Are We Protecting the Wrong Rights?

Elizabeth Bartholet, in her book Nobody’s Children, takes a strong step toward beginning a new kind of dialogue about abused and neglected children. She positions herself as a liberal who has come to terms with the fact that traditional liberal ideals are in conflict with the needs of abused and neglected children (p. 5). In doing so, she tries to convince her readers that, regardless of ideology, we all should have a different focus in the area of child abuse and neglect law. She uses Sabrina as one of several examples of how programs for abused and neglected children that focus on keeping families and communities together, while well-intentioned, sometimes sacrifice the child. Bartholet’s book, in that sense, is groundbreaking. Bartholet’s argument begins with the history and politics of child protection programs and presumptions in favor of parents. It moves to outlining the modern day problems and the impact of substance abuse on children. She continues by demonstrating the pervasiveness of the philosophies that drove the old programs. Her analysis and examples show that the shortcomings of old programs are also present in programs purportedly designed to reinvigorate the system. She criticizes what she calls the family preservation bias and uses examples and statistics to show that the bias is unwarranted and probably detrimental. Through this format, Bartholet challenges traditional ideologies by demonstrating that they have not worked. She then takes the bold step of introducing theories most are afraid to verbalize – like the idea that interracial adoption should be widely utilized and that the legal system should aggressively separate children from drug-abusing biological parents. But she could have gone further.