I have a deep respect for professionals in the trenches assisting in combating the cruelty of child abuse in all its devastating forms. At the beginning of my teaching career, twenty some years ago at Kapiolani Elementary School, I experienced little innocent children who were gestated on crack cocaine. It’s not pretty to have to deal with child abuse, or any abuse, and the folks that work in this area deserve our greatest respect and support.
Today, a ceremony was hosted by the East Hawaii Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. The public was invited in an effort to promote community action against child abuse and neglect. After representatives of the Governor and Mayor made their proclamations of April 2013 as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, a brief presentation was given. The presentation amounted to bringing members of the audience up to stand and represent various people in the life of an 8 year-old girl.
The scenario that begins the hypothetical young girl’s descent into a much neglected future, is her father getting into a car accident. His drug use is exposed through the drug test resulting from his crash. This leads to him being terminated from his employment. He sits around, gets worse (not specified), and the mother moves away with the child. At this point the father, willingly or otherwise, apparently has no more relationship to his daughter.
As a result of these circumstances, the erosion of the girl’s support system is portrayed through various means; such as the loss of her previously involved paternal grandparents, the mother’s new work necessity resulting in less presence in her child’s life, the emergence of a drinking/drugging “friend”, and a teacher’s disappearance from the girl’s life. Social isolation was indicated as key to this girl’s dangerously compromised future.
Given the past 15 months of the forced neglect inflicted upon my 3 1/2 year-old daughter and me, it was haunting to witness such a scenario. Furthermore, the scenario was indicated as typical of instances of dysfunction in Puna leading to child abuse and neglect.
Observing this presentation was also revealing as to the legal defense that has thus far succeeded in allowing the improper removal of my child to the mainland to persist. If this is perceived as typical of the dynamics of child abuse, it would also be the recipe for a defense lawyer advocating for a parent attempting to get away with improper treatment of a child. In my daughter’s case, I contend that this treatment is emotional neglect of our child through what is termed custodial interference. There is a very defined “affirmative defense” for this violation. An attorney hired to represent a parent not having this affirmative defense in any manner, has a template for the most typical scenario of child neglect — false allegations notwithstanding. This is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the professional systems for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Beyond obvious concerns for my own child, as a community, it seems that we ought to consider this potential impact on our kids.
At the end of Paul Normann’s presentation, he asked the audience if anyone had any questions. One child advocate had a real nuts and bolts question, to which she was invited to inquire later. The presentation was concluded.
My experience for the past 15 months is surely not unique: A parent takes a child from her home by not returning from what was an agreed upon visit to the mainland. In Family Court, the left-behind parent, attempting to mitigate the emotional impact on the child — to have her rightfully returned — is denied this motion. The allegations made to persuade the judge are utterly false. I don’t do drugs and I have an entirely adequate home. An absurd and shameless allegation — that my child and her mother “lived separate in a one-room cabin for most of the child’s life” is disprovable on its face. However, as “social isolation” is linked to child maltreatment; such a false perjurious statement need apparently be made in the adversarial courtroom, where advocacy for contesting parties is just that and nothing more.
However, my three and a half year-old little girl is entirely innocent and deserving of continuing her completely healthy childhood here. She has been deprived of having her verifiably high-functioning father present for one-third of her life. Various research indicates profound emotional injury that may result from this broken bond with her father. She deserves to have both parents participating in her life. However, one of them chose to retain her, thousands of miles from her home and parent in Hawaii. Hawaiian law such as the UCCJEA plainly defines a role for law enforcement to remedy this violation, and with the child’s welfare at the forefront.
I was in no position to ask questions after today’s presentation. It’s a pretty heart-wrenching topic, and I do well just to be able to keep my emotions in check when discussing this with family or friends, let alone strangers. Witnessing this illustration of the typical view of a father and daughter’s dysfunctional lives was difficult, to say the least. Still, I have some questions for our East Hawaii Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. If these questions or subsequent discussion is of any benefit to other families, some good will have come from the devastation that my daughter and I have experienced thus far.
Is anybody in your coalition willing and able to assist my child in her perilous situation?
Is my daughter’s and my experience in this crisis, pono? If not, can anyone help?
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Mahalo to the East Hawaii Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, as well all community members committed to our children’s wellness.