The Judge’s Lesson

Years ago I took classes to obtain a degree.

Class after class after class.  But the best lessons I ever received were not lessons I was tested on or required to regurgitate back as memorized.

I took classes that had a local judge as the instructor.  She was very approachable and loved to have discussions in her class.   We covered the book work, but the best lessons were in the class discussions and in the meetings with her after class.   She loved a good argument and I remember once having her say in class “you would make a great attorney”.   Learning how to argue early with a house full of siblings obviously has it’s merits.  Or pitfalls.   Depending on how you see it.

One day in class the discussion led in to her having to make the horrible decision to have children removed from their homes, their parents, the only life they knew.   I will never forget what she said.  And I try to apply it to situations when I see parenting gone bad, or parenting never having been learned or applied.

Many students were all for taking children out of neglectful and abusive homes.  The judge let this discussion go on, with little input from her.  Letting those in the class draw their own lines in the sand, form and argue their own opinions.   At one point she did chime in.   I can’t remember word for word what she said.  But in essence her message was:

When children come in to my court room and you see their dirty little faces, their malnourished or poorly nourished bodies, their runny noses, or physical abuse-it’s still hard to take that child out of the parent’s arms.

At this point there were some grumblings along the lines of “not for me” or “they don’t deserve them”.

The judge went on to say…

Have you ever witnessed a child being taken from their mother or father’s arms?  Knowing they are being taken away from the only thing they know?  Have you seen a parent’s face?  Knowing they have no control?

Her biggest and hardest hitting statement…

I’ve seen people who can’t parent, don’t know how to parent, and people who abuse their children.  You may not understand it, but that doesn’t mean that parent doesn’t love their child.   And the child, not knowing any different, loves that parent and they have a bond.  There is nothing easy about listening to a child screaming for a parent, seeing parents cry and crumble, knowing they have failed.  And literally have a child pulled from a parent’s arms.

I have never forgotten that.  I do believe there are some people who have absolutely no right to have children, and if they have children, I believe the children should be removed and placed in safe and loving homes.   There are some situations that bad.

But the Judge was right.  And sometimes….as humans, we don’t know what we are doing.   Sad as that is.  It is.

As angry or justified as we may be regarding our opinions on matters, it doesn’t mean we can fully comprehend all of the angles, and all of the emotions.

I read a post yesterday at The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, which led me to a post that prompted this memory for me.  Her post was a repost from

25 thoughts on “The Judge’s Lesson

  1. Colleen, I hear what you say, and I am so every grateful that I have never witnessed this event happening, but a terrible as it is, I agree you have to pull the kids away from their parents in some cases. Take care, Bill


    • Yes. It must be done. And “taking them” doesn’t mean forever. Maybe in some cases. But usually it is to get the children care, and help for the parents to straighten themselves out, if they so choose.


    • It certainly should be. The judge’s point was that no matter how bad a parent is, it does not mean (in most cases) the parent doesn’t love the child. And it’s very hard on the child, in most cases, to be torn from the parent. Even if the parent hurts them. It’s all the child knows. I’ll never forget her telling about the difficulty of hearing the children crying…..


    • I believe in most cases I witnessed, there was usually a plan of reunification in place, or created. As long as parents are working on what they have to do to become able to ‘parent’. Though I know of the few times when children were taken, and the parents never did a thing to change. And the child’s welfare has to be considered. The priority in most cases of children being removed, if possible, is reunification.


  2. Thank you for this. There’s a world of difference from doing right by another and doing what emotions dictate. It’s a tough and lonely road, a burden for sure, but to stand by and do nothing when in a responsible position, or not opt to help the voiceless or innocent, how could one ever sleep at night? No one ever said ethical dilemmas were easy and certainly where opinions scream the loudest they are muted when it’s brought home to roost. To walk in the shoes of others, all others, that’s a pretty special person, one I certainly admire and aspire to. Love, Paulette


    • Powerful Paulette. And I do not envy the judges or child protective services people who are involved in this. But I greatly admire them. There are great works being done to protect children, and so many just don’t see the level of work that goes in to it.


  3. I did volunteer work for several years with the Los Angeles Superior Court as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) assigned to follow a child through the system. I would be called when a baby or young child (could be older, but mine never were) was taken from a parent and put into the foster system. I would make home visits and reports to the court, assisting the judge in making the decision about the child’s ultimate welfare. Eventually I had to stop. It was incredibly difficult to decide what was really “best” unless the lines were very clearly drawn. I have often thought of some of the children and their families I worked with, and wondered at the ultimate outcome of those children. I learned very early that I wouldn’t do well as a social worker…or judge, I fear!


    • What an emotional task you accepted, Debra. Most courageous and at the same time, emotionally draining. A person very close to me right now was in your shoes so your soul’s unrest is well understood by me, at least.


      • I agree with Koji, Debra. What a daunting task indeed. I am constantly amazed by the women and men around me at work who do this day in and day out. And continually try to protect children AND get the parents the help they need to become able parents. I am sure there are children who remember you, and your willingness to help them.


  4. The “lesson” was well absorbed and remembered by you. Then that makes that lesson wonderful, as you say. And I certainly understand how that judge may have felt. It is retching to hear or see a toddler scream for his/her mama… but then again, I absolutely deplore those parents who would be carrying their child in their arms while making a drug buy. Tough points you bring up, Chatter Master.


    • Two great points Koji. And both sides of it. I’ve heard the children scream. I’ve seen the parents collapse. But I’ve seen the neglected and abused children, and what must be done to protect them, must be done. It’s a harsh world.


  5. Colleen, we need license to drive a car … but anyone can be a parent and not all of us are suitable for that task of various reasons. Here in Sweden we have children ombudsman – and we had some cases where kids has taken their parents to court and have won.
    I think it’s a good thing that kids that aren’t that luck with their parents have a chance to get a better life – but there has also been heartbreaking unnecessary splits of families – it’s a very fine line.
    But first of all it should come down to the children’s welfare.


    • I agree, the child’s welfare should come first. And there have been cases here as well, where children go to court to be “emancipated” from their parents (I think that is the term). It is sad that people have children, then don’t care for them, then fight over them….


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