How can I bring my sibling home?
May 1, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What legal avenues exist for blocking a potentially negligent relative foster parent arrangement? New parents reside in Southeast Asia. Special snowflake details within.

I'm currently abroad with my family. I was just informed that a younger sibling---a minor---will not be returning with us to the United States. Instead, an informal arrangement has been made with another family member to care for her.

This particular sibling suffers from a number of emotional issues. It's highly suspected that they have one or more disorders, but a diagnosis cannot be reached as they are being denied care by my parents. This has resulted in a record with CPS, with pressure mounting for them to take action.

It appears that this is their action. I know the family members who will watch over the sibling. They're good people, but they have a certain level of willful ignorance toward psychiatry. They believe that prayer cures all and that depression is a voluntary character flaw.

My sibling will have no support network here, nor will they be allowed to go out on their own to seek help (should they choose to do so---clinics are few and far between). While not ideal, they would be better off back in the United States where she is being monitored and has people to turn to when necessary.

TL;DR - My sibling is being emotionally neglected. My mother isn't ideal, but her new foster relative would be worse. What, if anything, can I do to block this?

Note: Please do your best to avoid answers involving an entirely different foster family. I've discussed this at length with my sibling, CPS, and others. We've concluded that it will do more harm than good. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What, if anything, can I do to block this?

It's impossible to give any concrete answer without knowing what jurisdictions we're talking about. What state is this? What country? Where is the kid's citizenship? Where are the "foster parents"?

Also, do you understand that the term "foster parent" actually means something more precise than just "someone taking care of a child not their own"? Because leaving a kid with the extended family for a while doesn't count as "fostering" as far as the US legal system is concerned. The term is almost exclusively limited to persons appointed by the state to have temporary physical and legal custody of children to whom they are not related.

Really though, it seems like your real question is "What can be done for a child I believe is not receiving proper psychiatric care but who is otherwise well provided for?" And the answer to that question is "Very little, especially if CPS is already involved." Failing to provide what you consider to be psychiatric care does not constitute abuse as such, and kids don't get taken away from parents unless there's abuse. The refusal to provide physical medical care for a variety of reasons, particularly religious, isn't something the state can do a lot about in most cases, and psychiatric care is an even tougher sell.

This is because what you're doing is attempting to substitute your judgment for the parents'. You aren't really allowed to do this, and the state only does it under limited, well-defined circumstances. The judge is going to ask himself "What's in the best interests of the child?" And unless the parents' answer to that question is "Hanging around with drug users," or "Getting severely beaten," or "Only eating a few times a week," he's going to be very reluctant to get involved, especially given that there are plenty of kids who are in those situations and the system is busy enough dealing with them. If a kid is provided a bed, roof, three squares, and access to school, and the parents aren't doing drugs or beating him, the kid is, as far as the state is concerned, basically okay. Allegations of "emotional neglect" isn't something you're going to get a lot of interest in doing anything about, and a lot of states don't even really recognize it as a thing.
posted by valkyryn at 11:27 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, you'll have to be your sibling's support network. But I'm not sure how you can block a "potential" anything. They're not bad people, you admit...and up to now they've don't nothing wrong. So on what grounds would you propose you block this from happening.

On top of this, I'm not sure what bearing a CPS case in the states has over a child in another country. But I'm not a lawyer.

But like I said, you'll have to kick up your contact with your sibling. Let them know they're loved and supported. Listen to them. Be there for them as much as you can via letter or internet or whatever.
posted by inturnaround at 11:41 AM on May 1, 2012

My sibling is being emotionally neglected.

No, your sibling is being medically neglected, and prevented from getting the proper health care your sibling needs.

valkyryn is more or less correct about your legal options. Unless you're willing and able to give your sibling a plane ticket home and have your sibling live with you, this is how it's going to work.

It may well be, however, that your sibling's emotional/psychiatric problems will be less of an impediment to living a "normal" life in that country. Without the self-discipline/emotional stability to finish a college degree and/or hold down a job that requires you to show up on time, be timely about paperwork, and properly manage interpersonal relationships, you will have a problem supporting yourself in the USA, not to mention the social expectations about what it is to live a "normal" life in the US. This may be less true in the country your sibling is going to be taken care of in.
posted by deanc at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2012

"Hi Mrs. Anonymous, we're here from Child Protective Services. Anony Junior's school called because he has been absent for several weeks, and we wanted to make sure everything was OK. Is he here with you?"

