Behaviorally-Orphaned Children

Jul 21, 2012
Bill Nolte, Associate Superintendent, Haywood County Schools

Over the last few years many schools have observed a disturbing trend.  A growing number of children are being abandoned by their legal guardians.  Maybe this has happened for years.  If this is not a new trend, the frequency and uniqueness of these situations have increased.  Here is a brief description of what is occurring.  Children arrive in our community and their parents (legal guardians) are not with them.  The legal guardians are in Charlotte or Miami or some distant location.  This happens throughout the year … but is more prevalent at the end of the summer, after the first of the year and after spring break.

Usually there are caring souls trying to look after these children.  They bring the children to school and we are faced with enrollment roadblocks because a legal guardian is not here.  The law requires that children should attend school in the district where they are “domiciled” (where the legal guardian lives).  The law makes appropriate provisions for non-resident enrollments.  There are special rules for children who are placed in foster care and for children who are truly homeless.  There are also special provisions for children with parents in prison and parents deployed on active duty with the military.  These and a few other special provisions are effectively covered under North Carolina General Statute 115C-366 as well as federal legislation like the McKinney-Vento Act. 

Unfortunately, there seem to be a growing number of “behaviorally-orphaned children” who do not fit into one of the categories covered by state or federal law.  Before we go any further, I am not asking for more legislation.  We have plenty of legislation and we should not create more legislation that aims to improve moral conduct or cause people to be responsible.  Behaving appropriately and responsibly doesn’t come from legislation.  That is another column altogether … the myth that laws make people act responsibly.

Anyway, let’s get back to “behaviorally-orphaned children.”  Many of these situations amount to little more than abandonment.  Most of the time the biological parents cannot or will not adequately care for children.  In most instances the parents do not transfer guardianship to a responsible adult who can legally enroll students in school and assume basic parental responsibilities.  This is not intended to sound harsh.  It is a pretty accurate account of our first-hand experiences. 

The most disappointing part is that a lot of folks enable these irresponsible or neglectful or incapable parents.  They tiptoe around the issue of responsibility.  They do not respond when absentee parents say things like, “I’m not going to abandon my child.”  When … in reality … their behavior indicates that they abandoned the child a long time ago.  If people are going to abandon their children, the rest of us should not act as if that is okay or normal … because it isn’t.