When children are born, their parents are typically concerned for their safety. People spend a fortune making sure their children use the safest beds, the safest car seat and safest stroller. This is very natural and very important. For some reason, when the same parents’ relationship breaks down and they separate, the importance of their kids’ physical and emotional safety is often neglected.
Because once they separate, the decision-making process about the children is divided. Unfortunately, in some cases, parents’ separation means that one parent raises the kids and the other poses a risk to their safety. In other cases, the conflict between the parents puts the kids’ emotional, and sometimes physical, wellbeing at risk. In severe cases, both parents are a risk to their children’s safety and there is a need to remove them from their home completely.
My sister is a social worker in a special unit that takes kids away from their family and puts them in foster care. This always happens because the emotional and/or physical safety of the child is at risk and none of the parents is able to keep them safe. My sister claims that this just moves the kids from one unsafe place to another unsafe place. Unlike Cinderella’s fairy tale, their stories never end in living happily ever after. Instead, stepparents and foster parents struggle greatly to supply a safe environment for the children.
Challenges with stepparents, foster parents and adoptive parents
The challenge of being a stepparent, fostering children or adopting them is due to lack of confidence in the connection with the child. Many stepparents, foster parents and adoptive parents say that various incidents with their own biological kids go very differently when they are with a stepchild, foster kid or adopted child.
There is some perception of parental “rights” that seems to work well with your own children, but not with adopted and foster kids. This translates into a lack of confidence in the relationship. Stepparents, Foster parents or adoptive parents are not confident with kids who are not their biological children, while the kids bring into the relationship their feelings of neglect and rejection by their biological parents.
Both side’s feelings put together create a recipe for disaster. As much as society hates to admit it, the children’s relationships with parents who are not their biological parents jeopardize the kids’ safety.
Dr. Greg Tooley, the Associate Head of the School of Psychology and the Director of Teaching and Learning at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, conducted a study on hundreds of investigations of child deaths from violence or accidents. His research focused on the relationship between family structure, child abuse and neglect, and gender differences in parenting and sexual behavior.
He found out that children were safer with their biological parents.
Based on his findings, children with stepparents or non-biological parents were significantly more at risk than with one or both of their biological parents.
- Kids who lived with a stepparent were 17 times more likely to die from intentional violence or an accident.
- Kids who lived with no biological parents present, were at least 22 times more affected, with children under the age of 5 most at risk.
- Kids who lived with single biological mothers were no more at risk than those who lived with both biological parents, but they were at a 3 times higher risk of drowning.
Part of the explanation is that biological parents are instinctively programmed to be more protective of their offspring and focus more on their kids’ safety than non-biological parents do.
Social responsibility to ensure the safety of children
It is amazing that most parents understand the importance of their children’s safety, but do not understand the importance of working on their relationships to make sure they are both around to keep their children safe. As soon as another person, who is not a biological parent, gets into the picture, trouble begins.
So, are all the children living with non-biological parents in danger?
No, of course not.
Do children who live with non-biological parents have more challenges than those who live with their biological parents do?
This is not because of any ill intention, but because the non-biological parents lack confidence in the relationship, because the children feel neglected, and because together, these feelings create a lot of challenges for everyone.
I work with many children in mixed families and in step-parenting relationships, and there are complicated and sensitive situations.
Should biological parents stay together for the safety of their children?
Well, yes! They should try to do whatever they can to make it happen, and if they cannot, at least one of them should stick around as much as possible.
As a society, we must also support them in staying together, for the sake of their kids. I do not mean force them to stay together for the sake of the kids. I mean help them stay together, or at least help one of them stick around, because it is safer for the kids’ physical and emotional wellbeing.
There is a lot of lip service about children’s safety. It is about time we understand that the best way to make sure kids are safe is for their parents to be there, preferably together.