This is Child Protection?
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
By Gregory A. Hession, J.D.
Imagine your terror and panic: you are awakened by an armed SWAT team in the middle of the night, demanding to be let into your home to take your children away. The grim-faced agents show you no warrant, no court order, and no mercy. They give you no reason for their presence, other than having received an unspecified report about child abuse. They bark commands and menace you and your children with their weapons. The children are taken out of your home screaming, shoved into cars, and whisked away into the night.
This is not a Soviet-era movie script, but a reality in thousands of homes in the United States every year, courtesy of state child protective services agencies.
The least reported and understood social crisis of our time is the vast new police state run by these state social services agencies, which are generically referred to as “child protective services,” or CPS. The states have different names for them, such as Department of Social Services or Department of Children and Families, but they are all operating under a federal mandate. Whatever they are called, our next generation of children may never recover from their predatory intrusions into families.
Some may dismiss these concerns as hyperbole, but the numbers are appalling. In 2005 alone, over 3.3 million reports involving six million children were made to state child-abuse hot lines, the vast majority of which eventually proved to be untrue. Over 500,000 children currently are in foster care. Another 300,000 or so are forcibly removed from their homes by the system every year. Tens of billions of dollars are expended every year on the care of these children, and on the juvenile court systems which enable it, along with costs of therapy, drugs, lawyers, and related services.
This system is relatively new. In response to professional agitation to “do something” about the problem of child abuse, Congress set forth standards for state child protection agencies in 1974, in the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act, also called the Mondale Act for its senatorial sponsor. If a state conformed their system to the federal mandate, it could get generous reimbursement from the feds. The states immediately complied, and modern child protection was born.
The system does not work, and never has. Thirty years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of ruined families later, the problem of abuse is little improved.
Not one state has ever come close to meeting the bare minimum standards set out in federal law for CPS agencies. Of seven federal criteria that apply, only a few states have even met one, and no state even complies with a few of them.
In almost all cases, children are traumatized by their experiences in state custody. A large number of the children taken into captivity never return — many are adopted out to other families, killed, injured, or caused permanent psychological harm. Parents are rarely helped, even when they need some improvement.
Can this happen in America? It can, and it does. What follows is a brief tour through the seamy underbelly of the CPS system. That these agencies engage in such despicable behavior is often not believed by anyone who has not been directly affected by it. CPS structures and systems resemble those used by totalitarian regimes.
The Snitch Network
The entry point of most children into the child protection system is through a government-mandated “snitch network” consisting of 50-odd professions that are required by law to report any suspected child abuse or neglect to a state “hot line.” Teachers, police, therapists, doctors, nurses, even clergy, must report to CPS, under threat of prosecution. In addition, CPS propaganda has convinced many neighbors and friends and personal enemies to make such reports.
Once a report is made, the CPS agency has to decide whether it is credible, and if so, what to do about it. Of about 3.3 million calls to state hot lines in 2005, about 40 percent were screened out before going any further. For the remaining calls, the agency had to decide whether it was an emergency, or could be administratively investigated in due course.
Why are so many reports of child abuse being generated? A large contributing factor is that the legal definitions of abuse and neglect are so elastic as to encompass virtually any parental behavior, from spanking their children to letting them eat too much “fast food.” Also, supply sometimes creates its own demand, since an army of professionals has arisen to service the industry, and must be kept well fed.
In response to child-abuse emergencies, real or imagined, the agency usually sends CPS agents and police to a home. The police pry the children’s little fingers off their mother, with everyone screaming hysterically during the “pull,” as they call it.
In other cases, children are snatched from school or from buses after school, without notice to parents frantically waiting at bus stops. Often they are taken late on a Friday afternoon, so parents cannot challenge the action in court over the weekend, and so that the children can be held incommunicado and given medications — drugged — during that time. The goal is to soften the kids up to make “disclosures” about parental abuse in order to allow CPS to get a court order for custody. Sometimes CPS agents go to court to get an order before taking the children, but when they do so, it is almost always done in secret in a closed courtroom, without the parents or attorneys present.
Unfortunately, CPS often gets it wrong both ways — genuine abuse is often missed or ignored, while most of what is reported as abuse or neglect does not rise to any reasonable level of seriousness. (See chart below.)
