PLEASE JOIN IN THE FIGHT FOR PARENTAL RIGHTS

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Yes, I believe that parental rights should be constitutionally protected through the proposed Parental Rights Amendment:

SECTION 1

The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a

fundamental right.

SECTION 2

Neither the United States nor any state shall infringe upon this right without

demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest

order and not otherwise served.

SECTION 3

No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to

supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

To sign this petition please go to www.parentalrights.org. I encourage everybody to look at this petition.

 

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DCF declines to pursue case after witness claims to see child punished at restauran

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 20, 2019 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)


The Department of Children and Families has declined to pursue a case after a witness called police about what was viewed as excessive force used on a child at a restaurant in The Villages.

 

The witness called law enforcement on the evening of July 27 after she saw a man remove his three-year-old daughter from Chili’s restaurant on Avenida Central, according to an incident report from the Lady Lake Police Department. The father later admitted to police he had spanked the child in the parking. The witness claimed the father had spanked the child so hard she was finding it hard to catch her breath, the report said.

 

More >> DCF declines to pursue case after witness claims to see child punished at restaurant

Foster care providers fear loss of funding due to Family First Act

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 20, 2019 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Saturday, August 03, 2019


A successful foster care provider in Saline County is fighting for kids he serves.

 

For 19 years, Second Chance Youth Ranch has housed foster children and supported foster families.

 

“We provide the support, the knowledge, the wisdom,” said Perry Black, founder of the non-profit organization. “We take off a lot of those responsibilities of the families. We help them with budgeting, planning, safety factors, transportation. We provide the house and the utilities.”

 

More >> Foster care providers fear loss of funding due to Family First Act

The Top 10 Most Dangerous US States for Families Targeted by CPS... And why.

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 20, 2019 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)


I just did a little study on the current state of Child Welfare in all 50 states. I sort of took a snap shot in a notebook, of what has been the most recent issues brought up on Legally Kidnapped. Based on that, I was able to identified certain trends, such as what are the major child welfare concerns in any given state on this particular day, September 20th 2015. Based on that analysis and the information collected, I give you this list of the Top 10 Most Dangerous US States for Families Targeted by CPS.

 

This list could of course change at any given time. Each of the state names and numbers is a clickable link that will bring you to the feed for that particular state. This is a list based on the most current events over the last few months.

 

Number 10: Kansas

 

Kansas is a mess. Lawmakers are looking into it and unable to figure out what to do. With low educational requirements for CPS Agents and unlicensed investigators. There is lots of abuse in foster care and parents suing the state because of that and unwarranted removals. Click on the link above to see what's going on.

 

Number 9: Maine

 

Maine has seen a sharp increase in the number of child snatching's over the last few years because being a national model wasn't good enough, leading to a recruitment campaign from the top down regarding a desperate need for new homes. Parents are trying to sue DHHS for not informing them of an ongoing child abuse investigation at their childrens daycare, and Maine's Indian tribes are accusing CPS of cultural genocide and abuse in foster care. Maine is also in the bottom 10% when it come to returning kids to their parents.

 

Number 8: South Carolina

 

With accusations of failures to investigate child abuse, and overwhelmed CPS Agents. Cover-up's of child abuse at group homes, a class action lawsuit by the New York based child advocacy group Childrens Rights, and foster kids staying in Motel Rooms. South Carolina was a shoe in for the list.

 

Number 7: Rhode Island

 

Rhode Island makes the list thanks to investigations of fraud into child welfare agencies, lots of abuse in the foster care system, spikes in the number of kids in care and too many of them being warehoused in group homes. Rhode Island's child welfare system is in a total state to chaos.

 

Number 6: Pennsylvania

 

Pennsylvania makes the list thanks to the complete over-reaction to the Jerry Sandusky case, which has brought about a sort of child abuse hysteria and knee jerk legislation that is unique to that state. Schools and child centered organizations are loosing volunteers due to stringent background check requirements, and mandated reporter laws are intense. There is also lots of abuse in the states foster care system.

 

Number 5: Florida

 

With high rates of children aging out of foster care, kids sleeping in CPS offices and motel rooms, violence in juvenile detention facilities, shortages of foster homes, and lots of failure to protect cases, Florida has certainly been an interesting state to watch.

 

Number 4: Texas

 

Texas has a knack for placing foster children in homes where they are murdered. They also take lots and lots of kids while providing little in terms of preventative services. CPS Agents are also known for evidence tampering.

 

Number 3: Vermont

 

Vermont is on a total child snatching spree, with record numbers of kids in foster care. The sudden spike is due to panicky workers who are over-reacting to two child deaths. CPS Agents are also in panic mode after one of them was recently shot and killed by a pissed off parent. Parents with disabilities are routinely targeted for having their kids removed and the media is right up their assses, analyzing every little move they make. It's better to be safe than sorry. Vermont is a very scary state for families right now.

 

Number 2: Arizona

 

Arizona is arguably the state where you are most likely to loose your child to CPS. It was a tough decision between this and the number one spot. Arizona's child welfare system is plagued with shortages of foster homes, and tons of frivolous child snatchings. Still they react more and more every-time a kid falls through the cracks, but just can't figure out that sending their worker out on wild goose chases takes up too much time so they can't focus on the real abuse cases. Therefore they just keep taking more and more kids and packing them into wherever they can fit them. Often more dangerous than their homes.

 

And the number one most dangerous state for families targeted by CPS in United States at this point in time is....

 

 

Number 1: Massachusetts

 

Massachusetts is in a total state of child abuse hysteria, over-reacting to lots and lots of failure to protect cases where children, both in foster care and while under CPS watch in their homes are being abused, killed, left on the side of the road, and turning up dead in trash bags on the beach. Panicky CPS Agents have crisis level work loads, an ever increasing number of child removals with a lack of adequate homes to put them in. Lots of systematic failures and unstable leadership. It was a tough call between this state and Arizona for the number one spot, but the fact that the Massachusetts Child Welfare System is the worlds biggest media circus right now makes it the clear winner.

 

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Labels: Child Protective, foster care, USA

Foster Parents Who Beat 2-Year-Old to Death Cry as They Are Found Guilty of Murde

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 20, 2019 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Sunday, August 04, 2019


On Thursday, a Georgia jury convicted a 30-year-old woman and her 29-year-old husband of murdering their 2-year-old foster daughter in 2015, according to multiple reports.

 

Jennifer and Joseph Rosenbaum were both facing 49 counts stemming from the death of Laila Daniel.

 

More >> Foster Parents Who Beat 2-Year-Old to Death Cry as They Are Found Guilty of Murder

When the Child Protective Services System Gets Child Removal Wrong

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 1, 2019 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

 


They Took the Kids Last Night is the title and opening line of my just-published book (Praeger, October 31, 2018), drawn from over 30 years of helping families navigate a treacherous and error-prone Child Protective Services system (CPS).

