The hidden half of domestic violence
How to have eternal life
Child Protection Services
[Note: Anytime that you have a system, like CPS (Child Protection
Services, known by different names in different states), that depends upon
there being a problem to combat in order to justify jobs and budgets,
there is the danger of abuse of the system. CPS agencies nationwide are
known to be the worst abusers of parental rights. The doctrine is called
"Parens Patriae", or simply put, the state as the ultimate parent of all
-- by A Friend]
Wednesday, February 06, 2002
System Intended to Protect Children Under Fire for Overzealousness
by Robin Wallace
[First photo caption: Activists claim the children are the first victims of
the system that's supposed to protect them. / AP]
An obese girl is yanked from her parents in Arizona. A New York couple
loses custody of their son because they refuse to drug him with Ritalin. A
Colorado boy is stripped and examined by school officials because he said
he'd been spanked one morning. A Christian mother loses her daughter for
Prudent precaution on the part of America's child protective services
agencies or proof positive of a system run amok?
Cases like these are fueling what is becoming a growing backlash against
state child protective services. It's a movement swelling as more and more
examples surface of parents being snared in a system that critics say uses
murky definitions of child abuse to dictate private family values,
child-rearing methods, lifestyle choices, and even religious practices.
Overzealousness in efforts to protect children may seem an odd charge. But
an expanding group of critics - from family-rights activists to doctors to
social workers - claim a system designed to help children is spiraling out
of control. A system once criticized for not doing enough may now be doing
too much, they say.
Activists lay part of the blame for what critics call a "frantic kidnapping
on the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, legislation that rewards states
with cash "bonuses" of $4,000-$6,000 per kid and other windfalls for each
child permanently adopted out of foster care.
The law was intended to prevent children from languishing in foster care.
In addition to the bonuses, the ASFA also removed protections for parental
rights and made getting families back together a priority. Under the new
law, though, states have much more leeway in deciding whether their social
workers made a "reasonable effort" to reunite a family.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers the ASFA a
The HHS' Lynn Henison says the bonuses were meant to apply only to
adoption-eligible children already in the system. The money, she says,
prods states into cutting through red tape and moving kids into permanent
But how those kids wind up in the system in the first place is left to the
individual states. It is this fact - and the money motive - that has critics
"The people getting the money for the children should not be the same
people deciding to take the children," said Brad Dacus, president of the
Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento, Calif., organization that
provides legal support to cases involving parental rights, religious
rights and civil liberties.
Nev Moore, founder of the Massachusetts-based Justice For Families, said
states need a steady supply of adoption-eligible kids to keep the federal
dollars flowing. In some states, social workers are even paid individual
cash bonuses for each child they take into custody.
"Each child has a dollar value," she said.
Harry Spence, Massachusetts' new Department of Social Services (DSS)
commissioner, dismisses such charges as "perverse and ludicrous," and said
the critics making these allegations are putting kids at risk.
"If you think these kids haven't been harmed, then you think it's about
money," Spence said. "They are wild and irresponsible charges," he said.
In a high-profile case last summer in Ware, Mass., a one-day-old baby was
taken from its mother. The alleged neglect? The mother was not holding the
baby or the bottle correctly when she fed her newborn. A trial is set for
March to determine if the mother, 27-year-old Diana Ross, will lose her
Ross is currently fighting the state of Massachusetts for an older child
also in foster care, and is suing the state because a third child died
while in state custody. The state took Ross' older children because they
were frequently found wandering alone outside. Because of her history,
Massachusetts DSS required the hospital to file an abuse report even
though the nurse filing the report noted that the hospital staff was
unable to observe or establish any abuse or neglect.
There's no question that in many cases, like Ross', parents can come under
state scrutiny for good reasons. But family activists say parents with a
legitimate need for assistance from the state often wind up being branded
abusers even if physical or sexual abuse is not alleged.
In 1999, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting
System, 49,000 children were placed in foster care based on
"unsubstantiated" reports of abuse and neglect. Of the 900,000
substantiated cases of child abuse filed each year, almost 40 percent fall
under a vague "other" category separate from physical or sexual abuse or
serious neglect. The remaining 60 percent are mostly for neglect.
It is those "unsubstantiated" and "other" cases - almost 400,000 of them -
that gall the likes of Nev Moore. "Child abuse needs to be defined as a
deliberate act with the intent to harm," she argues.
Activists say home schooling, devout religious practices, persistent
diaper rash, scratches from a new pet puppy, milk intolerance, cystic
fibrosis, a broken home heating system, and messy housekeeping have all
been documented not just as abuse or neglect, but as the reason for taking
a child into state custody.
Spanking, for example, is frequently the basis for abuse complaints filed
by caseworkers, teachers and doctors, even though spanking is not defined
as abuse and some states have gone so far as to specifically legislate the
right of parents to spank their children.
"These social workers often have different philosophies than the parents
of what's in the best interest of the child," said Dacus. "Lifestyle issues
come into play. So you have a large portion of children being taken
from parents by strangers, put in a stranger's home perhaps with totally
different values and social and ethical and sexual lifestyles than their
parents," he said.
"We get a lot of everyday childhood injuries. We had a case where a father
grabbed his 16-year-old daughter's arm to keep her from getting on a
motorcycle," Moore said. "We've seen reports where the abuse is 'arguing
in front of children.'"
