Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, is proposing to open child dependency proceedings to the public.
Dependency court hears cases of child abuse, neglect, and foster care placement.
Judge Nash believes allowing the public into these hearings will add transparency to the decisions the court makes.
We believe this is a worthwhile decision since too often the welfare of children, and even their safety, is compromised by the court’s placement decisions.
We do however also believe that the court should also be allowed discretion on whether an open hearing may be detrimental to a child’s welfare.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Judge Nash is quoted as saying: “There is a lot that is not good in the dependency courts.” He says too many families do not get re-united.
“To many children and families languish in the system for far too long,” said Judge Nash.
While we can agree with the judge’s comments, we have always felt that too often family reunification is held as too high a priority by the child welfare system, regardless of what is really best for the child, now or in the future. Family reunification is held as the ideal outcome or solution for children. We don’t believe this is always the case.
Many children have suffered great neglect, and even death at the hands of parents who have been found to be unsafe guardians for their children.
Too often, children have been removed from loving foster care and even adoption homes just because of the point of view that biological parents are automatically the best caretakers for their children. While in many cases that is true, it is not always the case. A few parenting or anger management classes, or a stint in a rehab center, or the awarding of welfare benefits do not mean that the worst parents will somehow suddenly become good parents.
By the same token, just because a parent has limited financial means, does not mean a child cannot thrive if there is loving and supportive system in place to help them.
Perhaps opening up dependency hearings will put pressure on the system to consider a child’s right to a safe and loving home as the paramount issue, not just family re-unification.