 

CPS caseworkers continuously separate children from their parents at a monthly rate 300 times greater than the number of the separations at the Mexican border that took place in May 2018. These separations occur day in and day out. They commonly happen in secret and without fanfare. CPS caseworkers take children from their homes, their schools, and from hospitals if the children have been taken for medical care following an injury or medical condition. Children are also separated from parents, and sometimes from their siblings too, at CPS offices and in juvenile/child protection/dependency courthouses.

 

How It Happens

 

In 2015 alone, over 7.4 million children were named as suspected victims of abuse or neglect in Hotline calls. Massive bureaucratic triage systems screen out 40% of these calls and send the remaining allegations to field offices for investigation or alternative community responses. Then, CPS investigative caseworkers make findings of abuse or neglect in approximately one-fifth of the screened-in calls, meaning that some 650,000 children a year are labeled abused or neglected at the conclusion of a Hotline investigation. These labels then get registered in a state-administered child abuse register, based on sometimes minimal levels of evidence (“credible evidence” in many states). This is determined by a caseworker and almost never by a judge.

 

During or as a result of this investigative process, in 2016 alone, 273,539 children were placed into foster care. But much less attention has been paid to the untold number of children who are the subject of coerced “voluntary” separations of families are a common result of CPS Hotline investigations in as many as 37 states, and such separations may constitute an equally large number among those that were initiated directly by CPS. Unfortunately, statistics on these informal separations, never ratified in a court of law, are not maintained by state or federal agencies in any reliable form. One of the policy issues my book discusses is why safety plans have come to be so pervasive and so tolerated by a country that claims to treat family rights as sacred and the rights of families as fundamental.

 

It is time to reexamine CPS family separation policies. The public has recently been served a large dose of the visible trauma that children and families experience when they are separated by force. Yet vocal expressions of public sympathies have not reached the parents of children taken into foster care, nor much to those children themselves. But even parents who never have been charged crime and whose sole fault is bad luck can and do lose their children to CPS. While the child protection system operates disproportionately to separate families of color, no one is immune. Indeed, the primary story the book tells, in unfolding day-by-day narrative detail, involves an unexplained fracture that suddenly was found one night in the leg of newborn grandson of a federal judge.

 

If CPS caseworkers take children from their parents into state or local CPS agency custody, a formal legal process is required, both to authorize the children’s removal from their homes and to transfer legal custody to CPS. Once it obtains custody, CPS places children into substitute care (usually a foster home, including with a relative, but also into group homes and residential facilities). Timely court orders—no later than five days after an emergency removal—are constitutionally mandated. To get these court orders, every state has a process that triggers judicial oversight, ongoing formal assigned casework responsibilities for the CPS agency, and federal funding if the child qualifies for federal aid.

 

But CPS systems have improvised clever tactics to avoid ever presenting a legal case to a judge when they remove a child. There is a long history in many states of using so-called voluntary placement agreements that explicitly aim to avoid the requirement of court orders. In more than thirty states, policies and practices authorize even more informal separations, which are agreements in name only. Innocuously called “safety plans,” these devices are utilized to circumvent the duty to afford due process to the families from whom children are taken.[1] Safety plans are usually oral directives, issued to parents following a CPS Hotline call, that require parents to give their children over to relatives under threat of forced removal and placement with strangers. These separations are labelled as “voluntary” even when parents are led to believe that entrusting their children to a relative is the only way they can see their kids at all. This informal separation system, operating under the unfettered authority of CPS caseworkers to fashion onerous demands and restrictions upon parents and other family members, creates what I call a “shadow foster care system.”

 

Litigation, news reports, and research into these practices has shown them to be prevalent and pervasive, especially in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas (where one-third of the children in the child welfare system were separated from their parents without legal process and under a form of so-called “voluntary” agreement). CPS spokespeople (including CPS attorneys) have defened safety plans as a lesser intrusion than formal separations and placements into foster care, but have generally avoided answering the question of whether there is a legal basis to demand family separation in the first place.

 

A Troubling Case and an Important Precedent

 

Multiple attempts to challenge the exercise of coercive state authority through safety plan demands have been made in Pennsylvania and Illinois, with mixed but growing success. The case of Crystelle and Joshua Hernandez, which established the constitutional standard for the lawful taking of children from their parents in the Seventh Circuit in 2011, is one of the six stories my book narrates in detail. What happened to the Hernandez family could have happened to any family in America. In 2009, when Jaymz Hernandez was 15 months old, his parents Crystelle and Joshua had just moved back to Illinois from Texas. Joshua was an Iraq war veteran and Crystelle was a stay-at-home mom. On September 8, 2008, after living in Illinois for all of three weeks, Crystelle heard, through a baby monitor, that Jaymz had started crying after his nap.

 

Crystelle ran to Jaymz’s room and she saw him on the floor of his room, holding his arm. She naturally concluded he must have fallen out of his crib. The Hernandezes had no idea Jaymz could climb out already. They quickly lowered the mattress to its lowest possible position so that he couldn’t get out again.

 

New to the area, Crystelle took Jaymz to an unfamiliar doctor’s office to have his arm checked. Jaymz turned out to have a torus fracture of his right arm. During their visit, the nurse noted Crystelle had said Jaymz couldn’t “run or climb.” If Crystelle had said such a thing, what she had meant was that Jaymz couldn’t run or climb since the fall. Unaware of nurse’s note until much later, Crystelle had no chance to clarify the point at the time the note was made. A minor scratch above Jaymz’s eye and confusing responses as to whether Joshua was home at the time of the fall led the doctor’s office called the CPS hotline, viewing the statement that Jaymz couldn’t run or climb as a “red flag” for possible child abuse.

 

A CPS caseworker came to the Hernandez home that afternoon. She saw Jaymz walking, playing with toys, and interacting with his mother as if nothing were wrong. While she reported to her supervisor that Jaymz looked fine and that she didn’t know why she had been sent there, the CPS supervisor directed her, over the phone and without ever seeing Jaymz, to take the toddler into state protective custody.

 

Fortunately, the CPS caseworker placed Jaymz with his great grandmother, though the toddler barely knew her. And the CPS caseworker forbade Crystelle and Joshua from seeing their son while he remained in state protective custody. Luckily, the next day Crystelle was allowed to attend Jaymz’s orthopedist appointment to cast Jaymz’s arm. The doctor told the CPS caseworker that it “didn’t look like abuse.” Indeed, the doctor said that abuse could not account for the type of fracture Jaymz had; the break could only have occurred from a fall.

