In the Best Interests of the Children
When you’re in the middle of a struggle for grandparent visitation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing children in the same way that some parents do – as property or chattel. Children become objects over which people struggle, and the law isn’t any help in this regard. However, to truly get a handle on this idea of grandparent rights, it’s important to first get a handle on another equally important concept: grandchildren rights.
The way that the law views grandchildren rights is foggy and contradictory. On the one hand, the law assumes that parents in an intact family (that is, a family with a married mother and father) have near-absolute control over what their children are able to do and not to do. It’s legally all about what the parents think is in the best interests of the children.
The law, of course, puts limits on this. Parents can’t legally abuse a child, for example. Parents are required to provide an education for their children. Parents can’t neglect their children or allow them to be malnourished or worse.
But, while the law does put some protections in place in terms of grandchildren rights, it do so in a reactive and limited way. What this means is that many parents – who truly see their children as property or chattel rather than human beings with their own rights – wind up abusing, neglecting or even abandoning their children.
The statistics bear this out. Nearly 800,000 children are abused or neglected each year according to the Department of Health and Human Services. CPS agencies receive more than 3.2 million referrals every year, responding to allegations that affect as many as 5.8 million children. Around 10.6 children out of every 1,000 were abused or neglected each year, and almost 1,800 die due to abuse or neglect. The largest percentage of victims – three quarters – are children less than age four.
So, what can grandparents do to help fight for and advocate for grandchildren rights? Unfortunately, legal options are often limited. Still, there are things you can do to help make sure that the best interests of grandchildren are truly being followed:
Participate in the conversation. Get involved in groups that deal with grandchildren rights. Talk to family members and friends. Join message board discussions, and write letters to the editor. For many folks, the issue of grandchildren rights just hasn’t been raised, and you’ll be surprised how ready they are to support the cause.
Keep your eyes open. Learn the signs of abuse and neglect, and if you see them, report them. Even if it’s a family member abusing a grandchild, you need to be the one who’s willing to stand up and look out for the child’s best interests.
Advocate for legal change. There are groups, such as the AARP, that lobby for grandparents rights to grandchildren. There are groups such as the International Bureau for Childrens Rights that work hard, day in and day out, to effect change. You can also join in rallies, write letters to your local, state and federal politicians, or even run for office yourself.
Someone has to speak up for the children and – until we see change on a legal and cultural scale that embraces grandchildren rights rather than treats children as chattel – it’s up to us to be that voice.