Committed to protecting the safety and well-being of the thousands of Wyoming children being raised in guardianship.
“Removing a child from his or her ‘family’ can be just as traumatic as exposure to abuse and neglect, and can have negative effects that last a lifetime…”
No laws enacted to protect safety and well-being of an entire group of Wyoming children
It is estimated that 11,000 plus Wyoming children are being raised by relatives, primarily grandparents and often through a “guardianship”. Why? Statistics tell us that over 90% of these children are placed in 3rd party care, remaining in their custody, many for years, because of substance abuse and criminal behavior including incarceration associated with substance abuse…we’re referring to methamphetamine, heroin, and opioids, which the usage of, often perpetuates domestic violence and mental illness. These numbers reflect a serious systemic issue in Wyoming that is nationwide.
These numbers do not include children in state custody. Wyoming’s current statutes have NO CLEAR GUIDELINES governing third party custody proceedings, including guardianship. According to Wyoming law, these particular, most vulnerable and often traumatized group of children, are NOT ENTITLED TO “BEST INTEREST” legal standards afforded to ‘other’ children in our state.
This literally means the judge may not consider what is “best for the child” should a biological parent come forward years later to ‘reclaim’ the child. As a result of this biased and archaic practice of law, children have been returned, and will continue to be returned to ‘biological parents” who have long histories of abandonment, neglect, abuse, and who are habitual drug addicts and felons. They merely decide to “show up” in court on a given day, years later, stating they are now “fit”. Typically, a ‘biological’ parent returns to court seeking custody after there has been a child support order issued and/or they become aware of the welfare benefits…“if they seek to regain ‘custody’ of their child”, they are entitled to food stamps, housing, and substantial cash assistance. A child is uprooted from stable loving home, given back to a stranger who abandoned them, causing significant adverse effect on the child’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being for years to come.
Passing a law which “prioritizes” the safety and well-being of the child
Tell our legislators we want them to:
Follow the Nationwide lead- 24 States to date have enacted similar protective “De Facto Custody” type laws including KS, IN, KY, ID, MT, OK, WV, AK, CO, WV
Follow the Uniform Parentage Act and the Uniform Nonparent Custody Act
“Approved and Recommended For Enactment in ALL THE STATES” by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws
To make the law effective stakeholders strongly advocate for the following standards to be included in the bill.
- Abandonment and neglect: the length of time the child was left in the nonparent caregiver’s care
- Unstable living situation related to employment and maintenance of a suitable home
- Criminal records and criminal associations, particularly and primarily related to drug use, and patterns of ongoing drug use (currently in WY statutes however, not typically followed)
- Patterns of domestic violence
- History of mental illness
- Failure to financially support the child,
And, Most Important…
- *The established bond and dependent relationship with the child and his or her ‘psychological’ parent(s)… and, the physical, emotional and psychological impact of change of custody – Primary emphasis, supported by unquestionable research.
- And any other factors the court deems necessary and relevant i.e.
We would argue that these simple measures, customary language used in the majority of best interest documented standards across this country, do not confine nor “box in” a judge nor his/her ability to use discretion. In fact, just the opposite occurs…a judge now has the ‘tools’ to use his discretion to make a practical and moral decision on behalf of the child.
“…JUDGES HAVE TO SEND KIDS HOME WITH PARENTS THAT MAKE THEM SICK TO THEIR STOMACH ALL THE TIME…” Wyoming District Court Judge
“I’m 110% behind it…I’m well aware of the situation. Thank you for your hard work and I wish you the best of luck.” Wyoming District Court Judge
Wyoming District Court judge’s testimony (excerpt)…May 7th, 2018 Joint Judiciary meeting, Worland, WY
“The courts struggle with this, and our struggle, are the tools, that we use our discretion, discretion within standing…and the ‘path back, if that be the ‘best interest’…the difficulty with that, and I’ll be candid, I’ll try to without being specific, is that the parents with the ‘constitutional’ rights, can now reclaim that child, are very often horrible parents; they’re terrible people, but they’re the parents and nobody can really prove otherwise that they’re unfit, that very high standard…clear and convincing evidence and unfitness…it’s legal but not practical…we judges appreciate the power of discretion, to deal with it when it’s really gone wrong, and in many cases it has…a general reflection of where we’re at.”
Note: The Wyoming Supreme Courts lists “12 Factors that will, in sufficient combination, support a conclusion that a parent is unfit to have custody and control of her children.” Why isn’t this set of standards being followed in our courts??? See LSO Memorandum Oct. 27, 2017 under “Legislative”
Regardless of the method our legislators decide to pursue…whether through enacting a Wyoming version equivalent to the “de facto” custody law, or “changing the current guardianship laws to alter the standard of ‘fitness’ and include Best Interest Standards”…stakeholders around the state unite. We believe this law must be honorable, focusing on protecting the child, not ‘narrowly defined’, nor ‘watered down’ to please the minority naysayers. Focusing on the child’s well-being and their constitutional rights is non- negotiable and, is a nationwide fast-growing legal movement
Our Promise to the Children
We will not rest until our State Legislators pass laws that prioritize the safety and well-being of the more than 11,000 Wyoming children being raised in guardianship, providing the same legal Best Interest Standards afforded to all other Wyoming children.
We stand relentless in our efforts to ensure that these children’s Constitutional rights are upheld…to preserve existing child-parent-like relationships that have been established with loving, responsible adults.
If you agree that the safety and well-being of a child should be protected…contact your legislators!
It makes a difference! Both Senators and Representatives in you district. Send a strong message in a phone call and in an email. Be a voice for our children…it only takes a few minutes out of your day. Your Legislators’ contact information is on our website.
If you want to share your story confidentially,
If you want to donate your time or financial resources…
We need your help to make this law happen!
P.O. Box 22035 Cheyenne, WY 82003
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead
If you know someone who is interested in this issue, please pass this information on.
CHILD ABUSE & ALCOHOL/SUBSTANCE ABUSE
- 1/3 to 2/3of child maltreatment cases involve substance use to some degree.12
- In one study, children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs were three times more likely to be abusedand more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abusing families.
CHILD ABUSE CONSEQUENCES
- Abused children are25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.6
- Abused teens are more likely to engage in sexual risk taking, putting them at greater risk for STDs.6
- About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.7
- In at least one study, about 80% of 21 year olds that were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.15
- The financial cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States is estimated at $585 billion.8
CHILD ABUSE RISK FACTORS
- Alcohol abuse (parent/caregiver)—the compulsive use of alcohol that is not of a temporary nature.1
- Drug abuse (parent/caregiver)—the compulsive use of drugs that is not of a temporary nature.1
- Domestic violence (parent/caregiver)–abusive, violent, coercive, forceful, or threatening act or word inflicted by one member of a family or household on another.1
Children who experience child abuse & neglect are about 9 times more likely to become involved in criminal activity. 6
We wish to thank our Wyoming Joint Judiciary Committee who has made this a “priority” issue for the 2019 session.