The problem plaguing Tennessee

Published 9:25 am Monday, December 4, 2017

To the editor:
There is a problem that is plaguing the state of Tennessee; the problem is that of the foster care system. There are over 8,000 children in the Tennessee foster care system right now and currently there are no laws limiting the amount of time that the children are subjugated to the court system. This means that children are often caught in a limbo of court dates and mandated visits, even if parents do not show an active initiative to show up to said dates and visits.
A Child Welfare Information Gateway study states that the best thing for a child is to be with their biological parents. Activists for family reunification fear that by changing how long biological parents have to regain custody of their children, it violates their rights as a parent. Because of this it is common for judges to give parents many different tries, with extensive amounts of time, to complete goals that will make them a suitable parent again. Oppositions sight that by putting time caps on how long parents have it is giving a disadvantage to those parents who may need extensive rehab to become a suitable parent again.
Though family reunification is typically what is best for children, that is not what is always best for all children. The Tennessee Commission of Children and Youth state that the average time that a child is in the foster care system is 20 months, with half of them being in the system for 13.5 months or fewer. This means that half of the children in the foster care system will be in the system for almost two years before a decision is made about their permanent custody. The Tennessee Commission of Children and Youth also state that only 60 percent of those leaving care returned to their original home or the home of a relative, leaving 40 percent of children in the Tennessee foster care system in state custody or aging out. For many of those 40 percent of foster children, they watch judges give their parents detailed goals they must meet to attain their parental rights again, just to watch them fail or ask for an extension on time.
Although there are multiple reforms that the state of Tennessee needs to make to make to improve its foster care system, the first step needs to be placing a time limit on how long parents will be given to complete goals that a judge has set forth that will allow them to have their parental rights back. Placing an 18-month time cap gives parents plenty of time to complete goals such as drug rehab, anger management, relocation, career hunting, and much more. After those initial 18 months, if the parent has not completed said goals, then their rights will be terminated and the children will be moved toward adoption. If the state of Tennessee will not stand up for the children in the foster care system, no one will. It is time that Tennessee stops subjugating children to long and extensive court processes and gets them in stable environments where they can reach their full potential.

Tessa Stevenson
Milligan College

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