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Abused Children from DSS Should Not Be Treated Like Criminal
The Massachusetts News October 9, 2001
Abused Children from DSS Should Not Be Treated Like Criminals Police Should be Investigating Charges Made by 'Runaways' by Nev Moore
Presently in Massachusetts, runaways from foster homes are treated as criminal fugitives. The current police protocol is to approach and apprehend these children as if they had committed a crime and were evading capture.
When apprehended, they are essentially "arrested" - handcuffed, detained, then turned back to DSS. It is important to begin to change this (unregulated) protocol inasmuch as a large percentage of these children run because they have been abused in the foster home or residential placement. As such abuse is self-investigated by DSS, rather than being investigated and prosecuted by law enforcement, it continues to increase under the protection of secrecy.
Fourteen-year-old Tarri ran from a Key Shelter because of the physically assaultive "take-downs" and floor restraints that are SOP at DSS contracted residential placements.
Tarri is not a tough, inner-city kid; she is a nice, polite, intelligent young woman, an honor student and cheerleader before DSS got hold of her. Tarri has asthma and felt like she was going to suffocate to death every time she was taken down and had a 250 lb. staff member sitting on her chest.
Tarri was taken in by private citizens who try to help these kids. Her extensive bruising, cuts and rug burns were photographed and videotaped. These injuries can be observed at any DSS residential facility, on any day, on hundreds of children around the state. Tarri spoke with a reporter from the Boston Globe about the conditions and assaults that occur routinely in DSS contracted placements.
One day, police cruisers surrounded the house where Tarri was staying and she was taken into custody with much dramatic flair and fanfare. The people who had taken her in were threatened with being charged for "harboring a fugitive."
Tarri "disappeared" and no one knew where she was for several months. DSS had locked her up in a mental hospital where she had no access to a phone or any outside communications. Again, this is SOP for kids who "tell."
Thirteen-year-old Loretta was thrown out of her foster home at ten o' clock one February night by her foster mother. In the snow, wearing flip-flops, she walked ten miles into town. Loretta was not a problem child, she was in custody because her parents were in jail. She just wanted to get to her grandmother's. One night she went to the mall where she was spotted by a DSS worker who called the police. The police arrived in numerous cruisers and searched the grounds with drawn guns and dogs. Ninety-five pound Loretta got away that time.
Fourteen-year-old Jerrid's fingers were broken during restraint, and fifteen-year-old Phillip had his arm broken by Key Shelter staff. He was not taken to a doctor until three weeks later when he was sent to a foster home and the foster mother took him.
Runaways Always Returned to Abusers
When a child is abused in a foster home (or other DSS agency) and tries to tell anyone -- school staff, police officer, doctor -- it is reported back to DSS, where it is promptly ignored or covered up. And foster kids know this. They have nowhere to turn. So they run. On average, DSS "loses" 400 a year. Some end up dead. The idea was supposed to be that they were in DSS custody for their "protection & safety." However, the National Runaway Switchboard shows that problems with DSS are the third leading cause of kids running away. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services says that 62% of kids who end up in DSS-type agencies do not get there because of "child maltreatment," yet a child is 25 times more likely to be abused in foster care than in the parental home, and the fatality rate in CPS (DSS) care is 5-times higher than in parental homes.
While it will take time, work and legislation to make DSS accountable to an outside source and ensure that foster abuse gets investigated and prosecuted by law enforcement external from the DSS administration, we can, and should, establish new protocols for the treatment of DSS runaways by putting law enforcement in the position of authority, rather than having DSS dictate to them.
Law enforcement officers are extensively trained as professionals operating under the parameters of the law and Constitution. They are trained in investigation based on objective fact as opposed to subjective, interpretive opinion. Our children should know that they can go to the police for "help & protection" if they are being abused. They should not fear the police because they know that the police will turn them back to their abusers.
Perhaps the police could hold legal custody of a returned runaway until the child is questioned and any appropriate investigation into alleged abuse is completed. In that case, even if the child were placed in another foster home, it is unlikely that further abuse would occur if the appointed caretakers were aware that said child was under the protective eye of the police.
Nev Moore is President of Justice for Families, 508-420-0605.
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