Save local parental hearings

Congratulations are due to Governor Shumlin for recognizing that it is unacceptable to balance the budget on the backs of low income expectant mothers.

That would have been a pretty sad legacy for his administration.

I won’t belabor that point (pun intended), but it seems an opportune time to discuss another matter that threatens many down-and-out families in my neck of the woods, Franklin County. Unfortunately, I can’t link you to Michelle Monroe’s excellent piece in the St. Albans Messenger, but after reading it, I felt compelled to share the issue with our Green Mountain Daily readers.

Judiciary shortages continue to plague the state. There are many whose lives are disrupted by the lack of speedy attention to their issues, but no where is the need more pressing than when it involves the fate of children in family court.

The Vermont Supreme Court has determined that it is not necessary to hear parental custody arguments close to home, and that the efficiencies available from consolidating these proceedings in a single Chittenden County location outweigh the argument that they should be easily accessible to parents who are already struggling with issues that have pushed their families to the breaking point.

These are hearings to terminate parental rights, the chilly acronym for which is “TPR.” How horrifying for the parent who has no car and a whole lot less luck, yet must find some way to appear in the court of another county in order to fight termination of their parental rights!  Not to mention the strain on Franklin County case workers who must add travel to and from Chittendon County for court appearances to their list of duties.

With TPR cases on the rise, especially in Franklin County, “outsourcing” the hearings seems a counterintuitive approach to the problem.

It isn’t the first time that vulnerable Franklin County families have gotten the short end of the stick. Remember the much touted state-of-the-art women’s prison that was built in St. Albans, with facilities especially planned to retrain female prisoners for a more functional life on their release? It’s proximity and conducive ambiance allowed families to visit incarcerated loved ones in a less stressful situation so that the important bonds of early childhood might be protected.

At least, that was supposed to be the idea.

Almost as soon as its doors opened to receive prisoners, the building was abruptly redirected for the use of male prisoners and the women were shipped to Chittenden County.

Nice.

Is money the issue holding up expansion of Vermont’s judiciary? I’d really like to know. How is it that we could give a million dollars to a multi-billion dollar corporation (Global Foundries) as some sort of wedding present when they took over IBM in Vermont, but year after year, we can’t find the resources to run our courts as they need to be run?

I am well aware of what the Enterprise Fund is and what it was supposed to be for; but the optics of the thing are awful. This is not something that desperate Franklin County parents, who may be holding down multiple jobs while trying to minimize the trauma of divorce on their children should be expected to understand.

The public may comment on the proposed amendment to the Rules for Family Proceedings with regard to termination of parental rights (TPR) until Tuesday, February 16.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

One thought on “Save local parental hearings

  1. “How horrifying for the parent who has no car and a whole lot less luck, yet must find some way to appear in the court of another county in order to fight termination of their parental rights!”

    Sorry. This is not how it works — no one pushes for this and all responsible parties twist themselves into pretzels to avoid it. TPR is a terrible, if occasionally apt, solution.

    Judiciary shortages do indeed continue to plague the state, as you say. But much worse is the horrible shortage of experienced DCF caseworkers and competent bureau directors. They were leaving in a steady trickle before the murder of a caseworker in Barre, back in August. Afterward, it increased to a torrent — and the buy-out the state offered in early autumn was no help. Every time Schatz or Shumlin announce that they have $$ for another 18, 36, whatever caseworkers, half of those positions are going to be replacements for caseworkers (and directors, in some cases) who have already left or are about to leave.
    I’m writing as a guardian ad litem.

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