Katy Faust, founder and director of Them Before Us, an organization devoted to giving children a voice in the debate over family structure discusses the problems with the current conversations about parenting and family formation.
Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. I think we would all agree, that for those of us who are parents, the wellbeing of our children is always a top priority. More and more these days, however, conversations about parenting and family formation are becoming more focused on the desires of adults rather than on the fundamental rights and the needs of children. At times, it seems, even that children can almost become a commodity in the discussion about the type of family adults want and desire.
There’s a new organization called “Them Before Us” that has recently been founded to bring greater attention to this issue and to put the focus back on the fundamental rights and wellbeing of the children.
We are joined today by “Them Before Us” Founder and Director, Katy Faust. After working for the largest Chinese adoption agency in the world, Katy began her public campaign in 2012 to change the tenor of the debate surrounding all things family in favor of the rights of children.
Katy, welcome to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you with us on the show…
KATY FAUST: Thanks so much for having me John.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well Katy, thanks so much for being with us. Tell us about the underlying problem, as you see it, with many of today’s conversations about family and parenting.
KATY FAUST: I think that your listeners will agree and understand that whenever we have these conversations about marriage or parenthood, a lot of the major social issues that we’re facing, even including abortion, the discussion always focuses on the desires of the adults. The desires of the adults take center stage and oftentimes the children are an afterthought, or simply there to endorse whatever it is that the adults are pursuing, so that’s a major problem. That’s a major problem because, especially when it comes to family structure, children have nearly universally recognized rights to both their mother and father, and increasingly those rights are in jeopardy.
JOHN RUSTIN: So Katy, how did this new organization, “Them Before Us” come to be, and what is your mission?
KATY FAUST: Our mission is to be a group of adults who are advocating for the rights of children. The reason it came about is because when I started writing about this back in 2012, around the marriage debate, I was pulling out my hair because it felt like everybody was talking about what adults wanted and nobody was talking about how marriage has been the most child-friendly institution the world has ever known. It brings together the three social/emotional staples of a child’s diet; the love of their mother, the love of their father, and stability, and there’s no other institution that does that. And yes, in all of our conversations around marriage we were just talking about the desires of adults, and sometimes framing those in terms of language that had to do with adults’ rights; a right to marry, or a right to parenthood, or whatever that was, and very few people were discussing the rights of children, or the needs of children. And so along that journey I connected with a lot of children who had missed out on those fundamental rights. Specifically kids with same-sex parents, but then moving into the world of kids who are donor conceived, children who suffered through a divorce and lost the full or partial relationship with one of there parents there. After working with kids for 20 years, I know that when a kid is able to be honest, really the most painful experiences that they go through in life can almost always be traced back to loosing their mother or father, or the disruption that goes along with a divorce. So the fact that these fundamental issues were being ignored, and that the voices of these kids were being ignored, I just think it’s a massive injustice. And so I’ve collected several other incredible advocates, people who are willing to stand up and speak up about this, many of them are children themselves, children of divorce, children with Lesbian or Gay or Transgender parents, children who are donor-conceived, who’ve said the decision that adults are making that prioritize their own desire above the rights of children, that’s harmful to kids. We need some kind of formal body; we need some kind of organization that can advocate on behalf of this population that can’t advocate for themselves. And so that’s what “Them Before Us” is all about, them—children—before us—adults, and that’s the idea, I’m really excited about it.
JOHN RUSTIN: You say that there is a root cause for nearly all of our social problems, and it begins with children and their homes. Explain a little bit about what you mean by that?
KATY FAUST: Right. I’ve got dear dear friends who are on the left side of the political spectrum, who are very concerned about poverty and homelessness, and falling academic success among students, higher incarceration rates, teen pregnancies, all of these major social ills that we are fighting as a society. Yet if you look at the root cause of all of them you will find a common factor, and that is family breakdown, specifically fatherlessness. Fatherlessness is the main way that we see this loss of children’s rights manifest in our culture today, and that has massive implications, not just for those individual children who are just proportionately at risk, but for all of society. Ninety percent of homeless and runaway youth are fatherless; 70-85 percent of prison inmates came from a fatherless home; 63 percent of teenagers who commit suicide have absent fathers. Kids are four times more likely to grow up in poverty if they are fatherless. Everything that we’re tackling from childhood obesity to addiction, to behavioral issues, almost all of these can be found, or are greatly complicated by the fact that these kids are struggling with loosing a relationship with one or both parents. Or struggling through the instability of not having their mom and dad loving them together in the same home. And so I tell my friends on the left, I say, I am for all of these solutions to all of these causes, but you will not get what you want. So we can’t keep throwing money at the problem, we can’t keep enlarging our institutions, we have to fix the one institution that children can’t live without, and that’s the family.
JOHN RUSTIN: How does the definition of parenthood, which seems to be in relatively constant flux today, factor into all of this?