 

Later that same day, the local State’s Attorney decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to file a petition in the local juvenile court to start a case to adjudicate Jaymz as an abused child or to take Jaymz into the formal foster care system. Under Illinois state law, the CPS agency’s legal authority to keep Jaymz in protective custody, and away from his parents, lapsed when the State’s Attorney decided not to bring the case to a judge. The power to hold a child away from his parents is an emergency police power. Nevertheless, CPS continued to hold Jaymz away from his parents. The CPS caseworker told Crystelle and Joshua that, despite that State’s Attorney’s rejecting the case, CPS “still had more investigating to do,” and they now had to sign a “safety plan.” Jaymz still could not come home and the Hernandezes could not see him unless they signed the safety plan agreement. The CPS caseworker also told them that they had no parental rights.

 

Naturally, Crystelle and Joshua believed the caseworker and signed the demanded agreement. The agreement allowed them to see their son, and even to stay overnight with him at the relative’s home in which he had been placed, as long as a relative supervised all of their contact with Jaymz.

 

New medical opinions continued to confirm the lack of child abuse. On September 16, 2008, Crystelle and Joshua sought legal help to bring their son home. After their lawyer implored the caseworker to end the restrictions, and as medical evidence in the family’s favor continued to mount, the CPS caseworkers ended the safety plan on September 18. Without such attorney intervention, plans often last 60 days or more while investigations continue, even when evidence of parental innocence mounts. The CPS investigation stayed open for another two months, however, closing finally on November 7, 2008, with a finding that the allegations of abuse against the Hernandezes were “unfounded.”

 

Terrible and frightening as it experience was, the experience

 

presents a clear and compelling set of facts for challenging the authority of the state to hold the child in custody without probable cause or exigent circumstances. The coerciveness of the CPS demand, coupled with the representation that the Hernandezes had no legal rights to see their son (and hence were compelled to agree) were glaring too.

 

Despite the strong evidence that the safety plan the Hernandez parents signed was involuntary, their federal civil rights lawsuit was initially dismissed in federal district court. The 2006 case Dupuy v. Samuels, with an opinion by Judge Richard Posner, held that a “mere suspicion” of abuse by a parent, without any evidence yet gathered to support the allegation made to a Hotline, sufficed for CPS caseworkers to make a safety plan demand that required parents to put their children into a relative’s care. Suspicion could “ripen,” and the hands of CPS workers were not to be tied by the need for evidence before they were allowed to “offer” a safety plan. Viewing safety plan choices as “options,” the Seventh Circuit declared that parents who were offered such safety plans could simply “call the bluff “of the caseworkers. The opinion pointedly compares parents’ options (the choice between having one’s children go live with grandma or be taken into foster care) to those of cocktail party guests first offered a martini or a Manhattan, but then told that the only choice was a Manhattan, concluding that even such limited “offers” made them “no worse off.” The opinion concluded that safety plans were voluntary. Indeed, using the cocktail party analogy and its language of “offers,” the opinion concluded that Illinois’ pervasive safety plan practices were so plainly innocuous that they did not reach the threshold showing of a deprivation of liberty sufficient to allow the plaintiffs to state any colorable claim for a constitutional violation impairing family liberty.

 

The Search for Better Options

 

No good host forces his guests to drink. Yet CPS caseworkers never offered parents the choice of “no thank you” when they were given the forced choice between putting a child with a relative or having them go live with strangers in a foster home. The Dupuy opinion’s cocktail party analogy was thus plainly flawed, as the massive factual record before the district court in the 22-day trial confirms. The evidence—never referenced in the Posner opinion—showed that not one parent ever called a CPS caseworker’s bluff. Every time that a parent was threatened with foster care if they did not agree to separate from their child by enlisting a relative to care for the child during the investigation, the parent “agreed” to the safety plan. The federal trial court had found express coercion was rampant in the Illinois safety plan regime.

 

Far from a voluntary choice of options, the choice between having a child live with a relative during an investigation or go into foster care (with the possibility of never seeing their child again) is akin to being offered a choice of “your money or your life.” Labeling such choices “offers” of “options” is Orwellian. Yet, in the regime of CPS, safety plans have been largely accepted as though they were voluntary options for the families under investigation. Caseworkers are trained to label safety plans as “voluntary agreements.” In the wake of the Dupuy decision, families face an uphill battle in arguing for any entitlement to due process as they lose custodial rights to their child.

 

Fortunately for the Hernandez family and the plaintiffs who followed them, there was a loophole in the Dupuy decision. As plaintiffs’ lawyers working to create a constitutional child welfare system for families, we mounted a series of cases that aimed to turn that loophole into a set of constitutional policies that would, if implemented as required, move the CPS system into a direction of affording due process to families under CPS investigation.

 

The Posner opinion had posited that families who refused safety plans were “no worse off” for having been offered the “choice” between taking their child into foster care or having the child live with a relative. The loophole arose because when the CPS caseworker demanded the Hernandezes sign the plan, their child had already been taken into protective custody. That made the so-called “options” more plainly coercive. Contrary to the assumption in the Dupuy opinion that the parents could “call the State’s bluff” and not be worse off, if the Hernandezes had exercised that “option,” it would mean their child would stay separated from them, and they would not be able to see him at all.

 

Ultimately, the Hernandezes won reversal of the Dupuy-based dismissal of their federal civil rights suit and secured an opinion that was more than a modest corrective to Dupuy. First, it clarified that the state bears an immediate duty to release a child from state protective custody as soon as it is clear there was no probable cause to believe the parents had abused the child. And while the Seventh Circuit refused to award damages to the Hernandezes arising from initial seizure of their children, it declared that, henceforth, taking children from their parents without probable cause, without exigent circumstances, and without a court order first, violates the Fourth Amendment. Several other circuits have articulated the same legal standard.

 

The Seventh Circuit also labeled the Hernandezes safety plan coercive, knocking a gigantic hole into the Dupuy opinions conclusory assumption that all safety plans, including those issued without any investigation and upon “mere suspicion,” are uniformly voluntary and thus work no deprivation of liberty.

 

Despite this landmark ruling, however, practices on the ground in Illinois have not changed significantly. Five subsequent lawsuits in Illinois successfully extended the holding of Hernandez v. Foster to the nonconsensual transfer of custody to another parent and the holding of children at hospitals. Still, policies and practices intended to clarify the limited circumstances in which a state can demand a safety plan are yet to be fully implemented. Safety plans continue to be demanded of parents in the absence of evidence showing any serious likelihood of abuse or neglect to the alleged child victim and absent emergency justification for separating the family without a court order.

