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Letter: Separating kids from families is nothing new

The Detroit News
Air Force veteran Jerry Trevillian, an Air Force veteran, leads a one-man protest on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, on Saginaw Street in downtown Flint, Mich.

The nation is embroiled in a great debate — a moral debate — a debate that goes to heart of who we are as a people. That debate is centered on the removal of children from parents who have attempted to enter the U.S., at least under current law, illegally or as asylum seekers. This is a debate worth having on every level — as we search for the right balance of sovereignty as a nation and individual worth and dignity. 

This letter is not to intended to enter that debate.

While the debate rages, it seems like an appropriate time to “widen the lens” on the issue of children being removed from parents in the name of government intervention and the presumption of what’s best for children. While we debate the great moral issues of our day on our southern border, let us not fail to recognize that each day, each week, and every year in this nation we do indeed remove children from their parents for issues far less egregious than illegal entry into the country.

The reality, as inconvenient as it may be, is that the scenes that have stirred such emotion and compassion over these past several weeks are similar in every way to what we face daily in this nation. The distinction is that unlike parents endeavoring to come north, risking everything for a chance at America, and in so doing breaking immigration law, citizen parents in the U.S. are subject to having their children removed because of the impact of generational poverty, joblessness, a lack of education and access to upward mobility.

In the Unites States, 425,000 children have been removed from their parents and are in foster care each year, and the vast majority of these are not due to laws broken, felonies committed, or major moral failures — rather, this occurs in large part because parents don’t have what they need to provide.  And while it’s easy to cast judgement and equivocate, the fact remains these children are being removed from their parents of birth largely because of circumstance, and only occasionally because of “crimes” committed. In fact, 77 percent of children removed from parents in the U.S. are due to “neglect,” issues tied to poverty, education and access, while only 23 percent are due to abuse, a crime.

In the case of these domestic removals, social service professionals — those who have dedicated their lives to the underprivileged and underserved — have developed cost effective interventions that keep children in families safely, with dignity that honors the family. For over three decades we have been providing what we know as “Family Preservation Services” — home-based interventions that are effective with at-risk families, providing strength based solutions, keeping kids and families intact over 92 percent of the time. And when we do, we strengthen the family unit — the core unit of community — save the system money (by a factor of 10) — and keep children from being traumatized by being separated from the only family they know.

The recently passed federal “Families First Act of 2018” creates opportunities for states to further these programs and thereby support and strengthen the core unit of our society, the family. We urge full implementation of the programs and services this legislation, now law, allows in the preservation of the family.

So bring on the debate about what’s happening at our southern border. Let’s go ahead and wrestle with the morals and ethics of the moment. But let’s not forget the inside-the-border battle for the family that also rages, daily, in the lives of American families. Let’s widen the lens and see the whole picture.

David Gehm, president and CEO

Wellspring Lutheran Services

Foster and adopt dad