KATY FAUST: Well you know, culturally we have been treating children as commodities for a while, thinking that if the adults are happy the kids will be happy. I think that was the justification for a long time when adults were considering unilateral or no-fault divorce. And now we’ve got decades of social science to show us that not only is that untrue, but it’s incredibly detrimental to children, even in a “good divorce,” even where they’re just living time between both parents and they haven’t lost the full relationship with dad or mom. We still see that children of divorce struggle for life in the most critical areas, from their own relationships, marriages, to work, to mental health. So for a long time we have sort of conceptualized culturally children in a way where we treated them as commodities to be cut and pasted into any adult relationship, and now in law we are seeing that really take form. Earlier this year in Washington State they passed the Uniform Parentage Act, which completely redefined parenthood. It literally said that if you have the means to acquire sperm, egg and womb, you can manufacture a child into existence, and you can be a legal parent to that child regardless of whether or not you’ve got a genetic connection with that child. So parenthood has moved away from, or is moving away from being based on a biological connection, which is critical to child-wellbeing and child-rights, now we’re moving in the direction of parenthood being based on intent. I intend to parent this child, therefore I should be the legal parent. As somebody who has a background in adoption it would be complete malpractice to place a child with unrelated adults who intends to parent them. Why is that? Because in the adoption world we understand that unrelated adults pose a pretty serious risk to child wellbeing, and that non-biological caregivers do not statistically provide the same level of security and benefit, nurture attachment, and permanence in the life of children. That’s why in adoption we’ve developed decades of best practice where we vet and screen potential parents. So we have taken culturally what is going on, which is disregarding the rights of children to both parents, and now we’re codifying it into law.
JOHN RUSTIN: I believe you have characterized it, when speaking about the law, it is increasingly viewing children as objects of rights, rather than subjects of rights, and I thought that was very insightful.
KATY FAUST: What that simply means is instead of viewing children as people who have rights, who deserve to be respected and protected, we see them as something that is owed to adults. Rather than saying, “this child has a natural right to both biological parents,” as is recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most ratified treaty in the world, rather than viewing children that way we think an adult wants something so bad that now children are increasingly viewed as something to which adults are owed, and therefore their natural right to one or both parents is intentionally severed so that adults can have what they want.
JOHN RUSTIN: So Katy, what role do children, and adults for that matter who have survived a myriad of difficult family situations as you have described, what role do they have in these conversations, and what are they saying to you and others who are involved in this movement?
KATY FAUST: Well I think they should have a central role. I think that the main reason why we failed in the marriage debate is because we focused too much on the adults, we didn’t see children as the center stage, because it’s really their lives that we’re talking about. Anything that has to do with marriage and parenthood, yes the adults have something to say, but it’s really the kids lives that are going to be the most impacted for the long term. While there are definitely stories out there of kids who were conceived through a sperm donor who don’t have any problem with it, or kids who are raised by two moms or two dads who think that it was great, the reality is that there’s a huge population of kids who feel like loosing a relationship with one or both of their parents, often intentionally, that that has developed, caused a life-long wound, a primal wound. So I am honored to have friends and fellow advocates who grew up institutions like that who are now taking the lead and saying, “Those children who experienced loss, those children whose rights were violated, those children whose needs were put aside so that adults could prioritize their own desires, those children should take center stage whenever we discuss family structure.” So that’s what we’re doing, we have collected a story bank on our website of children of divorce and abandonment, children who are conceived using sperm donors, certainly egg donors are going to be joining us as they age, children-conceived egg donors, children who have been conceived through surrogates. We’ve got a story bank on our website because we think people should have to look in the face of the kids that are affected and say, “Yeh, it’s no big deal that your rights were sacrificed so that an adult could have what they want.” I think that lawmakers and even just our friends in the culture, when they see the actual cost through the stories and the studies, that that’s what’s going to turn the tide, that that’s really what’s going to make people stand up and take note and really evaluate the issue.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well Katy I certainly expect that is the case, and I know that many of our listeners would be interested in where they can go to learn more about “Them Before Us” and to access those valuable resources that you talked about.
KATY FAUST: We’ve got a website, thembeforeus.com, jump on and sign up at the very bottom and get our email updates. We’re going to be producing podcasts and videos, always collecting new stories and sharing about items in the news that we are going to try to reframe so we can look at all of these developments. Whether it’s celebrity divorce or new policy, we want everyone to look at those issues through the lens of the children. So you’re going to find all of that on our website thembeforeus.com. We need as many people as possible onboard with this mission because it’s going to affect everyone.
JOHN RUSTIN: And with that Katy Faust, unfortunately we’re out of time for this week, but I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for your strong commitment to prioritizing the rights and needs of children in our culture and around the globe. Thanks so much.
KATY FAUST: Thank you so much for having me John.
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