 

Juvenile court intervention provides a necessary but insufficient correction to the abuses of power committed in the name of child protection. The Hernandezes story was the shortest of the separation stories told in They Took the Kids Last Night. One ordeal lasted 3½ years, and another required a trip to the appellate court before an unfair presumption of guilt for alleged Shaken Baby Syndrome was overturned. The Hernandezes never had to respond to a formal legal action, since the request to file a case against them in the juvenile court was rejected by the prosecutor. Nevertheless, the juvenile court practices my book examines in detail add to the challenges families face when CPS separates them from their children. Parental innocence of wrongdoing provides little protection in the face of pervasive policies that support taking children first and then shift the burden to the families to prove their innocence.

 

New federal amendments to the Social Security Act pursuant to the recently enacted Family First Prevention Services Act could make the problem of family separation without due process even worse. Federal matching funding soon will become available to support relatives caring for children involuntarily taken from their parents, without requiring any formal judicial review of the validity of the separation in the first place. While advocates like me hope for some stronger federal guidance to reinforce the principle that children cannot be taken from their parents under coercive threats, there is substantial concern about an ever-widening child protection reach into family life. While the Families First Act was intended to support families’ ability to raise their children and avoid foster care placements, it may have the unintended effect of encouraging more safety plan separations into relative care without due process.

 

Wider public attention and scrutiny to these operation of CPS, both in the formal foster care system and in the shadow foster care system that operates under the radar, is long overdue. If awareness of the trauma inflicted on families by ICE practices at the border leads to a re-examination of that agency and its actions, then perhaps a re-examination is also in order when American resident children, from Alaska and Hawaii to Florida and Maine are taken away too.

Has Child Protective Services Gone Too Far

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 1, 2019 at 10:10 AM Comments comments (0)

 


A debate sparked by the free-range parenting movement has drawn attention to the threats and intrusions poor, minority families have long endured.

 

On July 29, 2013, a Latina mother in Illinois named Natasha Felix sent her three sons, ages 11, 9, and 5, out to play with a visiting cousin, a young girl, in a fenced park right next to her apartment building. The oldest boy was charged with keeping an eye on his siblings, while Felix watched them all from the window. While they were outside, a local preschool teacher showed up at the park with her class. She saw the 9-year-old climb a tree. Felix’s youngest son fought with his cousin over a scooter and, at one point, ran with it into the street. Based on this, the teacher called the child-abuse hotline, and Felix received a visit from the Department of Children and Family Services.

 

According to legal filings in the case, the investigator, Nancy Rodriguez, found that Felix’s kids “were clothed appropriately, appeared clean [and] well groomed,” and that Felix “appeared to be a good mother.” Felix’s oldest son seemed like a “mature young boy” who “certainly could be allowed to go outside by himself to the park next door.”

 

However, when Rodriguez asked Felix if the boys had any special needs, Felix replied that the 11-year-old and the 9-year-old had been diagnosed with ADHD. On the advice of their doctor, they were off their medications for the summer. Rodriguez later wrote that “based on the mother not knowing that the kids were running into the street with the scooter, based on the children having ADHD,” she recommended that Felix be cited for “Inadequate Supervision” under the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. As a result, Felix was placed on the state’s child-abuse registry, which led to her losing her job as a home healthcare aide and ended her dreams of becoming a licensed practical nurse.

 

“She’s been devastated,” says Diane Redleaf, executive director of the Family Defense Center, who is representing Felix before a state appeals court. “I’ve been talking to her about how this impacted her, and it’s heartbreaking. She couldn’t send her son to take the garbage out—she was afraid to do that.”

 

Earlier this year, a Maryland couple, Alexander and Danielle Meitiv, made international news after two run-ins with Child Protective Services, sparked by their decision to let their children, ages 10 and 6, walk to neighborhood parks by themselves. As self-described “free-range parents,” the Meitivs are committed to giving their kids freedom from constant adult oversight. According to an interview with Danielle in Psychology Today, after the second incident, a social worker demanded that Alexander sign a “temporary safety plan” saying that his children would be supervised at all times until CPS could do a follow-up. When he balked, the social worker threatened to have the children taken away from him immediately and called the police. The couple were ultimately found “responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect,” which Danielle calls “an Orwellian judgment,” adding that their lawyer describes it as “‘legal purgatory,’ because it seems to be meaningless in plain English, yet it’s like a cloud hanging over our heads.”

 

The Meitiv case was highly unusual, but not because of the arbitrariness or overreaction of CPS. It was unusual because the Meitivs are white, affluent, and highly educated: He’s a theoretical physicist, and she’s a science writer and consultant. “I’ve worked in this field for 35 years, and I can’t remember when child-welfare cases like this have been in the news,” says Redleaf. “We’ve been trying and trying to get that to happen.”

 

Advocates for families caught up in the child-welfare system hope that the national debate sparked by the free-range parenting movement will draw attention to the threats and intrusions that poor and minority parents endure all the time. Child-neglect statutes, says Martin Guggenheim, a New York University law professor and codirector of the school’s Family Defense Clinic, tend to be extremely vague, giving enormous discretion to social workers. “The reason we’ve tolerated the level of impreciseness in these laws for decades,” he notes, “is that they tend to be employed almost exclusively in poor communities—communities that are already highly regulated and overseen by low-level bureaucrats like the police. For somebody like me, the ‘free-range’ cases that are hitting the paper today are a dream come true, because finally people who otherwise don’t care about this problem are now calling out and saying, ‘Aren’t we going too far here?’”

 

“She’s been devastated. She couldn’t send her son to take the garbage out—she was afraid to do that.” — Diane Redleaf on her client, Natasha Felix

 

Indeed, several recent incidents in which poor women of color have been arrested for their entirely rational parenting decisions have received national attention, though not as much as the Meitivs’ case. In July, Laura Browder of Houston was arrested for child abandonment after bringing her kids, ages 6 and 2, to a food court and leaving them there—never out of her line of sight—while she interviewed for a job 30 feet away. A year earlier, Debra Harrell of South Carolina was arrested for letting her 9-year-old play alone in a park while she worked her shift at McDonald’s.

 

“Certainly, prior to this, I don’t think most white people knew very much about the child-welfare system, or were afraid that someone was going to knock on their door and say, ‘Let me see your kids,’” says Dorothy Roberts, a University of Pennsylvania law professor and the author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. “Whereas in black neighborhoods, especially poor black neighborhoods, child-welfare-agency involvement is concentrated, so everybody is familiar with it.”

 

In a July article for Al Jazeera America, Peggy Cooper Davis, an NYU law professor and former Family Court judge, highlighted the devastating effects that arbitrary decisions by CPS and similar agencies can have on black families. “I think of a devoted father whose child was removed from his care because a $5 bag of marijuana was found in his room by staff of the shelter where father and child were living,” she wrote. “I think of mothers who lost custody of their children because the mothers themselves had been subjected to domestic abuse.”

