Welcome to another week.
As we slide into our second national lockdown, we thought we would share this piece of research we came across last weekend, which is now almost 40 years old, but sadly still relevant to many of the world’s family courts today.
The research, called “Abuse of power to sever family bonds” is an extraordinary look at the changing views of a New York family court judge, Peggy Cooper Davis, on the accepted wisdom around children in care, and adoption.
Davis, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968 (as a woman, of colour), and then went on to practice family law for a decade, before a three year stint as a family court judge in New York, reflects on the cruelty of the family court process, the many occasions she spoke to children who asked to be reunited with their birth parents, and adoption breakdowns.
She goes on to emphasise the gravity, and importance of child welfare work, quoting Leo Glasser, another family court judge in New York, who saw the family court as a “legal and social emergency room”.
The paper sounds a warning to child welfare professionals, telling them that courts should follow the advice set out in the now cult child welfare textbook “In the best interests of the child,” to ensure that biological and family disruptions are kept to a minimum, so detrimental are these shifts for children.
Davis goes on to talk about the perils of permanence – placing children “in limbo” in foster care into adoptive homes – and questions the sanity behind severing biological ties.
It’s important to note that at the time Davis was writing, a lot of research on how separation affected children had not been done, and so her analysis reflects some of those gaps, through no fault of her own.
What is astounding though, is her innate, instinctive understanding of the damage the system was, and is, doing to children, after just a few short years as a judge, and without the benefit of a body of sophisticated research to tap into.
If you have some Digestives and a few tea bags to hand, we highly recommend this read (and a purchase of the book we link to in the post). It is as eye opening as it is frustrating – that we are still in the same place more than thirty years on, and that people inside the system can well see its flaws, but often, unlike Davis, choose to do nothing about it.
Professor Davis is currently the John S. R. Shad Professor of Lawyering, and Ethics Director at the Experiential Learning Lab at New York University.