivalent of “innocent until proven guilty.”)

Whether you’re a poor, black, single mom in the South Bronx working two jobs to keep the lights on, or a middle-class white British family with $1.7 million in donations to help your dying son, you know nothing is more important than the liberty to take care of your child as only you know how.

We are all parents first. The Parental Rights Amendment’s protection of parental rights will go a long way to removing bias and inequality from the way the system operates—because investigators and judges will no longer have the latitude to call parents “negligent” if they have no proof to back it up.

And after all, isn’t that as it should be?

This is why we are standing together to promote the Parental Rights Amendment.

Will You Help?

  • If you haven’t already set up a visit with your Senators, there is still time. You can read our step-by-step guide on how to get that done.
  • You can also forward this email to your friends and family and urge them to sign up as well. We’ll be reaching out to Congress as early as next month, so it would be powerful if they could add their voices to ours.

Together—regardless of skin color, zip code, tax bracket, or beliefs—we can defend the rights of all fit parents in America to make the best decisions for their children. Won’t you join us?


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research

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