I worked for two years with developmentally disabled individuals within the range of these two people. And, as much as it is sad and as much as I generally don’t like it when government makes these decisions, I am absolutely 100% certain that none of the individuals I worked for could properly raise children. As such, the state’s actions here are ethical, if the reasoning is somewhat dubious.
Let me share with you just some brief highlights of my time working with this segment of the population. I will abbreviate their names, so as to protect their identities. Please note that all of these individuals had higher IQs than Amy, and they may have all been tested as higher than Eric.
1. K. Having to grab her after she walked out in front of a van. Me: “K., what would happen if that van hit you?” Her: “It would bounce off of me.”
2. S. Ordered a $7,000.00 piano to be delivered to his home, even though he had about $400.00 in his bank account. Not really clear why he chose this because he didn’t know how to play.
3. C. Finding out that she had no sense of time. You couldn’t say to her “I’ll take you in five minutes.” You’d have to point to the clock and say “When this big hand hits the 3, then we’ll go.” Also, she had no ability (or desire possibly) to say no to the opposite sex, and had been found in the presence of multiple young men sans clothing multiple times.
4. B. Lacked the ability to read and write. He also struggled to make himself understood verbally. He had a TBI, rather than a disability he was born with, so he was a bit different from the others.
5. C.B.: Couldn’t stop asking strangers for gifts, even though we explained the dangers of doing so many, many times to her. (Of the nine people I worked with, she was without a doubt the closest to being able to handle the responsibilities of a child, but even she wasn’t there.)
6. A: Prone to physical violence, and had very little patience. Would run away if frustrated. Called for an ambulance at least once a week due to her inability to process her emotions.
7. L: She suffered from the inability to hear due to her age, which meant that whenever she didn’t quite catch what someone was saying, she assumed they were saying means things about her.
8. AZ: She cried for about an hour and a half after I asked her to put her seat belt on. (To be fair, I think she cried because I asked her to do this, and not because she had to wear her seat belt-she felt I was yelling at her).
9. S.C.: Had to be reminded that she needed permission to approach/touch other people’s children. Also, often needed to be reminded to drink water-as she would get super agitated on hot days because she hadn’t thought to drink anything. She absolutely adored children, and I always felt bad she couldn’t have the adventure of having them, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with her heart. The issues were all intellectual.
The reality is that persons with IQs under 70 are simply NOT SMART ENOUGH to raise children. Trying to protect them from that reality because we, as a society, don’t want the burden of telling them is irrational, cruel, and arbitrary. It does so much damage.
For instance, one of the individuals in our agency, who I never worked with, had had multiple children. Every time she had a new one, the state would take the child away (the state had to), and every time she would just go about having another baby. The cruelty of that is much greater than the one-time cruelty of telling someone they cannot have children.
I know Buck v Bell is considered one of the worst cases in U.S. Supreme Court history, but having worked extensively with that population, my only issue with it is that the Justices didn’t seem to have the right facts. I absolutely think the state should be able to limit the ability of some persons to have children because some persons simply lack the necessary capacity to engage in the act of child-rearing. I know that seems cruel, but it seems to me that only a great fool wouldn’t except a little cruelty in order to avoid a far greater amount of cruelty.
My only issue with the facts as you’ve outlined them, is that the overruling of Buck v. Bell required the state to make up nonsense facts (the sunscreen and the washing of the hands) to take away the children. The children were removed because persons of this intellectual level are not smart enough to raise children. To me, that’s all that should be necessary.
Two further points: I graduated top third in my law school class, so I imagine I’m not a complete imbecile, but even I sometimes run out of emotional and intellectual tools while dealing with my infant son. Raising children is intellectually and emotionally difficult. Persons with limited intellectual tools, which usually means also limited emotional tools, will always have an incredibly difficult time doing it.
Secondly, the one expert who says that “IQ doesn’t correlate with parenting problems until IQ drops below 50” is a self-serving moron. There’s no way in the world that’s true. Persons in the borderline IQ range, 70-79, have difficulty using appliances like microwave ovens and stoves. You’re going to tell me that raising children is less complicated than using those appliances? Furthermore, you’re going to try and tell me that the inability to use those appliances safely doesn’t affect your ability to parent-making formula is about as complicated as using a microwave oven, and last I checked, many babies need formula to survive. (Snark is intended towards the expert, not the writer of this blog.)
So, yes, I have to come to the conclusion that the final decision is ethical, though I do feel sorry for Eric and Amy. I assume that their problems are all intellectual, and nothing is wrong with their hearts or their souls. Unfortunately, no matter how good your intentions are, raising children requires a high degree of intellectual tools, and no amount of wishing and hoping that emotional and spiritual tools will be enough is going to make it so.
Did you work with this population in such away that you were making these kinds of decisions for the State?
You see, there’s a disconnect there:
1) Yes, there are clear situations where children should rightly be removed from their parents.
