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Thatwhich

Court-ordered child abuse

An elderly man, confined to his home, wants to see his grandchildren. He has eleven of them, the offspring of six children whom he and his devoted wife adopted during their 40-plus years of marriage. The couple also took in foster children over the years, and started a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help young people meet their full potential. The perfect grandparents, right?

The man is Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State coach is under house arrest while he awaits his trial on child molestation charges. Ten alleged victims have come forward and he’s been charged on more than 50 counts of child abuse. Yesterday he asked a judge if he could see his grandchildren. He claims some of the grandkids have been “begging” to see him.

An ex-daughter-in-law has made it clear she is opposed to Granddad visiting her three children. She obtained a court order barring visits. When I read this, I was very happy for those kids. Having been sued by my ex-father-in-law for grandparent visitation, I know how important it is to trust my instincts as a mother and to be proactive in protecting my children.

I am not accusing my ex-father-in-law of doing what Sandusky is alleged to have done. The red flags of my opposition to visits were raised during my marriage to his son—and some of the red flags were raised by his son. I became more firmly opposed during the six years of the lawsuit, as the ex-flaw demanded complete control over visits, not only in regard to dates and times but also in his right to take my children wherever he wanted without telling me of his plans, let alone asking my permission. Family court “referees” treated me with disgust and outrage: how dare I deny this fine, upstanding wealthy white man the right to do whatever he wanted with his grandchildren? I dared.

There are many mothers in the Sandusky story—grief-stricken mothers of the alleged victims, and protective mothers of potential victims. The birthmother of Sandusky’s adopted son Matt falls into at least one of those categories. Debra Long says that Sandusky first came into her son’s life as a mentor through the youth organization Sandusky founded. Later, Sandusky petitioned the court to become Matt’s foster parent, and he and his wife adopted Matt when he was 18. Matt’s birthmom says that while Matt was initially in awe of the famous football coach, he became more fearful of his foster father and started “acting out.” Four months after moving into Sandusky’s house, Matt attempted suicide. His birthmom tried to protect him. In letters to the adoption judge, Long and a probation officer expressed serious concerns about Matt’s safety and mental condition in the Sanduskys’ care.

For whatever reason, Debra Long had lost the right to make decisions on behalf of her son; although at the time Matt was adopted, Child & Youth Services entrusted Long with the care of her nephew. Yet she was unable to convince the court that living with Sandusky was not in her child’s best interest. This happened 17 years ago, three years before anyone came forward with allegations of abuse. How dare this woman question the motivations of such a fine, upstanding wealthy white man?

Parents have a constitutional right to make decisions regarding the care, custody, and control of their children. But in my experience, the courts and social-service agencies often are more concerned about the rights of grandparents. When my kids were in grade school, I was found in contempt for denying their grandfather visits. I was my kids’ sole provider. Their father had long since abandoned them. If I had actually gone to jail, we would have lost our house and the kids would have lost their happy childhoods, to say the least. That’s court-ordered child abuse.

Maybe you can’t imagine denying your children a relationship with your parents or in-laws. That’s great. My kids love their maternal grandma very much, and spend time with her every chance they get. But just as there are lousy parents, there are lousy grandparents. When a fit (i.e., not lousy) parent makes the difficult decision to deny a grandparent that relationship, the courts should not over-ride it. And certainly, when a man is under house arrest for child molestation, the courts should protect his grandchildren from potential abuse and deny him access to them. He may be innocent until proven guilty, but the children are just plain innocent.
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