Did you know that the psychological/emotional abuse of children actually results in worse outcomes for children than physical abuse or even sexual abuse?
Unfortunately, though, this type of abuse is “the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect” chiefly because “child protective service case workers may have a harder time recognizing and substantiating emotional neglect and abuse because there are no physical wounds, [and] psychological abuse isn’t considered a serious social taboo like physical and sexual child abuse.”
“Psychological maltreatment that occurred alongside physical or sexual abuse was associated with significantly more severe and far-ranging negative outcomes than when children were sexually and physically abused and not psychologically abused, the study found. Moreover, sexual and physical abuse had to occur at the same time to have the same effect as psychological abuse alone on behavioral issues at school, attachment problems and self-injurious behaviors, the research found.”
West Virginia Democrats took a step forward last year at the state convention, though. They recognize that many of West Virginia’s Family Courts are in a terrible state. Certainly, some of our judges produce thoughtful, wise orders in the best interests of children, but the truth is that WV Family Court judges are not required to have experience appropriate to the gravity and importance of the decisions they make—and there aren’t enough judges per circuit to handle the workload.
Worse, in WV, your child’s time with you can be permanently ended, even without any allegations (much less findings) of abuse, neglect, or abandonment—and without allowing you to testify, present evidence, or advocate for your child. It’s tragic that a child can be separated from a fit parent because an inexperienced or poorly-trained judge is in a rush to get through his or her workload, and doesn’t have time to look at the case history. And horrifically, in WV fit parents have fewer rights than parents who have been found guilty of abuses.
So if you’ve been found guilty of neglecting or abusing your child, you have the opportunity to get “improvement periods” to change your bad behavior and maintain your parental right to contact with your child. However, a fit parent has no such opportunity… because there is nothing to improve; parenting time between a child and fit parent can be ended without even mentioning the child’s best interests.
Additionally, if your child’s other parent is in contempt of a visitation order, it may be many months before you can even get a hearing to restore your child to you. That means even if the decision you get in that hearing is ultimately correct and your contact is restored, you’ll still miss important time with your child just by virtue of the case overload and the months-long wait. Especially when the child is very young, you may be missing first words, first steps and other milestones. These are things you can never get back. You suffer, and your child also suffers in the care of an emotionally abusive parent.
Some courts have addressed this issue. For instance, the NH Supreme Court has noted that “The obstruction by a custodial parent of visitation between a child and the noncustodial parent may, if continuous, constitute behavior so inconsistent with the best interests of the child as to raise a strong possibility that the child will be harmed.” But others, including our courts here in WV are inconsistent. And by and large legislators have failed to act.
This year at the West Virginia State Democratic Convention, Democrats took a small step and passed a resolution recognizing the need to protect children from emotional abuse. We’ll get to the text of this resolution in a moment. First, you should understand why you haven’t heard about it.
Because this resolution to protect children was among other progressive resolutions such as calls to protect our rights to clean water, to end MTR, to oppose fracking, and so on, the party elites evidently prefer to downplay and hide them. One must wonder if this is because our governor remains a climate science denier.
Kachina Mooney, Chair of the WV State Democratic Party Resolutions Committee this year, has expressed her frustration at the obstruction from state party officials that led to the month-long delay in the release of the 2016 platform: “The [WV] Democratic Party has made it clear to us that they refuse to abide by the Platform we created, even though that’s the will of the people… As far as the resolutions go, I would say it’s more like a complete neglect that they even exist. They are not putting any more time or attention into anything that happened at the state convention.”
In fact the resolutions are still not posted in a reasonable form on the state party website. Each resolution should be legible, and should be posted on its own page with searchable text. Instead, the 2016 WV Democratic Party resolutions currently reside in a patchwork PDF. Unless you have the direct link, it’s unclear to me if it’s possible to navigate to the page from the party’s home page.
And now, here is the resolution asking our legislators to act to protect children:
Resolution to protect a child’s right to love and be loved by both parents
WHEREAS, democratic former West Virginia Governor, now Senator, Joe Manchin resolved and proclaimed in 2008 that April 25 would be Parental Alienation Awareness Day; and
WHEREAS, Parental Alienation is a form of emotional abuse in which a child is encouraged to reject a fit parent for using normal parental prerogatives, such as encouraging the child to make healthy eating choices, to complete homework, or to limit screen time; and
WHEREAS, this emotional abuse is designed to hurt the other parent by weaponizing the child (often called “domestic abuse by proxy”), with the result that the child is “collateral damage,” and becomes focused on the criticisms of the formerly loved and now rejected parent; expresses hatred toward the rejected parent, their grandparents, and/or their side of the family; refuses to spend time, visit, or communicate with the rejected parent; holds negative beliefs about the rejected parent that are inconsequential, exaggerated, or unfounded in reality; and
WHEREAS, experts acknowledge frequent and regular contact with both parents is ideal for healthy growth and development of all children, and judicial and human service agencies should take action to protect children from emotional abuse as expeditiously as they do from physical abuse or sexual abuse; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the West Virginia Democratic Party urges all legislators act to aggressively protect a child’s right to love and be loved by both fit parents, and that developmentally normal temporary anger should never be aided to become permanent rejection; and, be it further
RESOLVED, that the West Virginia Democratic Party issues this plea to the National Democratic Party to adopt a similar resolution and demonstrate its opposition to domestic abuse and its dedication to protect children.
In future posts, I’ll share suggested changes in code, Family Court training requirements, and judicial rules that could help protect children in West Virginia from abuse, and which could also help model good legislation for other states struggling with this issue.
I also intend to eventually post all the resolutions here on my website so they’ll be readable, searchable, and so we can take a deeper look at why these resolutions are opposed by state party officials, but supported by rank-and-file Democrats.