Politics & Policy

Who Killed Malachi?

Miscarriage of care.

“Family Buries Toddler” read the headline in the San Diego Union Tribune. Police arrested the child’s foster mother, on suspicion of her perpetrating the massive brain injuries which caused the two-year-old’s death. But the people really responsible for the child’s demise will never be arrested. Although it is customary to blame the incompetence of the foster-care system for a senseless death like this, foster care per se did not kill Malachi. The child welfare system’s unwillingness to terminate parental rights killed him.

According to the Union-Tribune, the facts are these:

Malachi Jermaine McBride-Roberts life was brief and difficult. He was born to a teenage mother living in foster care. After she ran away, he was sent to live with another foster family….

“This would not have happened had he been in my care,” said the boy’s 23 year old father.

A normal person might well ask, “Why, then, sir, was he not in your care?” The answer is that the system does not require birth parents to “fish or cut bait.” The system does not insist that birth parents either take responsibility for the child, or release him to someone who will, namely, adoptive parents. Some birth parents consider the best of all worlds to be keeping parental rights, seeing the child once in a while, but letting someone else do the hands-on child-care work. Unfortunately, the system enables, rather than discourages this posture.

The situation of the birth mother is even more striking.“Keshia Roberts, raised in foster care from the time she was 9 months old, was 16 when she gave birth to Malachi.. For the first 16 months of Malachi’s life, Eddtwanna Starks was his foster mother. She also cared for the boy’s mother. But the living arrangements fell apart earlier this year.

“Keshia suddenly ran away and left the boy with me,” said Starks, 32. Without the mother to help, Starks said she couldn’t give the boy the care he needed. She had other children living with her.

That’s when Malachi was placed with the foster mother who is charged with murdering him.

Adoption removes a child from the foster-care system. Adoptive parents become accountable for a child in a way that the bureaucratic government agency never can be. Adopted children do better than the children of single mothers. And even the average child of an average single mother has far better life chances than a child in foster care.

I have no wish to pile on these grieving young parents. But the simple truth is that if they had released their son for adoption at birth, he would almost certainly be alive and thriving today.

His 16-year-old mother had then and has now, no means of supporting herself. She was not then and is not now, married to the child’s father. In any sane social universe, the adults around this mother and child would have gently advised her to place him for adoption, for his own good.

Tragically for vulnerable children, the system puts a higher priority on protecting the due-process rights of birth mothers. I formed this opinion during the three years I was a foster parent in San Diego County. I suspect San Diego is typical, not exceptional. Although California law requires infants to be “fast-tracked” for permanent placement, attorneys and judges don’t want their decisions overturned on appeal. They have stronger incentives to cover all the legal procedural bases, than to make good placement decisions. By the time the child is finally available for adoption, he may be no longer adoptable.

Most likely, no one suggested adoption to Malachi’s mother. She probably had a court-appointed, taxpayer-funded attorney to help her maintain her parental rights, rights she was in no position to actually exercise. All she could do with her rights is to block a family from adopting him.

So who killed Malachi? The attorneys and social workers who helped his mother keep her parental rights killed him. The law that simultaneously instructs social workers to protect children and reunify “families,” killed Malachi.

And none of those guilty parties will ever be held accountable for anything.

Jennifer Roback Morse is a senior research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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