"It can come down to the inappropriate, individualized judgement of a
caseworker," said Cornell University's James Garbarino, who trains social
workers and just published a new book, Parents Under Siege. "It is
sometimes dangerous that they have this authority."
But those in the trenches say that evaluating cases based on a strict
definition of abuse is almost impossible in a multicultural world where
views on parenting differ wildly and families can be stricken with
tremendously complex and infinite numbers of problems and issues.
"I think ... that this is an enormously complicated area of law and social
practice where the question is between acceptable parental behavior and
what constitutes endangering the welfare of a child," Spence said. "There
is always a place where you make a decision on that boundary."
Massachusetts has very clear laws defining abuse and neglect, yet many
cases still are judgment calls.
"In a huge, complex culture that is multicultural, there is no easy place
to go to define [abuse]," Spence said. "I think the debate goes back and
forth all the time and must go on and continue."
Thin, Gray Line
Dennis Sklenar, a social worker at New York University Medical Center in
New York City, has seen just about everything in his 23 years on the job.
He still recalls vividly the afternoon 10 years ago when a father wheeled
the corpse of his two-year-old daughter he had beaten to death into the
hospital lobby in her stroller.
But Sklenar also recalls with equal horror a case in which a family came
close to being destroyed because their baby suffered from a rare medical
condition that presented itself as classic signs of abuse.
Hospital social workers, emergency room doctors and pediatricians detect
abuse by determining if parents' accounts of how the child sustained an
injury match the injury, Sklenar said. There are injuries, like spiral
fractures and certain head traumas, that cannot be explained away the way
some bruises or burns can.
The infant the young couple brought into the hospital one Friday night had
fluid collections on the brain, a head trauma that the doctors could only
explain as abuse-related. But the parents did not have a suspicious story
or send out other warning signals, he said.
"Everyone was crazed that we had to report this," Sklenar recalls. "We
kept saying, this family is going to be destroyed," he said.
The case was reported, and social workers went to the family home and
strip-searched the couple's 19-month-old other child looking for bruises
or other signs of abuse. They found none. On Monday, a neurosurgeon found
that the infant suffered from a congenital medical condition that produced
the brain fluid.
"At that point, the damage was done. The family was traumatized and
accused of abuse," Sklenar said.
Dr. Steven Kairys, professor of pediatrics at the Robert Wood Johnson
Medical Center in New Brunswick, N.J., and director of the American
Academy of Pediatrics, said even doctors and hospital social workers are
wary of the child protective system these days.
"There is a fair amount of mistrust between the medical community and
CPS," Kairys said. "Some doctors feel the state is too arbitrary with its
decisions. They're not done in a way that fits the evidence," he said.
"Child welfare workers are asked by the public to exercise judgments that
are more life-and-death judgments than any other public employee other
than police officers," Spence said. They are asked to predict the future
and to often enter dangerous situations, he said. "Mistakes are made both
ways," he said.
In hospitals, a team of doctors and social workers consult with each other
to round out an abuse evaluation, and Sklenar cautioned against social
workers making abuse evaluations by themselves. But the cases reported
from doctors and hospitals are usually clearer-cut cases of physical or
sexual abuse or serious neglect, and only 2-3 percent of abuse reports
come from doctors, Kairys said. Most are filed by teachers, neighbors and
through anonymous tips, and most of these fall into cases of neglect that
are much more difficult to determine.
It's these cases where kids are removed from homes for undefined "other
abuses" that cause the problem.
Activists say a clear policy that prevents state and city services from
taking kids out of their homes for reasons other than physical or sexual
abuse or serious neglect would take the gray areas out of judgments while
protecting families. In fact, they say, reforms would actually help abused
children by reducing social workers' caseloads, clearing the backlogged
docket of family courts, and allowing the system to focus on the children
and families most in need.
Spence said state agencies are "moving rapidly" to initiate policies that
recognize the importance of the biological family, and that it is the
state's responsibility to continually improve the system based on
experience. But if public opinion is now swaying toward family
preservation and parental rights, a decade ago it was swinging hard
against those priorities. Spence said state agencies can't tailor their
policies to public opinion.
"One of the things agencies struggle with is not to swing back and forth
between these extremes," he said. "There is a critical responsibility to
keep building and learning upon actual experience in case after case of
what constitutes risk," he said.
However, the neat-and-tidy procedures and policies critics are looking for
are not a realistic expectation.
"There are no easy rules. Life doesn't come in easily defined packages,"
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Links in this article:
Mother Loses Daughter For Teaching Forgiveness
by Robin Wallace -- Fox News, 06 Feb 02
Mother Accused of Neglecting Newborn in Hospital
by Robin Wallace -- Fox News, 05 Feb 02
Other related articles:
Howard Family Is Together Once Again
by Ed Oliver -- MassNews, Feb 02
Expert: Proposed DHS rules weak
by Ruth-Ellen Cohen -- Bangor Daily News, 01 Feb 02
Changes urged to keep children out of foster care
by GRACE MURPHY -- Portland Press Herald, 01 Feb 02
A year later, girl's death has lasting impact
By GREGORY KESICH -- Portland Press Herald, 31 Jan 02
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