2) Does the state consistently make the right decision in this regard while minimizing the number of wrong decisions it makes.
3) Can IQ really be a sufficient standard for removal?
4) If so, or whatever standard we choose, how well is the State equipped to make that decision?
…to which valentine0486 replied,
No, I did not work in such a way that I was making decisions for the state in regards to children, except insofar as (dirty little secret) most direct care workers strongly discourage sexual encounters between individuals with developmental disabilities. This is, of course, another and related issue. If birth control was used properly, direct care workers would be less worried about sexual intercourse between those who are disabled, which is a natural, normal, and healthy part of life. Finally, the fact that I worked for two years with this population in direct care may very well mean that I am more qualified to answer this question than those who actually make the final determination.
I’m not really sure how there’s a disconnect, but there very well could be.
1.) This isn’t a question, but I agree with your statement.
2.) I have no idea whether the state consistently makes the right decision overall. I wasn’t asked that. I only think they made the right decision with regards to this particular child. But, even if the state is making an incorrect decision 25% of the time, the state would be protecting children the remaining 75% of the time, correct? I mean, we can’t really expect any entity to get a complicated issue like this right 100% of the time. I don’t think that’s realistic. I understand hostility to the state, but this is clearly one of the things the state absolutely should be doing, isn’t it? Is there some better entity to make these decisions, and if so, what entity?
3.) Not only can it be a sufficient reason, YOU must know that it’s a sufficient reason. For instance, imagine that a intellectually disabled person with the intellect of a small infant gets pregnant due to abuse. You would absolutely remove that child. Clearly, there is a point where intellect is a bar to child custody, the only relevant question is the level at which this occurs. Please note that if their child is normal, then Eric and Amy’s child will definitely be smarter than them by the age of nine, and may be smarter than them as early as the age of six or seven. I don’t think that’s fair to ask of a child, and frankly, those who are asking, I think, are asking it because they want to feel better about themselves-not because they are acting in the child’s best interest. Further, it seems to me that this inquiry has to start with the question of what’s best for the child, not at whether or not we trust the state.
4.) I think the answer to this question is that they’re the best equipped, even if we would prefer them to be better equipped.
Also, it’s possible we’re arguing semantics. Intelligence is not this immeasurable, mystical thing. If you have an IQ under 80, it generally means that you will have difficulty making life decisions, difficulty operating simple machines like microwaves and stoves, and will be easily confused by simple problems. Often, it means the state needs to provide protective services for you. What I’m saying is that’s per se unfit for being a parent. I’m not saying the state should remove the child because the parents aren’t smart, I’m saying the state should remove the child because the parents are unfit due to their lack of intelligence.
I’m of the opinion that those who think persons with an IQ under 80 can be fit to be parents, only think so because they haven’t spent sufficient time working with such a population. At some point, the lack of intelligence is going to harm the child. Here, the parents forgot to put sunscreen on the whole body. Not a huge foul, but what happens when they’re told by a doctor to give medicine three times a day, but they forget and give it only once? What happens when they’re told to put a medicinal cream over the whole body, but they forget and only put it on one part of the body or visa-versa? What happens when if the parents forget about the child in the bath-or in the car? With intellects this low, it’s not a question of “if”, it’s a question of when. And when that happens, haven’t we spared the parents the pain of having the child removed by the state, only to have them face the possible pain of losing their child and the guilt of their mistake? And that’s just considering the parents, what about the child? Doesn’t every child have a right to a minimum of competence from their parents-how are you going to get minimum competence with the segment of the population who can hurt themselves using a microwave oven?
Please note that I’m not at all hostile to the intellectually disabled population, but they have limitations. And I don’t think it’s good for them, for society, or for children to pretend that raising children isn’t one of those limitations.
I may have misunderstood some of your points or questions. If I have, let me know.
Now the comment from John Billingsly:
I read an article about this couple yesterday. In their photographs, they appear to be a nice couple, the home they have prepared for their children is inviting, and their heartbreak is obvious in their expressions. I have no reason to doubt that they are loving, caring people who would do their best to provide a nurturing, safe environment for their children. My heart went out to them and I was near tears at their situation and yet I believe the state has almost certainly acted in the best interest of the children.
Valentine has provided examples of 8 cases of the thought processes of individual with a degree of mental retardation no more severe than what this couple has (I am not including the case with TBI as that is a different situation). I could easily give as many more examples as could anyone who has worked with this population. As I said above, I have no reason to doubt that they are loving and want to do their best to raise children but the fact is that they simply do not have the mental capacity do to that and no amount of wanting it will make it so.
The fact is that people with their IQ level have brains that are functioning somewhere around a 3rd to 6th grade level at best. Valentine has mentioned some of the problems that arise from that. One not mentioned, is that they have have poor insight and do not have the capacity to “know what they don’t know” which may lead them to believe they are functioning far better and are more capable than they actually are. Who in that mental age range, no matter how much they want to do it, has the capacity to cope with the total care of an infant or child. The general recommendations I’ve seen are that a child should be about 12 or so to be left alone at home for any length of time and about 15 prior to being trusted with the care of younger siblings. Should the care and safety of totally defenseless infants and children be entrusted to people who are functioning at a mental age where we believe children are barely safe to be left by themselves much less care for younger sibs?