 

Yet progressives have not, in general, seen CPS as worthy of the same suspicion as other forms of law enforcement. (“Child Protective Services” tends to be used as a catchall term for child-welfare agencies, though different states use different names.) “I don’t often hear people relate police arbitrariness and child-welfare-authority arbitrariness,” says Davis. “It would be useful to relate them, for they often have to do with similar kinds of biased presumptions having dreadful effects in stressful situations.”

 

This view, of course, is hardly universal among experts: there are still those who defend CPS as a progressive institution. Among them is Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard Law professor and faculty director of the school’s Child Advocacy Program. Although Roberts once worked as Bartholet’s research assistant, today they represent opposite poles in the debate. Bartholet, a white woman who formerly worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, calls her opponents “extreme family preservationists” who are “putting kids at risk by insisting that, at almost all costs, they stay at home” with abusive or neglectful parents. She maintains that anecdotes about outrageous CPS intrusions are outliers: “More people need to think about all these issues from the point of view of the child. Imagine an infant or a toddler growing up in a household where they’re being tortured, being beaten, being locked in a closet, left on the floor to scrounge around for whatever food they can find. That happens all the time. Kids are removed from those houses and put right back.”

 

These things do happen. At the same time, in the majority of cases in which kids are taken from their families, the grounds are neglect, not physical abuse (though, as Bartholet points out, sometimes physical abuse is sus- pected, but only neglect can be proved). Usually, drugs are involved. “Overwhelmingly, something like 70 to 90 percent of cases in the child-welfare caseload are characterized by parental substance abuse, drugs, and/or alcohol,” Bartholet says. To her, that’s not an indictment of the system, because she believes that people who use drugs, particularly during pregnancy, should not be allowed to parent. As she wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed last year, “Massachusetts should test all children to assess whether there is prenatal drug or alcohol exposure. It should require substance-abusing parents to engage in rehabilitative treatment if they want to keep their children. It should place at-risk children in homes where they can be adopted if the birth parents can not comply with the treatment regimen.”

 

For Roberts, who is black, Bartholet is far too cavalier about the costs of separating parents and children, in some cases permanently. “It is appalling to devalue the bonds that black children have with their families in the way that Bartholet does,” she says.

 

“More and more, I see the hashtag #abolish fostercare.” — Dorothy Roberts

 

Whatever you think of parents who use drugs, it’s clear that poor parents and parents of color are held to a very different standard than middle-class white parents. “My daughter broke her collarbone twice when she was a young child,” says Guggenheim. “I took her to the same hospital, and the second time I brought her they treated me with great dignity and respect. If I were in Bed-Stuy and a single parent, [CPS] might have come to my door, they might have found some joints on my nightstand and taken my child, and I would be lucky if, 12 months later, I got her back in my custody. That’s how I live my white privilege every day. And they would have found joints on my night table, let’s be clear about that.”

 

The treatment of parents in the child-welfare system used to have greater salience among civil libertarians, but it was overshadowed by the very real imperative to protect children from abuse in their own homes. Guggenheim was a staff lawyer at the ACLU from 1976 to 1980, doing work to challenge “the vagueness of neglect and termination-of-parental-rights laws.” But toward the end of his time there, he says, the organization began to shift from protecting the rights of parents to their children to protecting children from their parents. The children’s-rights advocate Marcia Robinson Lowry came aboard in 1979. For a few months, she and Guggenheim worked together, but “her agenda was to support state intervention,” he says, “and mine was to limit it.” So he resigned. (In 1995, Lowry left to form a separate organization called Children’s Rights; after her departure, the issues surrounding family law largely fell off the ACLU’s agenda.)

 

Meanwhile, the right of parents to raise their kids free of government intrusion has become a cause célèbre for conservatives. Christian fundamentalists regularly demonize Child Protective Services; homeschooling activist ­Michael Farris even wrote a thriller, Anonymous Tip, about CPS’s evil child-snatching machinations. And Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah recently added a “free-range kids” provision to the reauthorization of the Every Child Achieves Act, a federal law funding elementary education. Lee’s amendment says that parents cannot be subject to civil or criminal charges for letting their kids walk or bike to school at whatever age they deem appropriate.

 

Yet at a time when the left is increasingly attuned to state-sponsored surveillance and the abuse of people of color, the progressive case for parents’ rights is worth taking seriously. “More and more, I see the hashtag #abolish fostercare,” says Roberts. “Not as much as #abolishprison, but I think there’s a growing awareness about these connections. I certainly try in my own writing and advocacy to emphasize the connections between prison, foster care, and the welfare system. They’re all very much connected historically in terms of who is in these systems and who is punished—the myths about people in these systems.”

 

Emma Ketteringham, managing director of the family defense practice at New York’s Bronx Defenders, which represents low-income people in both criminal and civil cases, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn—the “mecca of parenting,” as she calls it. In her neighborhood, she sees a wide range of parenting styles and philosophies, from free-range to helicopter. “In that community, differences in parenting style get the raise of an eyebrow or a disapproving look from a neighbor or a classmate’s parent—for some of the exact same things I see my clients being brought to Child Protective Services for,” she says.

 

Part of the issue lies in mandatory reporting. Almost all states have laws on the books requiring professionals who come into contact with children—teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, and the like—to report suspected cases of abuse. As of 2013, 18 states and Puerto Rico require anyone who suspects child abuse to report it. In most states, there are criminal penalties for those who have reason to believe abuse is taking place but say nothing—and those who make abuse claims that turn out to be unfounded generally have immunity.

 

On the one hand, there’s broad agreement that people who witness a child being hurt should report it. But when it comes to who is being reported, and for what, both race and class are inescapable pieces of the equation. “Doctors are more likely to think and suspect child abuse in the case of black parents,” says Roberts. She cites a Journal of the American Medical Association study which found that “minority children…with accidental injuries were more than 3 times more likely than their white counterparts to be reported for suspected abuse.”

 

“I was so scared she was going to remove them, I completely changed the way I parented.” — Seattle mother Jessica Carter

 

Determining neglect is even more subjective. “These are situations in which, in many respects, it’s driven by community norms: What do people believe is appropriate child-rearing?” says Fred Wulczyn, a senior research fellow at the University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall and director of the Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data. “Which is what makes this such a dicey issue.”

 

According to Jessica Carter, for example, CPS visited her in 2008, while she was living in a suburban Seattle apartment complex. A white woman married to a Puerto Rican man, Carter was a mother of two at the time. An anonymous caller had accused her of leaving her infant son at home while she went out and about the building. She suspects a busybody neighbor reported her after seeing her run downstairs to collect her mail while her son napped in his crib.

