Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Child Protective Services Does As Much Damage As It Does Good.

Note: The following article that I wrote appeared in The Sunday Gazette on Father's Day. The published version differed slightly from this version because the editor made a few minor changes.

On October 8, 2004, Montgomery County took my daughter away from me, and I entered the surreal and hitherto unknown world of Family Court, Social Services, lawyers, foster care, Child Preventive Services and Child Protective Services (CPS). I got my daughter back eight months later and have spent the last year trying to undo the damage that was done to her while in the county’s care. While at Northeast Parent & Child Society’s Children’s Home in Schenectady, where the county placed her, she learned to smoke marijuana and steal cold medicine to get high, among other things.

While some of the “surrogate” parents who looked after my daughter tried hard, the only requirements for their job was a driver’s license and a high school diploma. Many were in their twenties and had little or no parenting experience. The Child Preventive caseworker that I refused to let the county pawn off on me was arrested last year for Medicaid fraud, and one CPS investigator in Montgomery County was arrested on drug charges. And they had the gall to say I was a bad dad.

I was not accused of abuse. Instead the county brought a petition of neglect against me based on the nebulous charges of “inadequate guardianship” and “emotional neglect.” My daughter was in Ellis Hospital at the time and a staff member at the hospital called the state hotline and made several incredible statements including one that said, “If the child is sent home instead [of placing her elsewhere] her safety cannot be ensured due to the restrictive demands of the father to do family chores.” I don’t understand what the phrase restrictive demands means, but I don’t thinking keeping your room clean, helping to take care of your own horse, and emptying the dishwasher once a day qualify as restrictive demands.

But I don’t want to say any more about my case, at least for now, because what happened to me is minor compared to what has happened to other people. After listening to other parents who have had similar and worse experiences, after reading Carl Strock’s excellent Mother’s Day column about a mother who had her children taken away, his follow-up column, and letters to the editor on the subject, I felt it was time to speak up.

Unfortunately, many parents caught up in the labyrinthine system we give the oxymoronic title, Family Court--a place where families are dissolved by divorce and children are taken away from their parents--often do not have the skills to defend themselves or are so ravaged by the ordeal, they are unable to. My experience has changed me dramatically, and one of my many life goals is to work toward the reform of our Family Courts and Child Protective Services.

There are two kinds of abuse occurring in our society. There are parents who abuse children, but at the same time there are parents and children being abused by Child Protective Services and Family Court.

Indeed, at least two million families a year suffer at the hands of Child Protective Services. According to the Federal government, three million child abuse and neglect reports are filed each year in the U.S. Two million of those are found to be without merit.Nevertheless, those two million families have to go through an investigative process that is both emotionally and financially exhausting. For example, a Northumberland couple just spent 35,000 dollars to defend themselves against abuse charges. They were found innocent, but at an incredibly high price.

In some instances, investigators actually abuse children. The most notorious example is the Fells Acres Day School case in Massachusetts. Several people went to prison for years; all were eventually exonerated. The supposed sexual abuse never occurred, yet if you read the transcripts of the investigations as I have, you find investigators talking to pre-school children about things that can only be described as pornographic. Innocent children, who had never been abused, had their minds filled with garbage by people whose job was to protect them.

Several factors contribute to Child Protective Services abusing children and parents. First, most reports to CPS are made anonymously and the name of the person who files the report cannot be given to the person under investigation. It’s not difficult for a person who has a grudge against someone, to pick up the phone and make a false report. Secondly, while it is against the law to file a false report, it is only a misdemeanor and rarely is anyone charged with filing a false report. Thirdly, in order to prosecute someone for filing a false report, you have to prove they did not do it in good faith. Fourthly, many professional people (doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers, nurses, etc.) are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect. If they don’t, they can face charges. Last year a school principal and teacher in Florida were jailed for failing to report a suspected case of abuse. Many mandated reporters report everything and anything to protect their own posterior. Finally, CPS investigators have civil immunity. They cannot be sued for anything they do and because of that immunity they often abuse the incredible power that they have.

In spite of all of the new laws that have been passed over the last several decades, making it easier to detect, report, investigate and prosecute child abuse, child abuse remains a serious problem. Indeed, CPS seems often to miss the worst cases, those resulting in the deaths of children. Could it be that CPS is spending too much time investigating false reports of child abuse and neglect and therefore using up resources that are needed to investigate real cases of child abuse?

In a report on Child Protective Services reform, prepared by Walter R. McDonald & Associates for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 2001, several states had initiated reforms of CPS that resulted in earlier detection and prevention of child abuse and a decrease in the number of families subjected to unnecessary and painful investigations. Unfortunately, New York State is one of the few states that has not initiated any reform efforts. It’s time the state did.

Today my wife and I and our three children will spend the day together. I am thankful for that. At the same time, I feel a great deal of sorrow for those parents who are unable to do so because their children were needlessly torn from them by Child Protective Services.

2 Comments:

  • Dan, I thought this was an excellent article and handed it along to the rest of the family to read. Well done.

    By Blogger threecollie, at 6:23 AM  

  • I am living with the unjustice of CPS workers now. Thank you for the article.

    By Blogger Marie, at 1:15 PM  

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