"No, he's in Thailand. He's not coming back."

"...", without intimate knowledge of your family history or even your county/state/country of residence, jurisdiction, nobody on AskMe can give you advice about your legal options. If there's a lawyer back at home you can get in touch with, it might be your best bet.

I do wonder whether your parent(s) have exactly thought this whole thing though, though. How exactly do they think CPS going to respond when a minor they've been working with just gets disappeared by their family? When the parent(s) get called in for a hearing and can't even physically produce the child for whom they remain legally responsible? Maybe they won't care now that the child is out of their jurisdiction. Maybe they'll have your mother hauled into jail for endangering the welfare of a child.

So you might prevail on whoever made this decision to at least postpone it until they can consult with a specialist in family law, and coordinate the fostering with the knowledge and support of the appropriate authorities.
posted by The Prawn Reproach at 12:01 PM on May 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

If they've already got her out of the country, your options are limited.... its a well known forced marriage strategy here in the UK. Young girls are taken on holiday to visit family in the "mother country" and then when they're out of the reach of the british authorities they are married off against their will and are trapped.

Can you get to the nearest US embassy? If you explain the situation to them they may be able to intervene. If not, does your jurisdiction have a forced marriage unit? They may not be trying to marry her off but a lot of the circumstances are the same and there may be similar legal avenues that can be explored.
posted by missmagenta at 12:18 PM on May 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've discussed this at length with my sibling, CPS, and others

So, did CPS have any ideas, or did they say there's nothing they can do?
posted by jacalata at 1:35 PM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

How exactly do they think CPS going to respond when a minor they've been working with just gets disappeared by their family?

Really, really depends on what the situation is. If the kid is sort of on the radar but not part of formal proceedings, there's not going to be a hell of a lot they can do. If, on the other hand, the kid has been the subject of a CHINS ("CHild In Need of Services") petition, there's likely to be some kind of court order regarding the kid, and the parents can be cited for contempt if they flout the order. If the court orders X, Y, and Z to happen, and they don't happen, that's not good.

But unless I've completely misread the question, it sounds here like CPS is generally sort of aware of the situation but hasn't gotten formally involved. A CHINS petition may have been threatened, but that's about it. Thing is, there isn't any legal reason that a parent can't just turn a kid over to a relative to raise. Happens all the time. Kids wind up with grandparents, aunts and uncles, whatever. Unless the kid is actively in trouble there, it's basically no big deal. There isn't even a formal transfer of custody or guardianship a lot of the time either. As long as things are basically working, the formalities are frequently ignored. I volunteer at a legal aid clinic, and I can't tell you how many times I've seen grandparents come in wanting custody of the grandchildren they've been raising for the past decade because alcoholic parents dumped 'em off years ago and now want 'em back.

So if CPS learns that Johnnie has been sent to live with other relatives, I guarantee you, it won't be the worst thing they've heard that afternoon.* In the absence of a pre-existing court order, it's likely to take far more concrete and immediate allegations of abuse/neglect to get any kind of serious attention.

*It's not terribly uncommon for a single social worker to have four generations of the same family as clients at the same time. Do the math.
posted by valkyryn at 4:05 PM on May 1, 2012

There is the Hague treaty - some SE Asian countries are signed on, and if you can get another relative, or if you're over 21, you *might* be able to raise a stink at your embassy about custody. I had a child staying at a relative briefly who surprised us (understatement of the decade) by refusing to return our child after the holiday and we had to threaten the cops and the Hague treaty came up - at the time, our country wasn't signed on yet, and they explained that if it had, we could've just filed a straightforward report and had our child returned immediately. Your embassy will deal with divorced couples and child custody issues frequently and may be able to guide you.

Memail me if you like about the country. I live in Singapore and work for a Cambodian NGO that works with abused kids, and have friends around the region working with or parenting abused kids, so I might be able to link you up to some resources.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:20 PM on May 1, 2012

Call the US Embassy in the country they are leaving the child. They are designed to help US citizens abroad, and they will probably have some ideas.
posted by emilynoa at 6:25 AM on May 2, 2012

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