 

Carter’s son was asleep when the CPS worker arrived, and his bedroom door was closed. This, the worker warned Carter, was unacceptable. The worker “told me that CPS’s stance is that I should have eyes on the child at all times,” Carter says. When she objected, saying that this would be impossible, the CPS worker accused her of failing to take matters seriously. “I was terrified I was going to lose my children,” Carter recalls. “I was so scared she was going to come back and remove them, I completely changed the way I parented for a really long time.”

 

The charges against Carter were ultimately dismissed as unfounded. Even so, when she got her certified nursing assistant’s license, she had to alert the licensing board that she’d been investigated for child neglect.

 

Lowry, who now heads an organization called A Better Childhood, insists that the problem with most child-welfare systems isn’t that they’re overzealous, but that they’re incompetent. “I used to think it leaned one way or the other,” she says. “Now I just think it’s not well run. The decision-making is not careful, and there’s no sense of urgency in getting children back to families or, if they need it, into new families.”

 

In July, Lowry filed a lawsuit against New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services to force it to act faster in finding permanent homes for kids. One of the plaintiffs is 3-year-old Thierry E., who was taken from his mother almost two years ago, after she called a domestic-violence hotline about her abusive husband, on the grounds that her husband might hurt the boy as well. (The child’s race isn’t specified in the lawsuit, and Lowry declined to provide it.) “There was not and never has been any allegation that anyone abused Thierry E. or that his mother failed to provide him with appropriate, loving care,” the suit maintains. He was placed with a foster mother who spoke only Spanish, a language he didn’t understand. His mother, a schoolteacher, is no longer with her abuser and has been desperately trying to get her son back for 21 months—so far without success. “At the end of his twice-weekly visits with his mother, he cries uncontrollably,” the suit continues. “When his mother expressed concern at this behavior, Thierry E.’s therapist told her that he had to ‘get used to it because this was his life now.’”

 

Minority children with accidental injuries were more than three times as likely as white children to be reported as victims of suspected abuse.

 

Lowry’s suit, however, also has plaintiffs who languished in foster care for years, and it alleges that the parents’ rights to these children should have been severed long ago in order to free them up for adoption. New York’s Administration for Children’s Services, the suit argues, “should not wait months or years until reunification efforts have failed to begin alternative permanency planning, including identifying other potential permanent homes for the child.”

 

As Lowry points out, the number of kids in foster care has dropped significantly in the last decade. After peaking at 524,000 in 2002, it went down to 402,378 in 2013, the last year for which data are available. “The number is really down a lot, so I don’t know how one can make a credible claim that children are being removed too frequently,” Lowry says. The problem, she adds, is that some children are being removed who shouldn’t be, and others who should be removed are not.

 

Roberts agrees with Lowry’s diagnosis, up to a point. “It is a poorly run system,” she says. “You do have to very often wonder how it can be that you have children who would be perfectly safe at home—all they needed was the heater to be fixed, or the mother to have childcare—and then those children are traumatized for life by being placed in foster care. And you wonder how that can happen at the same time that a social worker can be well aware that a child is being starved at home and do nothing.”

 

To her, however, the fact that the system is so broken means that it can only do harm by intervening more than it already does. “It’s far beyond the problem of just making it more efficient,” Roberts says. “I certainly wouldn’t want a system that more efficiently removes children from their homes.”

 

Most of the time, when CPS is called, no proof emerges that the parents did anything wrong. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 80 percent of investigations “the children were found to be non-victims of maltreatment.” Yet once CPS enters a poor family’s life, says Ketteringham, it can be hard for the family to extricate itself. When New York’s Administration for Children’s Services makes contact with a family, she says, “they’re usually going to check your cupboards, check your refrigerator, look for signs of drug use.” She’s had cases where a woman was reported after testing positive for opiate use at birth; even if it turns out that a doctor administered the drug during labor, a caseworker may discover that the woman is living with a man who has a criminal record. And that’s enough to keep the case open.

 

Parents might be referred to preventive services, such as drug treatment or follow-up medical appointments. The caseworkers “come back a couple times and make sure the parent is doing those things,” Ketteringham says. “If parents fail to do those things, or if, in the caseworker’s view, the child is at risk of serious harm, they can remove the child right then without going to court.” She’s seen petitions reporting that a mother has been prescribed Prozac “but is no longer compliant with her medication,” Ketteringham says; a judge “once ordered a mother not to fold clothes and put them into her baby’s crib.”

 

Sometimes parents can’t comply even if they want to. Kristen Weber is a senior associate at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, a DC think tank that hosts the Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare, a coalition of groups working to reform the system. Recently, Weber says, she’s been looking at cases of migrant farmworkers ordered to comply with “services,” such as parenting classes, for which they have no transportation. “They have to make a choice: ‘Do I lose a day’s pay and then not be able to pay my rent and food’”—which, Weber notes, can also be grounds for child removal—“‘or do I [refuse to] go and do this ‘service’ that will take all day for a two-hour parenting class?’”

 

Even if the demands of CPS are unreasonable, advocates say that deference—if not outright servility—is often required from the parents, much as it is in encounters with police. “By resisting their efforts to help you or, God forbid, talking about your rights to parent in a specific way, it usually means that everyone concludes you’re beyond help, because you haven’t accepted that you need their help,” Ketteringham says. “Usually, you’re telling your client that the fastest way to have your children returned is to cooperate with the investigation.”

 

People who work in the field generally don’t blame individual caseworkers for this situation. The biases are systemic, not individual; they appear regardless of the race of the workers. “We have largely not found a huge difference in outcomes based on workers,” Weber says. “We did work in Detroit, where almost the entire workforce and leadership is African-American, and we’re still seeing evidence of disproportionality and disparity.”

 

Structurally, all of the incentives in the system encourage intervention, but there are scant resources to tailor that invention successfully. CPS employees can lose their jobs for failing to act, but rarely for acting too aggressively. “When people are working in these indeterminate job situations, they become reluctant to make the wrong decisions,” Wulczyn says. “It’s always easier to act than it is to not act. If I’m the least bit suspicious and my job is on the line if I make the wrong decision, I can always make the decision [to intervene] and let somebody else deal with it.” If the charges turn out to be unfounded, he adds, a judge can always throw them out.

 

On the surface, this makes a certain amount of sense. Surely it’s better, at least in some cases, to err in favor of protecting a child. But the lack of urgency that Lowry cited means that mistakes are not always quickly rectified, traumatizing the very children CPS purports to help. “If the family standing before the court where an intervention was requested were a family for whom we had regard in terms of the child’s bond to the parents, we would work a lot harder to keep a child with their mother,” Ketteringham says. “You see it every day in the system.”

 

A motion to allow unsupervised visits between a parent and a child may not even be heard for a month, Ketteringham continues, and there’s no sense of outrage over this. “If it were a family of privilege standing before that court, no one would say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ If a family of privilege had their child removed from the school setting and interviewed without notice to them, and removed from their care with no phone call for two or three days about where they are… that just wouldn’t happen.”

