Quick Hit: Just because you can, should you?

A 7 year old African girl is at the centre of a custody dispute between her single mother and a wealthy white Australian couple who have helped with her care since she was a baby. The full story is here and here. (Well as full as you get in the MSM).

Obviously the couple are very attached to the child and only want the best for her. Just as obvious is the fact that her mother only wants the best for her as well.

It would seem that a simple cultural misunderstanding is at the bottom of this. In Africa it is normal for child care to be shared so the mother had no problem when the white couple offered free baby sitting while she worked. The white couple, on the other hand, believed that the mother had given them custody of the child. When the child started school the couple offered to pay for an expensive education. Her mother, believing she would be a fool to look a gifthorse in the mouth, accepted gratefully. Who wouldn’t, we all want the best for our children. Except now, the child doesn’t want to be with her mother she wants to be with the white couple who can offer her so much, compared to her single mother who still works six days a week. The couple want custody of the child with visitation rights for the mother.

My thoughts are – yes you can offer her so much but just because you can, should you? Is this what is best for the child?

Categories: Culture, ethics & philosophy, history, media, relationships, work and family


8 replies

  1. Hmmm.
    I am a foster parent and have in my care an 18 month-old boy I have looked after since he was 22 weeks old. He is about to be put under the care of the Minister until the age of 18, which pretty much means he can stay with us indefinitely. However, proposed changes to the laws in SA mean that there is a strong possiblity that, within a couple of years, I will be given the opportunity to formally adopt him and, I gather, Families SA have voiced their qualified support for such a scheme.
    But just because I can, should I? That is the very issue I have been grappling with since it was first mooted.
    On one hand, we love him to bits and he is very much a part of our family. From his perspective, I am the only mother he has known.
    On the other hand, is what’s best for us reason enough to totally extinguish his birth mother’s rights?
    It’s the thorniest ethical issue I’ve ever had to deal with, made even more agonising because I want it so bloody much. I can certainly understand how the couple in this story feel, but can also strongly empathise with the mother.

  2. I’d assume your foster child was put into your care for a reason by the relevant authorities and so it’s in his best interests to be there, and that there is probably no alternative for him other than another foster placement. If his birth family can’t provide the stability that you can, then I think you should be able to adopt.
    Unlike the case above where the mother is willing and able to care for the child, just not in the style to which she has become accustomed.

  3. The fabricated allegation of genital cutting sounds like there’s a lot more happening beneath the surface than a misunderstanding. There’s a whole lot of racial stuff going on here.
    Either way, I’m rather horrified at the idea that stuff like “who can afford a fancier school” should ever play into discussions about removing custody from a birth-mother. How is is that the child welfare interviews have become public? I thought there were limits on media reporting of these?

  4. I specifically didn’t get into the racial stuff because I didn’t want to be a white woman talking about how I think an African woman might feel etc etc because basically I’d be talking out my arse. I was trying to give equal benefit of the doubt to both sides as well, although I’m strongly with the birth mother on this one. I’m trying to believe that the fabricated allegation was a desperate attempt on behalf of the white couple, it certainly wasn’t well thought out and easily found to be wrong (although at who knows what cost to the child).
    I suspect that someone close to the case is talking to the media. Otherwise how would they get that information?

  5. Yes Mindy, I acknowledge my situation is slightly different in terms of the ability and capacity for the mother in either case to safely parent her child.
    Also, it seems that, on closer examination, the motivation of the parents in this case is slightly different as well. I must say I was alarmed to read of the child talking about “voodoo” and other things: my daughter was pretty switched on at the age of 7 but I’m pretty sure that neither her nor her school friends knew what voodoo was, so I suspect this is something that has been said by the parents.
    Big, big line to cross AFAIAC. As foster parents it is drummed into us to respect the religious and cultural beliefs of the family of the child in our care; what the parents are doing in this case sounds like the polar opposite and I guess that is one of the things that disturbs me the most.
    One wonders whether they saw an opportunity from day one and decided to exploit it to satisfy their own needs. I sincerely hope it isn’t true because, at the end of the day, the biggest loser here is the poor child.

    • @chinda63
      Voodoo/Voudou/Vodun is an ancient polytheistic religious culture, indigenous to parts of West Africa – please don’t fall for the stereotypes seen in horror films and crime shows. There are plenty of people practising voodoo who wouldn’t be out of place at a vicarage tea party other than being non-Christian.
      Edit: in addition to the apparently false report of genital cutting, for the white couple to now be fearmongering over her cultural religious heritage indicates to me that they are probably the last people who should be raising this child – they appear determined to totally alienate her from her birth culture.

  6. they appear determined to totally alienate her from her birth culture.

    But that IS what’s best for the child, isn’t it? Because her birth culture is wrong/inferior/whatever, and their culture is right/meritous/superior. So it’s objectively better for the child if she is completely disconnected from all that harmful “lesser” stuff.

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