I think [commenter deery] is probably correct that the hand washing/sunscreen issue was the stated reason for what the state was going to do anyway. But I have to add, just as with legal cases, what you read in the paper is not the whole enchilada. Should the state have waited until there was some real harm to a child before acting? How much harm would be necessary to constitute “dire circumstances?”
In an imperfect world in which it is impossible to predict the future with certainty, should we err on the side of removing children who might not actually be in “dire circumstances” or on the side of letting some die horrible deaths? Over the course of five years in Florida, 477 children died of abuse after decisions were made to leave them in the home. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell just how dire a situation may be.
Jack said, “What has been done to Eric and Amy is heartbreaking and wrong. Anyone defending this obtrusive state action had better be prepared to explain why surrendering more and more autonomy and personal responsibility to government doesn’t inevitably lead to such abuses.”
Is it heartbreaking? Definitely. Wrong? Only if it is wrong to prevent an individual who is incapable of performing a task, and is unable to appreciate that they are incapable of it, from attempting it and very possibly causing serious harm to another. Surrendering any autonomy and personal responsibility to the government is inevitably going to lead to some abuses. The fact that giving the state the power to remove children from the home has led to incidents of abuse doesn’t negate the fact that it is a power we have decided the state must have. We expect the state to step in and protect children who are abused by their parents and we are rightfully incensed when they do not do so and children are seriously injured or die.
This unfortunate couple exercised their autonomy and had a child. They both almost certainly lack the competence to safely raise the child they bear personal responsibility for producing. Given the fact that this couple mentally has the parenting ability of a pair of preteens, should the state give them a chance to raise the children until something goes horribly wrong and then step in or should it step in now? Stepping in does not have to mean removing the children. The state could pay for a full-time live in nanny to help out until the children are grown.
Hmmm….just want to make sure I’ve got this right. Walk me through this.
-If Scenario X makes abuse, accidents, or harm more likely, then the State should intervene.
-If statistics can show that children die disproportionately when living in Scenario X, this is evidence to the effect that the State should intervene.
-If raising a child is provably more difficult and would require a great deal of additional help from one’s loved ones in order to make it work…then the State should intervene. Perhaps by taking away the child. Or perhaps by forcibly inserting a live-in nanny, provided by the State, of course.
-Anecdotes suggesting horrible parenting skills, and real-life nightmare scenarios from the news, are valid evidence that children in Scenario X should be taken away from the parents, or otherwise have the State intervene.
-Although we know the couple MIGHT do a good job, we also know that kids in those situations are in much more danger of abuse, neglect, or even death. And even if we know that MOST kids in that situation will PROBABLY turn out well enough, we cannot err on the side of risking children’s well-being and safety. Therefore the State must intervene.
Seeing that all of those risk factors also go along with single parenting, live-in-boyfriends, and divorced parents…what are your thoughts on those dangerous scenarios? Should the State take kids away from single moms or moms who are cohabiting?
Consider that according to the AAP, kids living with Mom and Mom’s boyfriend are FIFTY TIMES more likely to die from household violence.
Finally, Al Verhoff weighs in…
Let’s start out by acknowledging that IQ is NOT a valid tool for assessing intellectual disability. In fact, the US Supreme Court has said so. The only value of IQ is to those who try to quantify data rather than make quality assessments. Numbers can be treated as absolutes, no matter what they actually represent.
Other EA readers may already know that I have twin sons with Down syndrome and congenital heart defects that have been repaired. I mention their hearts because a commenter in an earlier discussion (not knowing about the existence of Jamie and Will) had suggested that a neonate with Down syndrome and heart defects might be an example of medical care that would drain assets best used elsewhere.
That said, let me talk about my sons’ prospective parenting skills–at this time. They have none. Yet, within a month they will be moving into their own apartment… with counselor support. A social-service worker may look at the numerical data and say they are not ready to do this. Another would say that no matter what skills Jamie & Will may not have, they deserve independence. (Oh, they vote, too.)
At some future time, one or the other may find a woman they want to spend the rest of their life with. Assuming they are capable of having children, should they do it? The families of a couple with Down Syndrome who were about to marry had them care for a borrowed baby for a weekend. The couple decided, together, that caring for children would be too much work for them. I’d give the betrothed the same kind of test.
Let’s get back to the couples whose children were taken: What will those children be told about their birth parents? Having been told, might they not grow up hating the system that broke up the family? We’re not talking about abusive parents here, just people who need support and encouragement. Like my sons will have when they move out.
I’m just back to express my thanks and admiration on an impressive job of thought and analysis by these readers and everyone who has participated in this discussion.