 

Further, lawyers say it’s almost unheard of for child-protection agencies to intervene in order to give families the material support they actually need. Many cases of child neglect involve parents who can’t afford childcare, says Redleaf, and yet “they never give people childcare support, if that’s the reason. They never say: ‘Here’s a childcare provider for you, and we’ll pay for it.’”

 

Nor could they, even if they wanted to: There is far more federal funding available for foster care than there is to subsidize services for children who remain at home. “For workers who are trying to do great work, if you’re going into a family and you don’t have the resources to support the family in their home, you’re left with very difficult decisions,” says Megan Martin, who heads public-policy work at the Center for the Study of Social Policy. “Our policy on child welfare hasn’t caught up with the research on child welfare; what we know families need is very different from what we’re providing them with at every level.”

 

That dilemma might be starting to change. In August, Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act, which is designed to direct more funding to in-home services. “Somewhere in America, a mother has to choose between leaving her kids at home alone to work a night shift, and losing the wages that allow her to barely scrape by,” Wyden said in a statement. “The current child-welfare funding system provides two choices: put kids in foster care or do nothing.”

 

We might see a new legal precedent on the child- welfare system as well. Later this fall, Redleaf says, the Illinois Appellate Court will either begin oral arguments on Natasha Felix’s case, or decide it on the basis of the briefs that have already been submitted. Redleaf’s goal isn’t just to have Felix exonerated and removed from the state’s child-abuse registry; it is also to establish a precedent governing how the neglect statute is applied in Illinois. In the words of his legal filing, “The appeal raises a question of great importance to parents and children of this State: may a parent who allows her school-aged children to play in a nearby park for thirty or forty minutes, without remaining in her line of sight at all times, avoid being registered in a State-run database as a child neglector?”

 

If the answer is no, then we might see an Illinois version of the Meitivs in the news sometime soon. However, that family won’t be the ones paying the greatest price.

 

Editor’s note: This piece originally referred to Child Protective Services investigators as social workers. In some states, CPS investigators are not required to have a degree in social work. The piece has been corrected.

DCFS Audit

Posted by Diane Vigil on August 1, 2019 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Audit finds LA County Family Services failing to protect children from abuse

Social workers completed 72% of safety assessments on time, some without visiting a child's home

 

The California State Auditor reported that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Servies often fails to complete assessments on time. (Google Maps)

By SCOTT SCHWEBKE | [email protected] | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: May 21, 2019 at 6:34 pm | UPDATED: May 23, 2019 at 10:58 am

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services allows children to remain in unsafe and abusive situations longer than necessary — sometimes for months — by failing to complete neglect investigations accurately and on time, according to a California State Auditor report released Tuesday.

 

Auditors determined the department’s social workers completed 72% of safety assessments on time in 2017 and 2018.They also found several instances in which social workers prepared and submitted assessments without actually visiting the child’s home.

 

 

“Even if supervisors had identified and corrected many of these issues upon review, we found that they often completed such reviews long after social workers had made decisions regarding children’s safety,” the auditors said in the 43-page report.

 

The audit’s findings and recommendations will be beneficial in ensuring that children are better protected, said Bobby Cagle, director of the Department of Children and Family Services for the past 18 months.

 

“We worked very closely with the auditors to make sure they had what they needed to make the findings they needed to make,” Cagle said. “We should be welcoming of anybody who looks at our work with a critical eye.”

 

The Southern California News Group reached out to several child advocacy organizations regarding the audit but none returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.

 

The Department of Children and Family Services is the largest child welfare agency in the U.S., with 35,000 open cases at any given time.

 

137,000 allegations investigated

Last year, 225,000 calls were made to the department’s child protection hotline, resulting in the investigation of 137,000 allegations. Referrals to the hotline are routed by the department to one of its 19 regional offices for in-person investigations and case management.

 

State law requires the department to initiate investigations within 24 hours or 10 days, depending on the severity or circumstances of the referral. However, auditors found that the department met that requirement in only 19 of the 30 investigations that were reviewed.

 

 

151 days to investigate one case

In one instance, a social worker made a single attempt to contact a family within 24 hours, but did not make subsequent attempts.

 

“Once the department sought and found the family — 151 days after the referral — it removed the children from an unsafe home situation,” the report says.

 

Complaints that the department has failed to remove children from homes despite reports of abuse have made headlines.

 

In 2018, the department came under scrutiny after 10-year-old Anthony Avalos of Lancaster died of serious head injuries. Cigarette burns covered the boy’s body.

 

Law enforcement officers and child protective caseworkers documented years of severe abuse in the Avalos case, sources familiar with cases have told media outlets. They have said that despite the history, the boy was never permanently removed from the home.

 

Auditors also found the department struggled to complete neglect and abuse investigations within the mandated 30-day time frame.

 

The department adhered to that time frame for only nine of 30 referrals that were reviewed. Six of the investigations lasted more than 90 days, and one exceeded 400 days, according to the report.

 

The department’s inability to meet the 30-day timeline for investigations is often “cyclical’ and frequently at the mercy of school systems, which are the primary reporters for child abuse and neglect cases, Cagle said.

 

Assessments late, inaccurate

Auditors also found that safety and risk assessments completed by the department’s social workers were frequently late and inaccurate.

 

Out of 30 safety assessments that were reviewed, five did not accurately identify or attempt to address threats in the home, according to the report. In three instances, social workers filled out safety assessments without actually visiting the children’s homes, but asserted the homes were safe and without hazards, auditors found.

 

The report also says some assessments were inaccurate because social workers failed to consider important risk factors such as past domestic violence in homes or the results of previous investigations.

 

Background checks

The department also failed to consistently perform required home inspections and criminal background checks before placing children with relatives, the auditors found.

 

Noting one glaring example, the report said: “The department did not complete the required background check for the relatives of one child until we raised the issue in December 2018 — nearly 800 days after placement.”

 

Auditors also determined the department did not consistently meet requirements for monthly in-home visits to evaluate the well-being of children in its care.

 

Two social workers were found to have repeatedly used nearly identical narratives to document ongoing visits for months, raising doubts whether visits had actually occurred, the report said.

 

Recommendations made

To address problems detailed in the report, auditors said the agency should complete the following recommendations by November:

 

Establish thresholds for the number of days that will trigger follow‑up from the department’s various levels of management.

Implement a tracking mechanism to monitor and follow up on uncompleted or undocumented initial home inspections and background checks.

Implement a tracking mechanism to monitor live scan criminal record checks.

Conduct annual reviews of community organizations that perform home environment assessments to ensure they complete the assessments on schedule.

Cagle said the department is committed to addressing the recommendations and is focused on establishing a smaller ratio of supervisors to staff to better review cases.

