Nearly half a million children in the United States live in foster homes or in some kind of orphanage as wards of the state, because their parents cannot provide a safe home for them. This is a dreadful statistic, not only because the best place for a child is with their own two loving parents in a secure home, but because the foster care system typically produces poor outcomes for children.
Most, writes Minnesota law professor Michelle Goodwin, “will never attain a high-school diploma because of soaring drop-out rates.” And, “High incarceration rates, juvenile delinquency, and sexual exploitation while under the state’s supervision” are also common, thanks to “overcrowding, poor oversight, mismanagement, and inadequate monitoring…”
Professor Goodwin further points out that, although these children are, theoretically, awaiting a return to their own home or adoption/placement into a permanent home, the vast majority do not find a home like that. Only one in five children is adopted from foster care in the US. They are stuck in institutions or in patterns of temporary care, and this is particularly true of black children.
Goodwin proposes an alternative, but it is a radical one: “baby co-operatives” formed by two to five adults in a “Family Civil Union” (FCU). To qualify as an FCU the individuals involved would have to:
1. Have known each other for at least 24 months prior to application submission.
2. Possess sufficient income to support their present households without relying on government assistance.
3. Complete an orientation and pre-placement training program prior to civil union licensure.
4. Provide references that can attest to the bond of the individuals applying for civil union.
5. Provide references that can attest to the individual and collective character of the proposed civil union members.
6. Undergo screening for criminal records and child protective service records.
7. Undergo an assessment of their stability and their home's safety.
8. Successfully complete a home study.
Such structures, Goodwin argues, “will likely serve as a viable if not best ‘family’ mechanism to transition children from ward status to permanent home placement.” She supports her concept by invoking the traditional extended family, “ancient communities” and the familiar cliché, “it takes a village to raise a child”.
She also argues that more recent developments create precedents for experimental child-rearing structures: “the modern family—blended by divorce, remarriage, single-parenting, adoption, and assisted reproduction—demonstrates that it is a mistake to think about families with distinct clear boundaries; there are no bright lines that define 21st century families.”
But it is the civil union -- originally designed for same-sex couples -- that she finds most promising as a model. In an article to be published by the University of Illinois Law Review she develops at some length her arguments against clinging to the intact, heterosexual married family as the norm for bringing up children:
Importantly, the two-parent heterosexual model cannot be the adoption standard for all children. Indeed, such a model should not stand as the standard. In part, two-parent heterosexual households are out of reach because those families bypass black domestic children to adopt abroad.165 That said, we challenge the notion that “family” can or should be defined exclusively within the two parent heterosexual context, much as some courts and state legislatures defy exclusively defining marriage as between heterosexuals.
In fact, she seems to be as concerned to accommodate same-sex relationships as to find permanent homes for black children.
If these children are being passed over for adoption and suffering lasting damage as a result of missing out on the experience of a loving home, that issue must be urgently addressed. But placing them in experimental baby co-operatives where there is a new sexual agenda being worked out as well as a child-rearing agenda is not the way to do it. If the existing system leaves these children’s welfare to chance, so does Professor Goodwin’s alternative.