Into the Belly of the Beast
After the snitch network does its part to get the children into the CPS pipeline, the cases either go into an elaborate administrative process, or to a so-called “shelter” court hearing, held within a few days in order to determine whether the removal of the children from the home was proper. At that court hearing, usually conducted in secret without the press or public allowed, the court will appoint separate lawyers for the mother, the father, and the children. Many of these hearings are conducted so quickly that parents do not have time to prepare a defense, and the lawyers often cut corners by telling their clients to just agree to keep the children in custody until a trial, which could be a year or more away. Only later do the parents find out that they had agreed that their children needed state protection and had waived any possibility of getting them back quickly, or even at all.
The cases that do not go to court are shunted into a surreal, nightmarish administrative system, and the children are often allowed to stay at home or with relatives while the bureaucrats dither.
A social worker will eventually make up a document called a “case plan” or “service plan,” in which the alleged failings of the parents are summarized. The case plan includes a set of tasks and social services intended to “fix” the parent, much like one might repair an appliance. In order to get the children back home if they were taken, or to foreshorten an administrative case, the parents must do all the activities mandated on the plan, such as going to parenting classes, meeting with a social worker, going to substance-abuse treatment, or getting psychological evaluations.
Social workers, often severely maladjusted and working out their own tortured past vicariously through their clients, frequently treat the parents with whom they work as property, ordering them around at whim. They set up services to be done during work hours, causing people to lose jobs and placing the family in financial distress. They can order that a man suspected of spanking his children must leave the home, putting additional emotional and financial burdens on a family.
As with most government programs, there are unintended consequences that no one considered when putting the scheme together. Since social workers are so easily duped, divorcing spouses have made extensive use of CPS reports as a weapon in family court. Want to get custody fast? Just call CPS and accuse the other spouse of abuse. CPS will also do the bidding of schools that have trouble handling difficult children, and will threaten parents who do not want to drug their children with ADHD chemicals.
When children are placed in foster care, the agency usually treats them with mercenary callousness. Social workers and foster parents do things to children that if done by parents would likely have triggered removal of the child. Children are routinely kept out of school for weeks, are denied needed medical care, and are even abused physically and sexually. Children with asthma are often placed with heavy smokers, and children with speech impediments are often placed with immigrants who struggle with English. Almost all children are heavily drugged, with up to six powerful mind-bending medications, in order to ensure their docility.
Even in little ways, the system continually shows contempt for its captives. Social workers leave a home without putting the children in car seats, cancel visits with the parents if they have better things to do, or place the children in homes far from the parents in order to make it harder to have visits. The grinding banality of socialist-spawned child care is soulless, loveless, and arbitrary.
Abuse committed against a child while in foster care is supposed to be investigated by a special outside unit, similar to an internal-affairs division in a police department. However, mindful of potential lawsuits if abuse were discovered, the investigators usually don’t find any. Statistics reported to the government about abuse in foster care are low because the agency gets to do its own investigations. In my experience representing parents, most of whose children have been actually abused in foster care, the CPS usually sweeps the allegations under the rug and fails to stop the abuse.
Outcomes of Child-abuse Investigations
Though states’ “child protective services” intervene readily in family situations, using as a guideline for intervention whether a child “is at risk of maltreatment,” even after 40 percent of allegations of child abuse are initially screened out, a further 66 percent of the remaining allegations of child abuse are found to be unsubstantiated. (This number includes the cases labeled on the chart as “Alternative Response Nonvictim,” where no investigation of the reported child abuse was undertaken, yet it was determined that there was no abuse.)
Your Day in Court
Juvenile or family court is where the fate of millions of children is decided. Not many years ago, these courts were a sleepy sinecure for a few political hacks. Now, with the child-abuse industrial complex in overdrive feeding them, juvenile courts have come into vogue. Crowds of sad-faced parents shuffle around the court’s waiting areas, lining the halls. Lawyers, forgetting the indescribable pain that their clients are enduring, openly laugh and gossip with CPS attorneys and therapists.
At court hearings, the parents usually cannot speak, and the children’s wishes are almost never heard or considered. Hearings often last only a few minutes, or even seconds. The traditional rules of evidence and notions of due process are rarely observed in these special courts, which are neither criminal nor civil. Hearsay on top of hearsay, sometimes three or four layers deep, is often admitted into evidence, which would never be allowed in any traditional court.
The burden of proof for taking children away from parents on a temporary basis is merely to show by a “preponderance of evidence” that the child was abused, which is a weak and ill-defined standard. By contrast, the state has to prove guilt in a speeding ticket case beyond a reasonable doubt. A final termination of parental rights requires that the state prove unfitness by “clear and convincing evidence,” still well short of the quantum of proof required to prove jaywalking.