 

“We are making strides in many areas,” he added. “Our concern is that we provide the best quality, timely services.”

FORMER CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES CASE WORKER SPEAKS OUT

Posted by Diane Vigil on November 24, 2013 at 2:40 AM Comments comments (0)


PHOENIX - A former Child Protective Services caseworker is speaking out claiming the lack of accountability is the reason why Arizona’s CPS system is broken.

This CPS employee asked to remain anonymous but says the state has a responsibility to protect children.

"It's the mission of the government to keep kids safe," she said.

We asked her if when she worked for CPS, if she felt like children slipped through the cracks. "Absolutely," she said.

The worker says during her time with CPS, she says she was shocked at the confessions her colleagues would make.

"Drive-bys are literally when you drive by the house. You don't actually stop. You don't do what's called due diligence," she said.

She said a couple of her co-workers asked her if she would actually go out and knock on the door.

"And I'm like 'yeah,' and they would say, 'Oh...well, I do drive-bys.' And I’m like 'What's a drive-by?' 'Oh I just drive down the street.' 'You don't knock?' 'No this case isn't anything, this report isn't anything.'"

The case worker recalls one situation where she claims a child, under state custody, died from natural causes and the case worker didn't know anything about it.

"He didn't know the sex of the kid. He didn't even know the kid passed away."

But CPS Child Welfare Program Administrator Deborah Harper disagreed with those claims in an April interview.

We asked, "Do you feel like children slip through the cracks?" "In my perspective no," Harper replied.

ABC15 has also uncovered court paperwork supporting the claims of some parents who say caseworkers abused their power.

We found court transcripts of an open case where a judge goes on the record claiming a case worker made up her mind to take away the children because she didn't like that the parents didn't react quickly enough during the initial visit.

The judge accuses the case worker of quote "getting ticked off." The judge says he believes that's why the kids were taken away.

This former CPS employee says that's not an isolated case.

"They know they have power. People have perceived power and when you have the ability to do those things and someone pisses you off. Yeah it happens. Should it happen? No absolutely not."

But in a past interview with Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter, he told ABC15 abuse of power doesn't exist with his agency.

"Is there a generic issue with abuse of power?" "There is not," he said.

The caseworker we spoke to says while there are some that break the rules, there are others who really care about what they do and the children and practice due diligence.

 

 

Read more: http://www.abc15.com/dpp/news/region_phoenix_metro/central_phoenix/former-child-protective-services-case-worker-speaks-out#ixzz2lXxzeGPq

Is OC?s Child Protective Services A ?System of Lies

Posted by Diane Vigil on October 1, 2013 at 7:40 AM Comments comments (0)


It's a chilling scene caught on camera: Armed police officers stripping a baby from his mother's arms.

 

No warrant.

 

No court order.

 

They just walk into a private home at take the child … all on the say-so of a social worker.

 

The Sacramento video clearly illustrated the power vested in Child Protective Services' social workers.

 

Only two entities – that we know of -- have the power to deprive people of their liberties:

 

Law enforcement and Child Protective Services.

 

It is an awesome power that demands rigorous oversight and scrutiny. Police abuse of that power regularly makes headlines. But social worker abuse? The very phrase sounds offense. These professionals dedicate their careers to helping people.

 

Then Fox 11 investigators began hearing from parents. Desperate parents. They said social workers had taken their children. They said social workers were lying, falsifying reports, perjuring themselves in court.

 

Frankly, the stories sounded paranoid. But there were so many parents telling such similar stories, we began investigating these reports for our series, "Lost in the System."

 

I met with several – let's call them court insiders. Veterans still working in Southern California's Family and Dependency courts. They confirmed what the parents were saying.

 

They told us that social workers were regularly lying and perjuring themselves – terribly abusing innocent families in the process. Why, that is a complex answer we hope to bring you in future reports.

 

Most families we talked to are so devastated – financially and emotionally – they have little chance of fighting back against multi-billion-dollar government agency.

 

But a few have found the strength and resources to fight back … and dedicated attorneys – like Shawn McMillan – willing to join for them.

 

"System of Lies" tells the stories of Deanna Fogarty-Hardwick, Jill Randall and Marcus and Raelyn Stokes.

 

Each of them sued Orange County and their allegedly abusive social workers. Deanna won a jury verdict. Randall and the Stokes forced the county to settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

Despite all of that, Orange County officials still deny any wrong doing.

 

They claim the full facts never came out in court – though the clearest decision went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Maybe they're right. If we knew more, we could understand.

 

But we can't know more. And critics say that's a big part of the problem. Social workers for Child Protective Services mostly operate behind a shroud of secrecy. Unlike criminal cases, the public – even friends and relatives – usually are barred from the courtrooms where social workers' most difficult cases are heard, Dependency Court. Records are off limits to all but parents and attorneys involved in the cases.

 

The secrecy does protect children's privacy. But it also protects government workers.

3 Investigators arrested

Posted by Diane Vigil on September 26, 2013 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Three current or former Child Protective Services investigators were arrested in Hunt County on Tuesday on tampering with evidence charges. The arrests are reportedly related to the case of Alicia Moore, a Greenville teenager who was murdered after walking off her school bus last year.

 

Details of the allegations have not been disclosed. The indictments against the workers are sealed. Law enforcement officials in Hunt County either declined to comment to didn’t immediately return messages.

 

But District Attorney Noble Walker told the Greenville Herald Banner that the arrests were “in relation to the Alicia Moore case,” though not to her murder.

 

The three workers arrested were Laura Marsh Ard, 60; Rebekah Lynn Ross, 34, and Natalie Ausbie Reynolds, 34. Reynolds is supervisor for the state agency and is based out of the Dallas office. Ross and Ard were both investigators and recently left the agency.

 

Ard retired in March after a 21-year career. Ross resigned on July 31.

 

CPS officials said they are working to find out more about the case.

 

“We just learned about this today and we don’t have any information about what is in those indictments,” said spokesman Patrick Crimmins.

 

All three women have been charged with tampering with physical evidence. Reynolds and Ross have also been charged with official oppression, a charge that can be levied against a public servant who unlawfully mistreats or arrests someone, denies a person of his rights or sexual harasses someone.

 

Moore, who was 16, disappeared on Nov. 2 sometime after she walked off her school bus in a Greenville neighborhood. Her nude body was found days later inside a wicker trunk in Hunt County. Her uncle, Michael Vincent Moore, was arrested in May and charged with the murder. Court documents indicate that DNA evidence implicated him in the crime.

 

A few months before her murder, another man was accused of sexually assaulting her. That man, 49-year-old Terry Dwayne Ramsire, remains in the Hunt County Jail on multiple charges of indecency with a child.

 


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