TUESDAY, JULY 06, 1999
When the state becomes parent
Child protection services agencies accused of abuseBy Mollie Martin
Five-year-old Deborah Hasson was pulled out of her kindergarten class and taken to the nurse's office. Her ears were bright red, and the child constantly complained of an intense pain. The school, required by law to report anything of this nature, called Child Protective Services in Fromberg, Mont.
CPS immediately concluded that the child was being abused at home, and so that same hour picked her up from school and arranged to place her into a foster-care situation. Deborah's mother, Grace, was horrified upon hearing this and immediately produced a doctor's report, which explained that Deborah had an ear infection. CPS chose to ignore this information and insisted that Deborah was being abused. That was the fall of 1992. The incident launched a violent custody battle that lasted for two and a half years.
In 1995, the very night Deborah came home, Grace, a single mother, was awakened at 2 a.m. by a harsh rapping at the door. Through the window she could see four police officers and a social worker. In a state of panic she called her friend Betty for help.
When Betty arrived she found a hysterical Grace handcuffed downstairs with a police officer, and the male social worker upstairs with the three frantic, young girls. The social worker said nothing more than that he had received an anonymous report of abuse. Grace was arrested and the children were put into foster homes. It was to be another four and a half years of bitter court battles before Grace would clear her name and regain custody of her daughters.
Too outrageous to be true? According to Dr. Marc Einhorn, a forensic psychologist in Atlanta, Ga., these types of cases are prevalent throughout child protection agency suits across the country. Einhorn has been involved in several hundred cases across five states.
Einhorn said that Child Protective Services started in 1974 with the best of intentions. Back then the definition of child abuse was narrow -- consisting of what reasonable people thought of as abuse. Over time, however, that definition has broadened to include anything and everything you can imagine -- whatever the state deems appropriate.
Many states now have very broad definitions of abuse. For example Utah's is simply "actual or non-accidental harm." This leaves grounds for the removal of children up to the discretion of the social worker.
Einhorn recalls a case he worked on involving a family in Salt Lake City. The family had four handicapped children, one being severely autistic. The parents decided to apply for Social Security benefits for the autistic child, and had him examined as a part of the standard application process. The child protection agency of Utah got wind of the application and removed all four children from their home. The grounds? The parents were exploiting the handicapped children for money.
Matthew Hilton, the family's attorney commented, "It's not the happiest area to deal with ... these are real fights, some are black and white, but most are in the gray." The guidelines are very vague. Juvenile court has its own set of rules and laws, which are very informal. A lot of "protections" are put up around the children.
"The problem with the system is that Child Protective Services has quotas to fill," Einhorn said. "If a certain number of children are not removed from their homes each year, the agency will lose status and funding -- causing people to lose their jobs." He said that this causes children to be removed on the flimsiest of terms.
Suzanne Shell, author of "Profane Justice" and president of the Family Advocacy Center, affirms the idea of a quota. Shell said for the agency to receive the amount of money it does, each social worker must complete a certain number of cases. Therefore, social workers are pushed to remove children from their homes on very questionable grounds. For example, Shell cited several instances where children are removed for "safety reasons" -- the house was not clean, or instances of "neglect" because there was not enough food in the refrigerator. The reports neglected to show that it was spring cleaning day or it was the end of the month when the food supply was low.
In response to the question of a quota, Patricia Montoya, commissioner for Children, Youth and Families in Washington, D.C., said that "child protective services are the responsibility of the state. Funding is provided by the federal government ... but the system itself is designed and operated by the states." She went on to say "the quota is not the goal -- the goal of CPS is to protect the child, make sure they are safe, and help provide intervention. That's what the laws that are in place are all about."
Dianne Warner-Kearney, a Utah child protection specialist, says, "A quota for children to be removed from their parents into foster care is absurd. In fact, if at a multidisciplinary staffing which occurs within 24 hours after the child is removed from the parents, should it be determined at that point that there were no legal grounds for removal, the child would be returned immediately."
Einhorn recalled many social workers he worked with in the past who left CPS in sheer disgust of the corruption of the system. According to the caseworkers, executives would "sit back and lick their chops" while deciding which family to harass next. One caseworker quit after working with the agency for 12 years. He said 95 percent of the children should never have been removed from their homes.
Many of these "atrocities" are done in the name of "the best interests of the child," a term abundant throughout several states' CPS websites. Einhorn said that ironically the agencies are seriously disturbing and frightening the very children whose interests they are trying to protect.
Shell is very skeptical of whether the state should be given the benefit of the doubt when the child's well being is at stake. She says that social workers would not be willing to do their job without pay or give their lives for the children, whereas parents would -- "So, who has the child's best interests in mind?"
According to the FAC web site, "Children in foster care numbered more than 520,000 in March 1998, up from 340,000 in 1988." Montoya accounts for the increase in foster care as "a combination of different things ... an increase in child abuse and neglect due to the added stresses of the changing world we're in -- with better reporting systems we've brought the issue to a higher limelight: kids are often self-reporting if they are being abused or neglected at home ... family and neighbors have also started reporting. ..."
Pamela and Wilbur Gaston, of Mount Angel, Ore., have been fighting the courts for nearly four years in an effort to regain custody of their daughter, Melissa. Melissa was taken at the age of five on the false report that her 72-year-old father had inappropriately "touched" her. The Gastons, who have meticulously documented evidence refuting the charges, are outraged at the lack of due process in the justice system. At a hearing in May 1998, the Gastons claim that the presiding judge stated twice on the record that "I will not allow you to make an offer of proof because facts are not an issue."
Einhorn commented that in CPS cases, the accused are most often guilty until proven innocent. "There is a serious accountability problem in the Child Protective Services ... CPS answers to no one."
According to a statement by the office of Oregon Attorney General Hardy Meyers, "claims against defendant judges, district attorneys and assistant attorney generals are barred by judicial and prosecutorial immunity ... this immunity applies even when a judge is accused of acting maliciously and corruptly."
"Parents have no legal right to stand in the court for the protection of their children when the children are being knowingly abused in state custody, even though their parental rights have not been terminated," Gaston claims.
Betty Asplin of Laurel, Mont., who was the eyewitness in the Hasson case, counsels people in these types of situations. "This is allowed to go on because people don't know their rights, if they understood the law this would be over, it wouldn't happen ... people see the law at their door and they assume they have to abide by whatever the officer says -- but they don't."
"This is a child stealing business," Asplin told WorldNetDaily. "They don't keep families together, they pull them apart."
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