Submitted by admin on Fri, 08/15/2008 - 09:34
Under Massachusetts law, what are my options for disciplining or attempting to control a child (18 or younger) with extreme behavior (stealing, using drugs, ignoring rules, and other destructive behavior)? Can I turn him out of the house, or would that be considered neglect? I love my child and want to help him, but I am unable to control him and no longer know what to do. -- Various readers
Even in such a difficult situation, both the law and our obligation to help and protect our children require that we act with their best interests in mind. I can only imagine how upsetting and frightening your situation must be. However, while throwing your child out of the house may, at times, seem like the best solution, it is not. In addition to exposing yourself to criminal charges for neglect or endangerment, taking such an extreme step may cause great harm to your child, emotionally and/or physically.
Depending on the child, his current behavior, and your goals, the best option may be to use available resources and attempt to solve the problem on your own. If you still have some control over your child, try contacting local mental health agencies and your health insurer to find out what clinical options are available, such as counseling. There are government funded and subsidized programs available to those with low and moderate incomes. With this approach, you and your child can attempt to repair your relationship without the involvement of the government.
If a clinical solution is not possible, your remaining options involve the government and may result in a loss of parental control. You may file a Child in Need of Services ("CHINS") petition at the local Juvenile Court if your child: (1) regularly runs away from home; (2) constantly disobeys commands; (3) misses school on a regular basis: OR (4) constantly fails to follow school rules. Once the CHINS petition is filed, the parent and child meet with a probation officer. Depending on the situation, the officer may attempt to forge a CHINS agreement, a written contract that spells out what services and rules will be used to improve the situation. However, depending on the facts of the case, the court may grant temporary custody of the child to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services ("DSS"). For a full explanation of the CHINS process, follow this link to the Website of the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts: http://www.clcm.org/chins.htm. You may also skip the CHINS process, contact DSS directly, and ask the agency to intervene and take custody of your child.
However, let me re-emphasize two very important facts about this approach and the CHINS process: First, with government involvement, you may lose custody and control of your child. Second, both parent and child will come into contact with what the law refers to as "mandated reporters," professionals who are required by law to report any evidence of child abuse or neglect. No parent wants his or her child-rearing efforts scrutinized by strangers. However, if your choice is between government involvement and allowing your child to be harmed—either as a result of his behavior or of your decision to abandon parental obligations—sacrifices may be necessary. (Submitted by the Editor)