Most juvenile cases end with a judgment against the parents, allowing CPS to keep the children until they are 18, or to farm them out for adoption. The home team — that is, the CPS prosecutor and social workers — are in front of the judge every day. The process becomes a choreographed dance, like a Mozart-era minuet, with all the players moving in lockstep and the outcome often determined before the first witness is called.
By looking at the numbers, one would conclude that there is an epidemic of child abuse in America. However, the evidence shows that there is actually an epidemic of hysteria about child abuse, because most of the official complaints are either false or greatly exaggerated. It is a squalid business. Big “non-profit” companies have arisen to service the insatiable demand for warehousing children and providing therapy, education, and other services. Special needs children can sometimes fetch thousands of dollars per week for these sub-contractors from the state and the feds, which make millionaires out of the subcontractors owners and officers.
Tens of thousands of parents have their parental rights terminated every year, and their children taken for adoption to other persons or families. In 2005 alone, 67,000 children were removed for adoption. Another 110,000 were waiting for adoptive homes. Each of these children has been through a painful removal from parents, a lengthy court process, numerous foster homes, large amounts of drugs and therapy, and sometimes years of waiting.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act, passed by Congress in 1997, sets out adoption quotas for the states, with money bonuses for exceeding them, and even larger bonuses for processing a larger number of “special needs” children. Thus, adoption becomes the goal for many children who should not be taken from families in the first place. For CPS, it becomes just a commercial sales transaction: meet the quota, collect the cash.
Some parents do abuse children, and states have comprehensive criminal laws to deal with those cases. Most persons would likely disagree with CPS in how it defines abuse or neglect. Families are attacked for home-schooling or spanking their children, for not overseeing all play activities, or for when a child has an accident. Sometimes a child’s illness, poverty, or parents who are going through a time of conflict will trigger CPS involvement. There is also a palpable animus against families who are religious, or who do not like state interference. Only a very small percentage of the 3.3 million reported cases annually prove to be genuine abuse, and the system does a bad job of sorting them out.
There are reasons why the system does a bad job. Colleges churn out hordes of 23-year-old social-work graduates, childless and clueless, who are sent into homes to make life-changing decisions. Their formal education is grounded in doctrinaire Marxism and feminism, and they believe in their viscera that the state should communally raise children.
Another disincentive to changing the system is the fact that social workers are given legal immunity for almost any discretionary decision no matter what harm results to the children. Social workers exercise virtually unlimited power over families, with little accountability to anyone for overreaching or even for egregious offenses.
Federal reimbursement is the locomotive that drives the child-protection business. Regardless of what families actually need, CPS determines where to place its resources based on what returns the most reimbursement. The vast percentage of federal reimbursement (90 percent) comes from taking children into custody, while only a tiny fraction (10 percent) is available to help intact families. In other words, taking children pays, helping families costs.
The game of cadging federal CPS dollars has become so intense that states often hire multi-million dollar consultants to assist them in maximizing federal reimbursement for the children they take. For instance, Massachusetts hired the now-defunct Arthur Anderson Consulting, at an estimated fee of about $8.6 million, to structure the state program to take advantage of as many federal reimbursement categories as possible.
What Can Be Done?
Is the system really as corrupt, incompetent, destructive, and ineffective as this article portrays it? No, it’s actually far worse — if you ask a parent whose children have been victimized by it! The public perception is that CPS is doing a tough job, and standing against child abuse. However, any family caught in its web would testify to a completely different reality. When I take on a new case and forewarn a family about CPS dirty tricks, they usually think I am exaggerating. Surely it can’t be that bad. However, after the first court hearing, or if their children are removed, those families uniformly confirm that I didn’t tell them the half of it.
What should be done to address the problem of child abuse and the problem of abuse by the system of parents and children? It won’t be easy because CPS policies and actions are based on a deeply flawed world view. Moreover, the agencies are run by inept and agenda-driven managers and social workers, and are enabled by a dysfunctional legal system.
Real reform would cut at the very heart of the premise of child protection — that the state is a better parent, a legal doctrine called parens patriae in Latin. Some fixes are obvious — end federal standards for and funding of state child protection agencies, set objective standards for child abuse, require traditional due process in juvenile courts that are open to the public, and eliminate immunity for social-worker malfeasance.
Millions of children are imperiled by this imperious, abusive CPS system, which works quietly without much public scrutiny. Change will likely come only when its cruelties have been exposed, and the public reaffirms that raising children is the responsibility of families, not the state.
Gregory A. Hession practices constitutional and family law in Springfield, Massachusetts.
NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For further information please refer to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
Back to Top